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 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 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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