The Black Sheep Inn is one of Ottawa’s hidden gems. It is cleverly concealed due to the fact that it is not found in the same province as Ottawa, forcing the keen show-goer to make the half-hour journey to Wakefield, Quebec. Those that have been to The Black Sheep Inn know that they consistently bring great musicians to play in an intimate venue with crystal clear sound, and that catching one of their shows is always worth the trip. Thursday was no exception, as The Black Sheep inn played host to Faraway Neighbours and Lakes of Canada, two bands that made the evening one to remember.
Lakes of Canada were chosen to kick off the show, and they decided to jolt the audience to attention with a loud and powerful opening. Right off the top, the drummer was accompanied by an additional tom drum in front of lead singer Jake Smith, and another next to righteously-bearded multi-instrumentalist Greg Halpin (we might as well call everyone in the band a multi-instrumentalist, since no one was fixed to any one instrument for the duration of the show). The opening announcement by the drums was followed by an entire set of dramatic and energetic indie rock, coloured with massive vocal harmonies and intricate and precise playing from every member of the band. Lakes of Canada’s arrangements were so crisp they were practically flawless, and the amount of finesse allowed the audience to take in every voice in their deeply layered songs. They were able to shift the mood mid-song with perfectly executed transitions that kept us guessing as to where we would be taken next. Their outstanding musicianship was further complimented by a sense of unity between the songs. This element of cohesion was provided by the fact that their as-yet-unreleased second album is a concept album about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which made the music and lyrics thematically unified. I had the chance to get a sneak peak at the full album, and I highly recommend keeping an ear out for when this thing gets released. Lakes of Canada put on quite the performance, but there was more to come for the patrons at the little bar in Wakefield.
Next up were Faraway Neighbours, a folk-rock trio hailing from North Bay, Ontario. These guys decided they were going to pull the pace back by a hefty amount, and they let the crowd unwind with some much calmer folk jams. Faraway Neighbours is fronted by the flowing guitar and smooth, mumbling voice of Chris Cucullo, and backed by the stumbling, almost jazzy drumming of Vince Aquilina, and the mobile bass work of Andrew Sowka. Between the easy-going verses the band took a little time to explore their musical space, with some building jams that carried the audience out into the woods that lay outside The Black Sheep Inn. A little psychedelia was provided by some synthesizer ambience from Sowka, and with a little device used on the guitar that magnetically causes the strings to constantly vibrate. This pairing gave Faraway Neighbours a very atmospheric quality when used, though they were far from the focus of the set and were not present in most songs. The trio were clearly a group of communicators, listening to each other intently to make their instrumental segments tight. I thought the accenting from Aquilina was particularly demonstrative of their togetherness, with the slightest of rhythmic changes punctuating the music and always eliciting a reaction in kind from the other musicians. I also couldn’t help but notice Andrew Sowka’s abnormal bass playing method, which involved assigning one finger to each string as if he were playing classical guitar. This allowed for a lot of mobility and speed, and freed him to explore the different strings a little more.
In the end, I felt compelled to pick up albums from each of these two bands, which I greatly look forward to exploring. Lakes of Canada’s debut album is currently available while we wait for the release of their new material, and Faraway Neighbours is fresh off the release of their second full-length, titled I May Never Find Home. Check both bands out, and see if their tours are makings stops near you!