While traipsing down Ottawa’s main drag, Bank Street, my eye fell upon a poster declaring the High Strung (“From Detroit Rock City!”) were appearing that very night. First I’d heard of it, which may explain why the 400-plus capacity venue seemed awful empty when I strode in – 50 people seems a generous estimate.

Openers the Setbacks were playing; for some reason my memory of them had been of a somewhat goofy pop band, and I’d avoided previous shows. That’s why my memory is off somewhere in the corner of my brain being severely pummeled by the part of my grey cells used for the appreciation of rock’n’roll: Their tough sound was akin to Norway’s Gluecifer.

After that focused hard rock attack had concluded, it was tThe High Strung’s turn; yes, they got top billing on the poster, but were runners up when it came time to hit the stage.

Their record – which I reviewed for pennyblackmusic.com when it appeared – is a zippy rocker, not unlike a poppier version of the Sights. By comparison, while the group’s live show is suitably energetic, the members’ shaggy appearance belies the album’s impression of Supergrass-loving tykes locked in the recording studio with too many sweets on hand.

The group definitely has an effective rhythm section. Though it’s something of a cliché to suggest a guitarist’s fingers danced over the fretboard, the bassist’s digits were among the busiest I’ve seen; the drummer also made a concerted attempt to topple his crash cymbal. The two guitarists were fine as well, and the set concluded with one of them thrashing away at his Gibson Les Paul with his foot and a drumstick, then running around the stage turning the dials on his bandmates amplifiers to induce as much racket as possible.

As for the headliners, Department of Foreign Affairs, I feel like a bit of a philistine: Here’s a capable band of musicians who sing and harmonize well and produce intelligent and empathetic music that doesn’t sound like a clone of either Belle and Sebastian, XTC, or Radiohead (the usual sources for clever chaps with guitars). But despite their originality and the amount of smarts and effort their evidently putting into their craft they did little for me. Perhaps because they lacked the rhythmic oomph of the two bands ahead of them, they failed to hold my attention, and after a half-dozen songs I toodled off home.

A satisfying show, but one where the head of the bill was overwhelmed.

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