As I write this, it is currently 10:30 pm on Sunday night and I still can’t move or hear anything properly. This weekend, something extremely rare happened: some good bands actually came to Ottawa. While usually I’m lucky if I can catch one or two good shows in the span of a year in this city, somehow the stars aligned and this weekend saw two of the more cutting edge musical acts this country has to offer putting on shows. While I will literally go see anyone that actually decides to come to this hellhole of a city, this was fucking Yamantaka // Sonic Titan and Fucked Up, so there was absolutely no way I was going to miss these shows.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan @ Zaphod Beeblebrox, January 12th
If you’re reading this website you’ve probably heard of Fucked Up, but that may not be the case for YTST. If not, you need to understand something important about this band; they look like this:
And they sound like this:
As if that isn’t overwhelmingly badass enough, part of their whole schtick is a performance art aspect to their shows where they incorporate traditional Chinese and Japanese culture into their relentless music. I was aware of this, but wasn’t sure what extent it would be played out in their travelling live show. So as I entered the venue Friday evening, I went in ready for anything. I missed most of the opening act intoxicating myself in preparation, but I’m sure they were cool. Anyway, after buying myself the largest beer on the menu (Labatt 50 26er, shouts out to Zaphods for stocking this accident-waiting-to-happen), I firmly planted myself front and center of the floor with a few buds for maximum viewing pleasure. After the roadies set up all the gear, the stage was empty for a few minutes, then all of a sudden a fucking “Dragon” started walking through crowd, comprised of the members of the band. This traditional Chinese dragon dance continued for a few minutes then the band climbed the stage. I wanted to take pictures of the dragon but honestly I was just so awestruck (and drunk) at this point I completely forgot to. Sorry!
The band’s stage set up had the two most strikingly different band members posed right at the front, and this only helped further the juxtaposition of sounds and ideas that the band utilizes. They are heavy, but they are fragile. They’re based just as equally in Western and Eastern ethos’ when it comes to their art, but most of all, it showed how uncompromising of a band they are. While they may all look different, they share the same face paint and passion that drives their music, and such an ambitious concept would fail if not for the members’ unflinching belief in their music. Throughout their show, the performance was such an obviously artistic experience that despite how heavy it was, only a few people were actually stupid or fucked up enough to actually attempt to mosh to it. The majority of the audience, myself included, could only stand there in awe, bobbing their head smiling foolishly at what was so clearly one of the most unique experiences of their entire lives. The band played most of their debut LP YT//ST from 2011 and a few unfamiliar tracks that ONE CAN ONLY HOPE are off of an upcoming album. When the band stepped off of the stage for the first time, chants of “YT! ST!” quickly followed and did not let up until the band re-emerged on the stage for their encore. The place was packed and its safe to assume that a large portion of the people attending had no idea who this band really was, yet the club was filled with cheers when they finally finished their set. The absorbing, fascinating experience of Yamantaka Sonic Titan is one that cannot be denied and I know for a fact that I was not the only person to leave that club that night with a new outlook on what music could be. I wish there was a better way to describe what happened in the club that night, but it was truly ineffable (I was also really drunk, like I said). You NEED to experience this.
Fucked Up @ Ritual Nightclub January 13th
The euphoria of the night before lead me to feel somewhat drained emotionally and physically the next morning (afternoon….late afternoon), the day of the Fucked Up show. In spite of all the pump up beers I was drinking before the show, I just couldn’t quite reach the same level of excitement. That all changed when I stepped inside Ritual, the venue holding the show that evening. The room was filled with a vibrantly positive and excited energy as the minutes leading up to Fucked Up crawled by (I didn’t catch any of the opening acts for this show either – oops). Whatever comedown I was feeling that day disappeared completely as the band took their place and hulking frontman Damian Abraham lumbered onto the stage. I fought my way to the front of the stage and held on for dear life as both audience and band exploded all around me. I’m not the hugest fan of Fucked Up, but I found myself screaming along to the songs I knew as the band just smashed through them. Abraham’s charisma could get Margaret Thatcher in the pit; he controlled the audience with equal parts power and grace. The whole time this was happening, the band just kinda stood back and played the songs with this kind of knowing look on their faces. Its not that Abraham was an attention hog, it just so happened that he was such a commanding presence and so good at his job that he ended up getting it all anyway and the way the band looked and played made it seem as though this was the way that it always was. I only really noticed this a few times when catching my breath or whatever, but it was interesting to actually see the signs of all of the internal tension that has notably plagued the band. Regardless of this, the show was worthy proof of their legendary status. The perfomrance never really stopped, just ebbed and flowed through more or less intense parts, much like their albums. This allowed them to rip through most of their latest album, David Comes to Life and a bunch of older classics as well. The band played everything fast and loud, yet Abraham managed to keep up with it all and even threw in a stage dive which is absurd that he pulled off because the guy is like 300 pounds, but everyone there was into it enough to work together to lift him, and I think that summarizes the overall feel of the show the most. A sense of togetherness; hilarious considering I’m pretty sure the band hates each other.
This morning was a disaster, as you can imagine. My already diminished hearing from the YTST show was now completely gone, as well as my voice and the chaos of the Fucked Up show had left my body a mangled mess. Yet all I can feel is satisfaction, and it remains with me still. In a city where good live music is as rare as a good politician, it had been a weekend of the best shows Ottawa had ever seen.