The crowd at the Dom were thrilled when the chords the Nils’ classic 'Scratches and Needles' came ripping out of the PA, and the band were obviously happy to be treating the audience to a tight and fiery rendition of one of their own favourite tunes — if only if the band in question had actually been the Nils....

The Dominion was fairly full, but not packed on the warm May evening when Ottawa natives the Sick Fits kicked out their snotty new wave punk rock. Last time I saw them, their frenetic lead guitarist had an equipment malfunction, so he put down his Telecaster, played air guitar for a while, then threw himself over the tables and rolled around on the ground. This time his guitar was working fine,and, even when the bass player fell on him, toppling him into the Fits’ bean pole vocalist, he continued his wild, slashing playing. They have a lot of songs about television, and did a trashy version of the Stones’ 'Heartbreaker'. 

Toronto street punks Angels, Saints and Heroes sound like a clunkier early Social Distortion, and are a musically sharp outfit with lots of gravelly vocals and 1-4-5 major chords. AS&Hs' two guitarist-vocalists were once in skin head punk band King Size Braces, and their current outfit is much in the same vein — thus the sizable (for Ottawa, anyway) contingent of Doc Martens, suspenders and cloth caps out to see them play.

Cleveland's GC5 might be named in homage to the Motor City’s favourite quintet, but musically they’re closer to the Replacements crossbred with the Hudson Falcons, with whom they’re pals.

It was they who provided the emotional crescendo of the evening; duly authorized by Carlos Soria to dip into the Nils’ catalogue they provided the audience with a charged version of 'Scratches and Needles', the tune that launched the Nils’
recording career.  

Then it was the Nils turn.

Alex and Carlos Soria, the heart of the most important Canadian band of the 80's, looked a little worse for wear; from where I was sitting while the GC5 set up their gear, it looked like the doorman was about to bar Alex Soria from entering on the entirely understandable assumption that he was one of the homeless men who frequent the Bytown Market.

The Nils had played in Toronto the night before, and had hooked up with hometown pal John Kastner — the former Doughboys mainstay, now in All Systems Go!-along with former Big Drill Car members, and had been playing that evening at the Bovine Sex Club — for some late-night (or is that early morning?) partying that had allegedly left the band a little tired (they didn’t mention the five-hour drive from Toronto, or that they were getting on stage at 1:20 a.m.). Carlos Soria did bely his haggard appearance with some enthusiastic jumping while he plied his bass — occasionally bumping his younger brother, who responded with a backwards kick after one collision — and their drummer and second guitarist seemed to have energy to spare, Alex Soria, the lynch pin of the band, seemed less inclined to make a huge effort. Alex has been called the shyest front man in rock’n’roll, and on this occasion his vocals were indistinct at times (and I was standing right in front of him, two feet away).

The band still pumped out the Nils’ melodic rock with skill, but  almost the entire set was new songs — only 'Truce' and a mandatory but perfunctory rendition of 'Green Fields In Daylight' rang any bells with me. The crowd shouted for classics like 'Wicked Politician' and 'I Am The Wolf', but to no avail: “We don’t know it,” explained Alex. “We wrote it, but we can’t play it.”

There was some reasonably good natured heckling-“Do you know any Nils songs?”- from the back of the room courtesy of Jim Bryson and Chris Page, a.k.a. Glen Nevous, two Ottawa musicians heavily influenced by the Nils. At times it appeared the second guitarist and drummer needed prompting from Alex to recollect which song was next — the overwhelming impression was of a band with a collection of new tunes that haven’t quite jelled.

The fact that the band, however, still provided an entertaining set of rock’n’roll is a tribute to the musical ability of the Sorias and their band. The crowd applauded enthusiastically after each number and had them back on for an encore. It’s heartening to see The Nils working on new material (Alex declared from the stage they were looking to put out a record) but I was a trifle disappointed — I’ve seen three far superior performances by Alex and co. as Chino. Those shows didn’t have many Nils tunes, but they were “on” in a way the Nils weren’t this night. I hope to see them again; I also hope they get a lot closer to their legend, and play some of the songs that made their reputation.









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