March ends with a roar this week. The next few weeks are an embarrassment of riches for live music lovers.
Some of the highlights this week include Canadian folk icon John McDermott, who performs at the Yates Theatre, March 31. He is best known for his rendition of Celtic classic “Danny Boy,” but has been recording for 20 years.
The Geomatic Attic hosts some excellent traditional Celtic music, March 29, with Ireland’s Caladh Nua. Tickets cost $27.50. The show begins at 8 p.m. sharp.
Other highlights include a lot of comedy.
Newfoundland-born, Calgary-based comedian Trent McLellan performs at the Yates with Randy Webb, March 28 and the Owl Acoustic Lounge has a popular comedy open mic on March 26 — the last Wednesday of the month.
There is a lot of country and roots music this week as well. Country star Travis Tritt comes to the Enmax Centre today while the same night local roots/jazz/folk act The Junkman’s Choir is “Kilting Up” for Cancer at the Slice, March 28.
The Bryant Watson Duo play their own roots and folk at Ric’s Grill, March 28, and Shaela Miller and Treeline return to the Owl Acoustic Lounge, March 29.
B.C. roots/rock and roll band the Steve Brockley Band return to Lethbridge to play the Slice, March 29, with Gillian and Ryland Moranz.
There are also a couple of excellent blues shows with Paul Kype and Texas Flood returning to the Slice, March 28. And Winnipeg bluesman Big Dave McLean returns to the Slice, March 31.
He never gets the turnout he deserves, so if you want to hear some fantastic acoustic blues and lots of great stories, don’t miss McLean. It is also a great week for local jazz music with HBO 3 at the Owl Acoustic Lounge, March 28, several solo gigs from HBO3 member James Oldenburg at Ric’s Grill on March 26 and the Cotton Blossom Lounge on March 27 and Herb Hicks returning to the Mocha Cabana on the weekend.
For something a little different, the annual Pretty, Witty and Gay cabaret takes place at the Yates Centre, March 29 at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $20 or $35 for the Castrati combo, which also includes admission to electro-drag opera Castrati at Club Didi, March 28. It winds up a week of “queer” events all over town.
Also for something different The Slice brings in Australian electro act Kid Mac, who performs with a full band on March 27.
Celtic icon John McDermott celebrates 20 years on stage
Canadian Celtic icon John McDermott is best known for his version of “Danny Boy,” but he is celebrating 20 years in the music business with several projects. In addition to sharing his love for traditional Celtic music, he loves his fans and is always eager to help out his various charities like McDermott House, which creates an innovative, warm, home like environment for Canadian veterans, military, first responders and community patients in the palliative Care unit of Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in his home of Toronto.
He is touring with guitarist Jason Fell and lap steel guitarist Christie Guch.
His career took off after, while working in the circulation department of the Toronto Sun, he recorded an album of Irish and Scottish ballads for his parents’ 50th anniversary. It caught the ears of the right people who signed him to a record deal.
He recorded 12 tracks, one for each of the 12 McDermott children (he is the ninth of the dozen), then added one more version of “Danny Boy” the way his father liked to hear it sung — a cappella.
It took off and he soon ended up signed to EMI records and opening for groups like the Chieftains.
“My first fiddle player was Ashley MacIsaac. He was only 18, then I hired Natalie McMaster,” he said.
“I’ve had 20 years of music, so I’m doing a little reflection,” he continued, adding he just released a DVD and box set and documentary covering the highlights of his career which he plans to release in the fall.
He was immediately drawn to traditional Scottish and Celtic music because of the poetry.
“I think they were some of the great poets. The lyrics are familiar as are the melodies. That’s why they are so familiar,” he said.
He is recording another new record in April — a collection of popular hymns which he plans to release in the fall.
“They cross all faiths and eras,” he said, adding the 12-song collection includes traditional hymns as well as more modern hymns.
“It will be a very soothing record. It is just me and my piano,” he said.
“That is the purest form.”
“It’s something I have been talking about doing for three years,” he said, adding he examined 150-200 hymns for the CD.
He loves his fans and his charities; McDermott House, in collaboration with True Patriot Love, is holding a draw for a five-day trip to Europe to explore Canadian Military history at the beaches of Normandy, the monument of Vimy Ridge and other historical sites with Rick Hillyer as a guide. You can enter through his website, http://mcdermotthousecanada.org/.
“I have a soft spot for veterans, because several of my relatives are veterans,” he said. Canadian Celtic icon John McDermott plays the Yates Memorial Centre, March 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets cost $52.50.
Steve Brockley band take a rock and roll turn
Nelson area-based musician Steve Brockley and his trio including drummer/mandolinist Leon Power and new bassist Erik Nielsen are coming back to rock the folk out of the Slice, March 29.
“It’s nice. We’re very excited about it. We’re playing a weekday night and we’re coming at the right time of the year when the students are still there,” said Brockley, visiting his folks on the Gabriola Islands before beginning a brief tour Revelstoke on March 27.
“It will be a high-energy night. It will not be a quiet, sombre night,” he predicted.
They have been moving from a more straight ahead folk sound to a more rock and roll influenced sound.
“It’s more rock and roll but even rock and roll is a broad-based term. But it feels like we find the more we tour, the louder we get,” Brockley said.
His last CD “Le Boeuf” was released last April and started to show the transition.
“Response has been really positive. We were impressed.
“When we were recording the album, we had a lot of people telling us how much they enjoyed the first one. So we feel like we didn’t let anybody down, because they liked something they weren’t sure they were going to like,” he continued.
Along the way, they welcomed Erik Nielsen, who was assistant engineer on “Le Boeuf.”
“It was nice to have somebody who was already in the family, rather than a stranger who just auditions. So we didn’t audition. We just called him up. He’s an engineer and he’s based in Vancouver, but he’s also a great bass player, and he sang background vocals on a couple of the songs. So he already knew what we were all about,” he said, adding they are working on new material.
“We’re just starting to play the new songs. It is always exciting for the band to play new stuff because it stops things from becoming repetitive when we play every night,” he said.
Steve Brockley band with special guest Gillian and Ryland Moranz play the Slice, March 27.
There is a $10 cover for the show, which begins at 9:30 p.m.
Calgary-based, Newfoundland-born funny-man Trent Mclellan a.k.a. “Black Trent from Cornerbrook,” learned to think on his feet, standing out growing up in the small town of Cornerbrook.
“As a black kid with a two-foot-high afro in mostly white Cornerbrook, I stood out, whether I wanted to or not. I was the centre of attention though I didn’t want to be,” McLellan said, dealing with another onslaught of winter in Calgary.
“Most kids want to blend in. So I used my sense of humour as a defence mechanism to try and deflect that. I got comfortable with having all eyes on me,” said McLellan, who still thinks on his feet for his routines.
“If something funny happens to me on the way to Lethbridge, I’ll try to find a way to work it into the show,” he said.
He performs March 28 at the Yates Theatre with Randy Webb opening the show.
While he was born and raised in Newfoundland, he has been living in Calgary for the past 10 years.
“I’ve been married for two years, so there is a lot in my routine about marriage. And I have a dog, so there are plenty of dog observations,” he said.
“Basically if something is frustrating me or is strange and confusing to me, I’ll take it to the stage and try and solve it there, which is something most people don’t get to do, but that has always been my approach,” he said.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35
The Seas humble alt rockers
Approximately 25 people braved a blustery, chilly night of blowing ice and snow to get rocked with the Mormon Girls and Toronto band the Seas.
The Mormon Girls, who are neither Mormons nor girls, but who are comprised of several prominent members of Lethbridge alt rock scene, started at 10:10 p.m., playing songs from their debut cassette “The Farm Sessions.”
Mick Hayward sang most of the lead vocals and played lead guitar as Tyson Wiebe held down the bottom end as Jon Vornbrock thrashed away at the drums while guitarist Dave Banman stood in the shadows adding rhythm.
They played a tight set of songs about “bears” which sounded like a blend of local bands the Void and Planet Telex, which features most of the members. They also aded a couple of new songs including one on an upcoming compilation of local bands to be released in April by Lethbridge record label “Norwegian Blue Records.”
They ended their brief set with a cacophony of guitar based noise, before making way for the Seas, who are crossing Canada.
The Seas took alt rock to a whole other level as they should have as they include band members from Moneen, Seas and Sounds, Choke and Ghosts of Modern Man.
They played a diverse frenetic, supremely tight set of alternative rock based on a triple-guitar attack that touched on a cornucopia of styles from emo, screamo, metal and hard-core punk.
Frontman Chris Hughes thrashed around, shaking his dreadlocked head and throttling guitar as guitarists Mike Bolt and Adrian Mottram locked in with rhythm section Erik Hughes and Peter Krpan.
Mottram added background vocals and guitar textures, while Mike Bolt added his own sounds. Yet Hughes also showed he could sing pretty well, especially on one song, which he began a cappella before the band crashed in with him. The result was guaranteed to make any band who thinks they are any good, to re-evaluate and practise more. It was solid, rock solid.
Ann Vriend sings beautifully soulful jazz
After an extended set break, I caught Ann Vriend adding a touch of pop-tinged soulful jazz to the Slice, March 15. She took centre stage as Rooster Davis returned the favour playing keyboards in her band (as she was adding percussion and extra vocals with his band a few months ago at the Slice).
She and Davis traded keyboard and organ licks during her set of sultry, sexy jazz music for approximately 30 people. She played a soulful set of original soul tinged blues and jazz music, much of it from her new CD “For People in The Meantime.” She sang with an appealing yelp that was adorable and sultry at the same time.
She played songs from throughput her career including a duet she wrote with Matt Epp and a song she wrote in memory of songwriter Jeff Buckley called “Wish You Were Here.”
“Stay A Little Longer,” which she opened her set with, was an immediately appealing highlight.
She let Rooster loose on one of his trademark renditions of boogie woogie pieces which featured his fingers flying over the keyboards on a traditional New Orleans piece.
Another highlight was “The Reason I’m so Blue is I’m Invisible.”
Her band also featured Dustin Roy on bass, who usually plays with country star Brett Kissell, but got the chance to show some solid jazz chops.
Kalle Mattson adds catchy rock to folk music
The Owl Acoustic Lounge started off really slow, on Saturday, March 15 for songwriters Dave McKillop and Sault Ste Marie’s Kalle Mattson and his band.
McKillop played and sang a solo set of mellow melodic folk acoustic music to a pretty much indifferent crowd.
But by the time Kalle Mattson and his tight band took the stage, people were basically hanging from the ceiling.
Mattson’s band played a stellar set, complementing Mattson’s pleasant vocals and rhythm guitar.
They played catchy, toe tapping, hook-filled folk rock that had everyone paying attention. He also had a trumpet player to add extra textures. I was sad I only caught the last part of the set because it felt like they were just getting started when they ended around midnight.
When Vancouver band Blackberry Wood comes to town, it’s like having the circus visit, except very few people come to see them. At least not as many as they deserve. They always have the worst luck in the world as they are usually playing dead weekday or competing against a bigger show. This time their March 14 show at the Slice was competing with the Real McKenzies at Scores.
Blackberry Wood always have a different lineup and a different theme whenever they play their rollicking set of punk-tinged jazz and folk music. This time they had zoo milieu going on with frontman Kris Wood dressed a zebra, stand up bassist Shannon “Miss Eerie” Marie as sexy tiger, Jen Davidson as a blackbird, saxophonist Carlos Monzon dressed as a panda, banjo player Brendan Steele as a pig.
The banjo added a different old-timey dimension to their sound and the more horns they have, the better they sound.
Frenetic frontman Kris Wood was his usual affable and energetic host, howling lyrics, cracking jokes and writhing around the stage while beaming a mile wide.
They played an array of music from mariachi influenced numbers, an old English folk song turned on its ear, to weird gypsy jazz music and a rollicking version of the Star Wars Cantina theme, which is always an audience favourite.
I’m sure they played their version of Tom Waits/the Ramones’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” but I couldn’t stay around for it as I wanted to catch the real McKenzies.
Red Haven, featuring most of Blackberry Wood opened the set with more folky, but still jazz-influenced music featuring Jen Charters Davidson playing sax and accordion, guitarist Brendan Steele and upright bassist Nathan Turner.
Real McKenzies play real good show
The Real McKenzies played a “real” good sold-out show at Scores, March 14, but it moved so fast, it seemed like it had ended early. I missed opening act the Boids and the Real McKenzies, with their new all-Canadian lineup, were well into their set by the time I arrived.
The rambunctious crowd clustered in front of the stage, whooping, cheering and even moshing to the Real McKenzies’ energetic and high-strung set of hot Celtic punk featuring plenty of whining bagpipes and sizzling guitar.
They played songs from throughout their career including crowd favourites like “Drink Some More” and “Pour Decisions” and a lot of old more obscure material including “Mangy Dog,” and “Bugger Off,” which they ended with as the crowd cried out for a second encore.
They ended on a traditional note as frontman Paul McKenzie, whose voice was cracking by the end of the set, sang a great a cappella version of the traditional Scottish number “You Take the High Road.”
Piper Matt McNasty returned for one last encore as the band called it a night.
The new band really shines and knew how to bring the St. Patrick’s Day spirit to the audience just a few days early.
Ric’s Grill — James Oldenburg
Enmax Centre — Travis Tritt and the Boom Chuka Boys
Slice — Kilt Up for Cancer with the Junkman’s Choir
Owl Acoustic Lounge — L.A BEat open jam
Slice — Kid Mac
Cotton Blossom Lounge — James Oldenburg
The Cave — open mic
Mocha Cabana — Herb Hicks
Ric’s Grill — Bryant Watson Duo
Owl Acoustic Lounge — HBO3
Slice — Paul Kype and Texas Flood
Jimmy’s Pub — open mic
Wolf’s Den — open mic
Yates — Trent McLellan $25 7:30 p.m.
Owl Acoustic Lounge — Treeline and Shaela Miller
Mocha Cabana — Herb Hicks
Ric’s Grill — Cal Toth
Geomatic Attic — Caladh Nua
Slice — Steve Brockley $10
Sterndale Bennett — Pretty, Witty and Gay
Yates Theatre — John McDermott
Moose Hall — Blue Ridge Mountain Society Country jam
Slice — Big Dave McLean
Owl Acoustic Lounge — open mic
Slice — open mic
The Slice — Slates CD release with These Estates, The Ruby Plumes, Advertisement and the Yeah Dads $8 advance, $10 door
Owl Acoustic Lounge — L.A. Beat Open jam
Slice — Jerry Leger and the Situation
Cotton Blossom Lounge — James Oldenburg