Cerberus Shoal’s appearance in Ottawa was a relatively unheralded affair. Around two-dozen people came to enjoy the six-person folk-drone ensemble. Promoter (and famed punk photographer) Shawn Scallen must have had an interesting job locating appropriate show openers.

Club SAW is located in the basement of the city’s art court, a taxpayer funded building used for art classes and an experimental gallery. You walk through a side entrance, down a short flight of steps, past gallery’s latest exhibit  (55 numbered and signed copies of Canada’s Indian Act, each one with a bullet hole or peppered with shotgun pellets, an attached baggy contains the discarded casing or shell). Hang a right, and you’re in the good-sized room (capacity, at a  guess, 150 or so) which is a frequent venue for all-ages shows in Ottawa, it being one of the few places in town with no need for a liquor licence. If you want a drink, the soda-can dispensing machine is out in the hall.

First up was Expatriate;  the quartet sports a guitarist, two bassists and a drummer who would have done a fine job in a military marching band. The group’s driving post-rock instrumentals would have fit right in opening for a group like Tortoise. They did an admirable job with their opening slot, but, like the aforementioned outfit, they seemed a little dry to those of us who like a little singing now and then.

Trio Gay as the Day is Long then put on a striking show of post-punk rock’n’roll— they put me in mind of groups like the Wipers or early-’80s British groups like the Sound, with their guitarist making excellent use of a host of effects pedals. I eagerly await an album.

Cerberus Shoal opened their set with bassist Erin Davidson giving a highly reverbed a Capella performance; accordionist Coleen Kinsella, wearing a pair of silver-sequined fingerless gloves, meandered through the audience as other band members took the stage before taking her place at the harmonium. The band gave a seamless show of twisted choral drone, beginning with singing 'Happy Birthday' for their percussionist/keyboardist (a cupcake topped with lit candles was produced for the occasion).

I now understand why Cerberus Shoal put lots of interludes on their split CD with Herman Dune: It’s to give the band a chance to switch instruments between songs: While one or two members sing, the others switch between bass and guitar and banjo and kettle drum and bell and keyboards and harmonium and accordion and so on. Only the drummer didn’t change instruments.

There was some rambunctious behaviour from the band’s seriously disheveled guitarist-banjoist. I had originally assumed he was one of the transients from the nearby Mission for Men when he passed me outside the art gallery, and he was apparently feeling his cups; he wrestled with his chair, bumped into the bassist/guitarist (and received a moderately playful boot in consequence), gave an incoherent description about how merchandise could be obtained, and finally relit and extinguished the keyboardist’s birthday cupcake ... by stamping out the candles. This didn’t prevent a flowing performance from the group which weaved a flowing sonic tapestry as beautiful as anything on their albums. Or, as one departing showgoer remarked: “Wow. That was incredible.”

the phptgraphs that accompany this article were taken by Andrew Carver

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