Five Alarm Funk at Mercury Lounge

Every once in a while I shoot a band that’s so good, it makes me question what I’ve been doing with my life. After shooting Five Alarm Funk at Mercury Lounge last weekend I came out thinking, “Well, I’ve been doing it all wrong… I should have started playing the drums years ago, instead I wasted my time learning to walk and feed myself, how useless is that”… and thinking was about all I was able to do, as my senses were pretty much useless at this point, having retreated to their happy place to recover and avoid all the nasty things that fell into the category of “Not Five Alarm Funk”. Continue reading “Five Alarm Funk at Mercury Lounge”

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Event Etiquette: Leave Your Flash At Home

It’s been a crazy month for me, shoots almost every weekend and post processing during the week has kept me from posting as much as I’d like. But busy is good, I’m not complaining. I’ve got plenty of material half done for upcoming posts, but I felt I had to sneak in this short one in the meantime.

I’ve said this before, but I feel like it needs it’s own post to really drive the point home; when in doubt, leave your flash at home. As little as 5-10 years ago it would have been unthinkable for people to start popping away with their flash at many venues, but it seems that the more proliferate digital cameras get, the more people feel they need to use them anywhere and everywhere.

I was shooting the Orleans Festival last weekend and no surprise, almost everyone attending had a camera around their neck. Good, great… amazing even! I’d love to see everyone with a camera, the more the merrier, but what really blew my mind was the complete lack of respect I was seeing in the use of those cameras. Continue reading “Event Etiquette: Leave Your Flash At Home”

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Advice From Behind The Lens: How To Look Good On Stage

I’ve been shooting bands for almost a decade now, and while looking back over thousands of performance shots last week, I realized that all the bands I’ve photographed fall into two categories: “That show was amazing” and “Wow, I don’t even remember taking these pictures”. I know that’s a pretty obvious statement; of course I’m going to remember some bands and forget others. What wasn’t obvious at first, however, was that the more I thought about the bands I had forgotten shooting, the more I realized musical ability had very little to do with whether I remembered the show or not. I had shot some amazingly talented musicians but had completely forgotten their live show, while I could remember in detail some four song sets of the smallest and off-key garage bands. When it comes down to it, the common denominator is that some bands forget that when you put out a CD you’re a musician, but as soon as you go on stage, you’re a performer. If you want to be remembered, you have to put on a show, be larger than life. Occasionally when a band asks me to come shoot their show, they’ll ask if there’s anything special I’d like them to do; well, here it is: my guide to getting the best photos you can out of your performance. Continue reading “Advice From Behind The Lens: How To Look Good On Stage”

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May Was a Great Month of Music

Last month was a great month for concert photography; three of my favourite Canadian acts came to town, all three of which I missed last time they played. First up was the Kelp 17, the Kelp Records anniversary weekend.

Every year Kelp Records throws a weekend music festival featuring Kelp bands past and present. Tons of great bands played, but of particular interest for me was The Acorn and Andrew Vincent. The last time I was able to catch The Acorn was two years ago at Kelp 15 when the festival was hosted at The Mayfair Theatre. Acorn fans got a real treat that night as Rolf and the band played their first full length album, The Pink Ghosts, from start to finish.

Day two of Kelp 17 featured Andrew Vincent reunited with his old backing band The Pirates (Scott Terry and Bryan Curry). Another flashback set, they played their classic hit album I Love the Modern Way. Here’s the rest of my Kelp 17 shots up on Flickr.

The next weekend Wax Mannequin came back to town to play Irene’s in the Glebe. I missed him playing the same venue a few months earlier and was pretty bummed. I caught Wax Mannequin’s show at Zaphods last year and have been dying to catch him play again. Finding a lot of new music kind of bland and formulaic recently, I don’t often come across an act that sounds so totally different from anything else out there. I’ve seen and photographed many bands over the last few years and no one, absolutely no one has the same presence, enthusiasm and charisma on stage as Wax.

He’s a one man show, but sonically he fills the room like a juiced up, angry wolverine orchestra. A true Canadian act, he even belted out a cover of The Log Drivers Waltz, from the National Film Board animated short you might remember if you were born in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The clip below is from another show, but I just had to post it, this song really brings back memories.

As an extra bonus, he had copies of his newest 7″, Hear Some Evil, at the show, a collaboration with The Burning Hell. Wax has worked with The Burning Hell often in the past, always with great results. If you ever get a chance to see him play, go, don’t think, just go… I promise you won’t regret it. You can see the rest of my pics from Wax Mannequin at Irene’s on Flickr.

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Rasputina: Great American Gingerbread Tour

A few years ago I had the opportunity to shoot Apocalyptica right here in Ottawa not 50 ft from where I work, actually. At the time I thought it would be the greatest show I’d ever get to shoot. Not only is Apocalyptica visually an amazing band to photograph but they’re one of my favorites musically as well. Well last month I did one better.

Rasputina is a band that is completely undefinable, they don’t easily slot into any of the conventional musical genres when you look at their discography as a whole. They’ve toured with everything from Marylin Manson, to traditional folk musicians. They slip from haunting sea shanties to grungy industrial ballads and the incongruity makes them all the more enthralling.

They’ve been in my top five bands list since I first heard them on Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge, back in the early nineties when Alternative was actually an alternative to rock and pop and the station still played stuff you don’t hear on the top 20 stations. I never thought I’d ever get a chance to see them, let alone shoot one of their shows as they hadn’t been to Canada for over a decade. When I heard they’d be coming to Lee’s Palace in Toronto I grabbed a ticket immediately even though it’s a 6 hour bus ride away. Continue reading “Rasputina: Great American Gingerbread Tour”

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Skull Fist Rocks the Capital at Mavericks

The most important piece of advice I can give to any aspiring band photographer is one simple word: Flickr! Out of everything I’ve done to advertise myself, Flickr has been far and away the best bang for the buck. I’ve gotten more exposure and more paying gigs through Flickr than from anything else. Properly tagged, with good descriptions and titles your photos can be searched and found by millions of people and the investment of time is minimal if you have a good workflow set out.

Case and point; I got an email last week from the band Skull Fist asking if I’d come shoot their show. I thought maybe I’d seen them play before, or talked to them at a previous show, but it turns out they found me through Flickr. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but as my Flickr portfolio has grown, it’s becoming more and more frequent.

As for the show itself, I haven’t had that much fun shooting a band in a long time. If you keep up with this blog you’ll know the one biggest complaint I have about live music is that many bands don’t pay much attention to performance aspect of the show. Live music should be larger than life, I’m not saying every band should go completely KISS and show up in spikes and make-up, but you should at least look like you didn’t just roll in from your day job. And move around a bit on stage, too many bands perform on stage like they’re

laying down a track in the studio. You might sound great, but sound is only one part of why people go see live bands. Well Skull Fist did not disappoint.

You may not like metal, but you have to give credit to any band that really turns it up to 11 to put on a memorable show. I`m going to make a point of shooting more metal shows in the future; my shots are only ever going to be as good as the band I`m shooting… lighting, gear, technique… these things are important, but they only let you reach the full potential of your subject. If your subject is boring, the best you can hope for is technically capable, but boring pictures. Well Skull Fist made me look good. They look the part, they act the part; Valhalla or bust… they`re here to rock.

I also have to give props to the crowd at Mavericks. A lot of my time shooting a show is spent looking over my shoulder for the inevitable flying beer… or body. I have a hard enough time avoiding the jostle at an upbeat alternative show, being a full line up of metal I was expecting WWIII on the dance floor. And while the mosh pit deserved it`s name, everyone was very conscious about giving me my space, in fact the crowd even came to my defense when the sole drunk that wasn`t with the program started getting physical with me.

So my thanks go out to the crowd at Mavericks… you let me get on with my business and good times where had by all. Skull Fist are currently touring eastern Canada followed by a tour out west then off to Europe, so check them out while they`re still on this side of the pond if you have a chance. Even if you`re not generally one to go to a metal show, trust me you will be entertained. You can see the rest of my shots of Skull Fist on Flickr, as well as shots from the other amazing bands in the line up: Aggressor, Black Moor and RottawaY.

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Down on the Corner: Busking the Streets of Ottawa

Ottawa has had a long tradition of great street performers, but in recent years the number of acts hitting the streets has been declining and we have Big Brother Business to blame.

Busking used to be a great way for struggling musicians and performers to make a buck and maybe get yourself noticed, but now businesses want to take a cut. City of Ottawa requires buskers to cough up $200 a year for a buskers license in order to work the Byward Market… but it doesn’t stop there, each financial district has it’s own Business Association that can levy it’s own fee for buskers… you want to work the streets in front of Parliament, that’s another license… you want to work Elgin… popped again… Bank St pull out your wallet boys and girls.

When I came to Ottawa for University in ’99 the Market was full of amazing buskers from all over the world. Acts from Europe and Australia especially loved coming to the Capital, ten years later I walk around the market and in a good week I see one fresh face I haven’t seen before. Mostly it’s the same half dozen acts that to be honest, have gotten lazy. Those that can afford the license now seem to think they own the place and don’t really have to try anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quite a few quality performers out there, the ones that really put on a show… engage the audience and really seem like they’re serious about it, Stunt Double Circus comes to mind. But you can tell there’s a lot of buskers that are pretty much just phoning it in now… it’s not enough to show up in dirty jeans and a t-shirt and bang out the same three songs all day if you want people to cough up their pocket change in a time where pocket change is getting harder to hang on to. And out of town acts are virtually non-existent so far this year, some struggle to just break even between room, board and travel expenses to tour different countries, being popped for a license on top of all that just doesn’t make Ottawa a financially attractive place to set up shop.

Busking has been integral to making the Market what it is today, and now business and industry is turning it’s backs on part of the reason the Market is so successful. Many great Canadian acts got their start busking, we wouldn’t have the Barenaked Ladies without it, but now it seems quality buskers might be a dying breed in this corner of the country. Be warned Ottawa, if this continues street theater will be gone from this town and it may never come back.

You can see more shots of Ottawa Street Music on my Flickr. If you see someone there, they’re worth checking out… throw them an extra buck or two. You may have seen my Stunt Double Circus pics already, but they’re definitely worth checking out in person if you get the chance.

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Raised By Swans w/ Pink Moth and Mouth at Zaphods

This Monday I shot a free show at Zaphods featuring Raised by Swans with openers Mouth and Pink Moth. The free concert series at Zaphods can be a mixed bag, sometimes great and sometimes not so much. The lineup this time was a bit of an odd mix. Mouth started off the show; two guys and a girl on drums who have just moved to Ottawa. Great energy and a great stage presence, definitely a band to keep your eye on. There’s nothing better as a photographer than shooting a band that really works the stage and moves around and these guys didn’t disappoint.

Next up was Pink Moth, a solo artist that mixed live guitar and haunting vocals with an iPod for a backup band. Easy on the ears, he laid down some hypnotic tracks that had a resonant musical quality. A great act, but to be honest I’d much rather listen to this type of music at home with a cup of tea and a book… it doesn’t make for the most entertaining live show.

The headliners, Raised by Swans, were recommended to me by a friend and were the reason I came to the show in the first place. They’ve been described as “The Canadian equivalent of Sigur Ros, Mercury Rev, or Radiohead – luscious, ambient, and dream-like” and that’s about the best description I’d be able to give. Great sound, great depth, but again… not the most interesting band to watch live. I know I’m biased being a photographer, but I go see live shows for the show that’s put on. If a band’s going to come and play in jeans and t-shirts, standing still for the whole set, to be quite honest I’d rather save the price of admission and buy their CD to listen to at home instead. This type of act usually sounds better on a CD anyways.

I’m not saying Pink Moth and Raised by Swans didn’t play great music, but I just wouldn’t pay to see their live act. In this respect Mouth won hands down for the night. They jumped, they screamed, they fought… they rocked, plain and simple. Without a doubt, buy a copy of Pink Moth and Raised by Swans’ album, you won’t be disappointed, but do yourself a favour and go see Mouth the next chance you get.

You can see more shots of Raised by Swans, Pink Moth and Mouth on my Flickr.

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Electric Six, Sweet Thing and Tympanic at Mavericks

I’ve been wanting to see Electric Six in concert for years now and they finally came to the capital. Best known for Danger! High Voltage, made popular by the first Charlie’s Angels flick, their tongue in cheek style is pretty unique and they put on an amazing live show.

I’m always afraid that when a band is touring with a new album they’re going to play that heavily and cut down on the classics but Electric Six did not disappoint; Gay Bar, Dance Commander, Improper Dancing and a couple other hits all made appearances. The opening bands did an amazing job as well. First up was Ottawa’s own Tympanic, followed by Sweet Thing out of Toronto. Check out either if you get the chance!  I’ll definitely be picking up Sweet Thing’s new release due out soon, but in the meantime you can grab a free track download from the band at sweetthingmusic.com.

For anyone shooting shows in Ottawa, I’m retracting previous statements that Mavericks is a poor place to shoot. They’ve done some remodeling; raising the stage and putting in better lighting. They’ve also removed the two huge poles that used to block view from the corners of the stage. They’re still not the best venue in Ottawa but have made a huge step forward. One thing you still have to watch for… it’s still the roughest bar in Ottawa. We waited for three hours at the foot of the stage making sure we had a great spot to shoot from only to be violently shoved out of the way by crazed and sweaty metal heads once Electric Six came on. Be prepared to stand your ground and keep your camera out of danger. I’ve never been a proponent of UV filters for lens protection, but after the amount of flying beer and sweat I encountered I may change my policy for Mavericks.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Mavericks in the future, they seem to be attracting bigger and bigger acts, and with the new stage and lighting aren’t a total pain to shoot now. You can check out the rest of the pics of Electric Six, Sweet Thing and Tympanic on my Flickr.

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The Dinner Jacket features The Love Machine

It’s been a while since my last post; it’s been a fairly busy winter and a couple projects are nearly wrapped up that I’ll be featuring in the next few weeks. First on the list is a project I shot almost two months ago that’s been in the works ever since.

The day after New Years I shot The Love Machine at Club SAW.  Some of the photos appear in the latest issue of  The Dinner Jacket Magazine along with an article about the band; you can take a look at it here (p32-35).

Along with the standard band shots, I wanted something punchy for a full page photo to start the article. It’s difficult to get the whole band in on stage in such a way that everyone’s recognizable, especially in portrait orientation, so I decided to go with a photo montage of the band members. I wanted to do something special with this one and I’ve had a collection of old watches available to me for some time that I’ve been meaning to use for something, and this seemed to fit perfectly.

Shooting the watches was somewhat of a challenge as I had to shoot them pretty close with a macro lens and still be able to light them adequately to avoid nasty reflections. Most of my time was spent cutting and splicing different watch bits up in Photoshop and figuring out how to create the letters I was missing to spell out “Love Machine” from the letters stamped in the metal bits. In the end the composite was comprised of about two dozen layers and weighed in at a whopping gig and a half.

You can see some more shots from The Love Machine at Club SAW on my Flickr. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more band shoots and pics from Winterlude.

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