CMW: Singing drummers and compelling front men

Wind Up Radio Sessions//Photo: Michael Thomas
Wind Up Radio Sessions//Photo: Michael Thomas

by Michael Thomas

I will never understand what it is that seems to scare showgoers away from attending shows earlier in the day. In some cases, obligations like work and school play a part, but I find in more cases than any, shows don’t usually get crowded until later on in the night.

This was the case, unfortunately, for Wind Up Radio Sessions, a band out of Montreal. I arrived a little late to their set at El Mocambo, and I was probably something like the fifth or sixth person there. Applause after each song, therefore, was very quiet and a little sad to hear.

The set itself, from what I saw, was nice, though. The band consists of the typical two guitars/bass/drum setup, but with the drummer doing most of the lead vocals, with all other band members doing backups and harmonies. The band never seems to quite decide if it wants to place itself in a more rock or roots-oriented direction, and the band did a little of both. They certainly surprised the audience with their final song, “Legally Dead,” from Bird Eyes, by wailing on their instruments basically as loud as they could go.

The audience increased several-fold for Little Stella, another four-piece band, this time out of Ottawa. And just like the previous act, the drummer did the lead vocals, with the other three band members doing vocals and harmonies. That’s where the similarities end, however. This band seems focused on playing melodic, sometimes melancholic music, infusing synthesizer sounds with traditional guitars and drums.

Jeff Watkins on keys, harmonica and floor tom (not all at once, though during the set I wondered if he could do all three at once) was amazing to watch as he worked through his different instruments, Zach Ledgerwood on guitar and later bass. The bass guitar added a sharp new dimension to the sound later in their set that I wished could have been there since the beginning. For the last song, drummer/vocalist Ryan Tansley got out from the drum kit and strummed an acoustic guitar while Watkins banged the floor tom with one hand and played keys with the other.

Andy Brown//Photo: Michael Thomas
Andy Brown//Photo: Michael Thomas

At that point I moved on over to the Rivoli, where the Sticky Magazine Showcase was happening. I arrived with a few minutes to spare before the next act went on, which happened to be Frederiction, NB singer-songwriter Andy Brown. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his set- the “guy plays sad love songs on an acoustic guitar” is not a new idea by any means, but he was so humble and self-deprecating throughout that his music’s honesty spoke for itself.

He played a few cover songs, including Bonnie Raitt’s “Can’t Make You Love Me,” but his original material was even more compelling. When he played “What If,” he explained that he crafted a part of a song that gave people, no matter how drunk they are, no excuse not to sing along, as the passage is just sounds and not words. He also seems to be well-connected in his native province, having written songs or worked with people like David Myles and Jenn Grant.

Revelstoke, aka Andrew Seale, took the stage next. I’ve seen him a couple of times live now, but each time I find a little more to love about what he does and how he does it. He was very sly and ironic as he spoke between songs, at first attempting to shut up the group of people loudly chattering near the back of the bar. He didn’t completely succeed (not even Leif Vollebekk, later, could completely shut people up) but Seale did get people’s attention. During the set he also talked about how his mother saw A$AP Rocky the night before.

His music works with loops, and he switches rapidly between an impressive collection of instruments. The music could be called folk, but that doesn’t seem to completely do it justice. There’s a kind of joyfulness to his work, and his poignant lyrics imprint songs on the listener’s mind. He ended the set first with “San Sebsation,” getting a large chunk of the crowd to sing the “When I get older, gonna go where the summer ends” line, and then finished it off with “Dans La Mer (Howl For Sade).”

Leif Vollebekk//Photo: Michael Thomas
Leif Vollebekk//Photo: Michael Thomas

The title of this article would have been “Singing drummers and one-man bands,” except Leif Vollebekk now has a full backing band to complement his already stellar folk songs. After a very long setup, Vollebekk began the set with just his own guitar and voice. He also did what he could to shut people up, and it worked a little better. “It only gets quieter from here,” he said sarcastically after playing a few notes.

Soon his full band took the stage, with the double bass player looking notable with the Burger King crown on his head. At times, the band provided more subtle textures, and other times they were a force to be reckoned with.

Vollebekk continued his penchant for sarcasm, describing the song he was about to sing as a “hit single” from his latest record, and then deciding it couldn’t be a hit single because it had a chorus. Vollebekk’s songs carry with them a great deal of personality that matches well with his personality, and the fusion of the two made the audience fall in love with him and his band all over again.

While the previous night had me rocking out, this night’s more calm, mellow vibe made for an equally good time.

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