The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn

The Burning Hell

Made the trip over the border to Wakefield to see The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn last weekend. Last time I saw Mathias at Zaphods it was a cold and blustery winter night and very few people braved the weather to see the show. This time the place was packed and were treated to an amazing show.

I’m still amazed at the high iso capabilities of the 50D, paired with my 85L I can get shots in even the dimmest bar.  My new (to me) ’65 Leica also arrived that weekend and I took it for a spin during the show, I’ll be posting shots from it in the next week or two… soon as I get around to developing the roll.

It’s too bad Wakefield is so far a trek, between the The Black Sheep and Cafe 1870 there’s always great acts playing. I try to make it out there when I can, but hopefully Ottawa will take the hint and start booking the same quality of music.  You can see more shots of The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep on my Flickr.

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Wax Mannequin Comes to the Capital

I’d been waiting a while to see this show. One of the best Canadian artists I’ve come across this decade, Wax Mannequin came to town to debut his new album Saxon. The openers where amazing as well. To be honest when I go to a show specifically for the headliner, I usually can’t wait for the opening acts to wrap things up as soon as possible but, Rae Spoon from out west and Mark Bragg were definitely worth hearing in their own right.  A face from the past popped up as well, Rajiv of Oh No Forest Fires came along to play bass for Mark Bragg.

All three bands looked great on stage, and god bless Zaphods for using well aimed spotlights. I tried some split toning as well as the usual black and whites this time. I won’t get technical, but careful split toning really helped control the shadow noise.

You can see more Wax Mannequin and friends on my Flickr.

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i(heart)music Presents: Little Girls @ Cafe Dekcuf

Little Girls by J B Hildebrand

Another good i(heart)music at Cafe Dekcuf last week featuring The Centretown Cripplers, Giant Hand and Little Girls. I like Dekcuf more and more with every show. Their getting better at lighting and there’s a few great spots to shoot from.

The Cripplers were amazing, good energy and great sound. Giant Hand didn’t disappoint as usual, the only disappointment of the night was Little Girls. Not sure whether it was the sound guy or the band, but the instrument levels were through the roof… to the point where all I heard was noise, the vocals blasted to oblivion. I’m glad I wasn’t there to see them specifically, the band apparently was up all night, dead tired and decided to cut their set short; they only played maybe four songs then called it a night. I know the turn out wasn’t the greatest but I thought it was kind of unprofessional to disappoint those that did show up.

I’m definitely going to check out The Centretown Cripplers again, next time I get a chance. I’ll give Little Girls the benefit of the doubt and check out their CD… maybe it’s better than the live show. You can check out more shots from the night on Flickr.

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i(heart)music festival @ Cafe Dekcuf

Modernboys Moderngirls by J B Hildebrand

Matthew Pollesel founded i(heart)music in 2005 and has been doing an amazing job bringing lesser known Canadian acts to the masses since then. This weekend was the massive i(heart)music festival at Cafe Dekcuf. Spanning three nights and bringing together twelve great Canadian acts the festival was a blast. I missed a couple of the bands but the acts I did catch were amazing. You can find a full list of who was on stage at i(heart)music.net.

I won’t bother with a review of the show or my favorites as all the bands were top notch. They all put on a great show with a unique stage presence. I’ve wrote before about looking and playing the part being majorly important for emerging bands, this goes double when you’re playing in a twelve band, three day festival. Usually I have to make notes on each band so I can sort out my shots later, but everyone I shot stuck out in my mind visually and this wasn’t a problem.

I see so many bands that sound great, but look like mannequins on stage. If you’re playing a festival like this, you’ve probably got a decent fan base, but most people at the show were there to see one, maybe two bands, each night and hadn’t heard of the rest. This is a prime time to spread the word and you MUST leave people with an impression that’s going to stick, or they’re probably not going to remember you the next day. This is one of the biggest problems I’ve found shooting big festivals. If bands don’t have a unique look or stage presence… I end up with 500 shots of what may as well all have been of just one band. Luckily this wasn’t the case, every band I shot gave me a great set of pics to post.

Like bees to honey, shows like this always attract photographers and there was a really good turn out all three nights. I’ve got a slightly different style than most photogs I meet at shows around Ottawa but it seems to work for me.

First off… I rarely use flash. For one it bugs some performers, especially in a really dark club. Most bands are used to people in the crowd popping away with point and shoots, but the flashes on something that small aren’t really that annoying. Put two or three photographers blasting away at point blank range with pro flashes at center stage though and it’s enough to throw anyone off their game.

Giant Hand by J B Hildebrand

Secondly and more importantly for me… I hate the look a flash gives at concert. There’s a reason most bars turn the lights down really low… they look like crap in the light. If you take a look at most stages with the house lights on they’re hardly more than a raised wooden box with wires running along the walls, up the walls and on the ceilings. Half the time the walls and ceiling aren’t even finished, they’re just drywall or plywood painted black. Some bars don’t even have a permanent stage, it’s just a corner of the bar re-purposed for that night. Take this craptastic wooden platform, turn the lights off and throw on some spots… and suddenly magic! Same with the band… with the house lights on they’re a bunch of guys in plaid shirts and jeans, put a spot on them and suddenly they’re rock stars. Given this… why would I want to blast the band with half a million lumens of daylight balanced flash power and kill the mood completely. If I wanted my pics to look like that I may as well have brought my point and shoot like everyone else and left all my expensive gear at home because the pictures will look about the same.

Lastly, I tend to stay in one spot for most of the show. I come early, figure out where the best place to shoot from is going to be and camp out. I have all my exposure levels figured out before hand for all the main stage areas and I know what each of my lenses are going to see from my spot. I might move around a bit during the show, but not much. For one, this lets me be more consistent with my exposures as I’m not having to adjust for every new position. Also, it means I’m not bumping into people annoying them… and more importantly, my gear isn’t being bumped into by a hoard of energized… and inebriated… concert goers holding drinks, dancing around and definitely not thinking about the guy weaving between them with a big camera and unwieldy camera bag. I may miss some shots by not crowd surfing, but the last thing I need is to have a rye and coke dumped on two grand worth of camera equipment.

It’s always nice to find a new band to listen to, this weekend will probably keep my playlist fresh for months.  There wasn’t a band a wouldn’t recommend so if you get a chance to see any of them live… do it.  You can see more shots from the i(heart)music festival on my Flickr.

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Loudlove in the Studio

Loudlove in the Studio by J B Hildebrand

Last week I was on assignment for the Kitchissippi Times out to shoot Loudlove, who are in the middle of recording a new album here in Ottawa at the Liverpool Court Studios. I managed to slip in for a quick shoot while the band was taking a break from recording. I went in to this job blind and on short notice… which is never ideal… but luckily the guys were very accommodating. I was expecting to grab some shots of the band while they where laying down a track, but by the time I got there they where already done playing and about to work on the mixing.

I ended up lining them up behind the mixing board, which had a nice wall behind it and some cool stuff piled on the sides to create a nice frame for the image. It’s always nice to shoot a band that isn’t camera shy. They basically just goofed off for ten minutes while I snapped away, which from the short time I spent with them seemed to be their base state of being.

I’ve been asked by a few other photographers why I usually carry about three times more gear than I will ever need for a shoot… this is why. I often have no idea what I’ll need till I get there and I’ll take a sore back if it means I have what I need to get the shot. Also, people seem to take you more seriously the more gear you lug around even if you never touch most of it during a shoot… it’s one of those psychological things I don’t quite understand but am happy to take advantage of.

I ended up getting what I needed and the article will be out in the Kitchissippi Times today. If you can’t wait for the album they’re laying down now you can see Loudlove at the Ottawa Reggae Festival this Sunday at 8:00pm. You can check out my Flickr for some more shots from the shoot with Loudlove.

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Snowblink, Bear Claps and Bruce Peninsula at Cafe Dekcuf

About a week ago I went to a three band show at Cafe Dekcuf. I originally went just to see Snowblink, you might remember them from a post I made a while ago about Luxury Pond. It’s the same pair with their roles reversed. I liked Luxury Pond and Snowblink didn’t disappoint either. I ended up sticking around for the other two bands as well. Bear Claps was enjoyable and Bruce Peninsula was amazing, although with nine band members crammed onto a tiny stage they were a bit difficult to shoot.

I like shooting Cafe Dekcuf, they do a pretty decent job of lighting the stage, although the spots aren’t always aimed appropriately and I’m left waiting for the singer to move into the light. Lighting really makes or breaks the photos… and there’s not a whole lot I can do if the light is bad. Good lighting can make anyone look like a rock star… bad lighting will make Jim Morrison look like a high school drop out playing in his parents garage.

Besides the fact that I like their music, I’ll definitely come out to shoot Snowblink/Luxury Pond next time they’re in town because they do one thing right that any band can and should do. They dress the part. I’ve said this before, but it can’t be said enough… you don’t need to go all Ziggy Stardust or show up in tuxes… but look like you put even 5 minutes of thought into what you wear on stage. And make sure all the band members look at least semi coordinated. Again… it doesn’t matter what you wear… just wear it with purpose. If your band suits ripped jeans and worn t-shirts, no problem, just make sure everyone is in on the plan.

I went to a show once, definitely a ripped jeans affair, the drummer got the note but the rest of the band missed the memo. The lead singer was in gym shorts and a baggy t-shirt, The bassist had on those adidas tearaway type workout pants and a tank top and the guy on keyboards had on slacks and a v-neck sweater. This does not project committed musicians… this projects “I just woke up… Bob just got off shift at Walmart and Joe swung by after hitting the gym”. At this point the audience is already thinking “why the hell did I pay $10 to see these guys” and you have to work doubly hard to impress them, and it does nothing to help them remember you for next time.

It’s even worse when I get asked to shoot a band and that’s what they look like when I show up… I just have to hope to god the lighting is good or I’m going to have to get REALLY creative to make them look good. Fortunately this night I was treated to three good looking bands. You can see the rest of the night on my Flickr.

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Chris Page and Friends at Raw Sugar

Chris Page at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

Yet another trip to Raw Sugar Cafe last week… this time to see three different acts in one night. First up was Mark Davis out of Edmonton; great voice but a little too country for my taste, but that’s me. If you like bluesy-country check him out.

Next was Lorrie Matheson who sounded like a cross between Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker; also out of Alberta he’s got a touch of country to his sound but in his own words: “I love songs… but I @#%&ing hate country… unfortunately sometimes country are songs”. Lorrie is definitely worth a second or third listen, I picked up his album, In Vein, and can’t wait to hear what he sounds like with a backing band.

Chris Page of Ottawa’s Camp Radio closed off the night. Good set… what can I say that hasn’t been said, Camp Radio is one of Kelp Records best acts and Chris held his own nicely without a band behind him. Chris will be playing another solo show at the Black Sheep Inn up in Wakefield on July 23rd if you missed the Raw Sugar set. You can see the rest of the night’s pics on Flickr.

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Luxury Pond at Raw Sugar

Luxury Pond at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

Back at Raw Sugar Cafe again… not only does the place make a great back drop for photos, they book the most interesting bands. Sunday night was Luxury Pond, a two piece band from Toronto.

I’m not really sure how to describe their music besides to say it was a kind of ambient-folk-trance sound. Quiet vocals, looped ethereal chanting, harp like guitar rhythms and all manner of bells and pedals; I think I saw a xylophone too… or something similar. Dan Goldman is the front man for the Luxury Pond project, backed by Daniela Gesundheit. But they also perform, roles reversed as Snowblink.

I can’t say it enough; it’s always a pleasure to shoot a band that goes the extra mile to put on a show, instead of just throw some music at you. The definitely had a stage presence… very hypnotic and calming… a kind of folk meditation. You don’t have to jump around to put on a show… you just have to convince the audience that you’re musicians and not just a bunch of guys with instruments here to show you their hobby. Musicians are easy to shoot, you just need decent light… it’s the garage band hobbyists that really make me work.

Dan and Daniela will be coming back to Ottawa at the end of July as Snowblink, definitely worth checking out. You can see the rest of the Luxury Pond set and other bands shot at Raw Sugar on my Flickr.

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Marie-Josée Houle

Marie-Josée Houle

I first started shooting Marie-Josée Houle at various venues about a year ago. She’s extremely photogenic and her music is definitely unique in the Ottawa music scene. Whether she performs solo or backed by a band, her music sounds like it’s straight out of a 1940’s french cafe in a Bogart film-noir, while still sounding fresh and modern.

It’s always nice to shoot something different than the standard band line up. And it’s especially nice to shoot a performer that dresses for the stage. Too many bands come on stage dressed like they just walked off the street. Ok… that doesn’t really hurt the music, but it doesn’t really make the band memorable. Performers like Marie-Josée make me look good; it’s really hard to get memorable photos of a band all dressed in miss-matched jeans and t-shirts.

Marie-Josée Houle is currently touring here and there all over Canada and will be heading overseas to tour Europe in the fall. You can see more of her in the Live Music section of my Flickr.

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Giant Hand at Raw Sugar

Giant Hand at Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa

I recently had the pleasure of shooting two amazing Canadian performers, Giant Hand and Leif Vollebekk at the Raw Sugar Cafe on Somerset. For the last few years I’ve found new music acts pretty much to be dull copies of one another, but the Ottawa indie scene is producing surprise after surprise.

I won’t go into much detail about the music; I’m there for the visuals, excellent audio is just a nice bonus. Suffice to say both Leif and Giant Hand are performers to listen to if you get the chance. They also turned out to be extremely photogenic.

Raw Sugar is quickly becoming my secret weapon… the green walls, warm lights and mismatched vintage furniture make the whole venue a stage. The only thing it’s missing is a nice soft spot light at center stage for the singers face. A little fill flash fixes the problem but I really hate using a flash during a show if I don’t have to. One great thing about Raw Sugar is nice white ceilings to bounce flash off of, although you have to be careful about bouncing off the walls as the greens and yellows will play havoc with your white balance. You can see more photos of Giant Hand and Leif on my Flickr.


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