When I entered the New Autumn Line were in the middle of  a walkie-talkie solo, and torturing electronic popping noises. They then made the dolorous announcement halfway through their set that the band’s progress had been stymied by the death of their drummer earlier that year – quickly adding that since their drummer was a machine, they replaced it by simply buying a new one. “We’ll be alternating songs we know with songs we don’t know” bassist Andy Cant further explained. Those songs (all but one instrumental) were a post rocking affair – actually, The New Autumn Line reminded me uncannily of Hertzsprung Gap, one of the first bands I did a Pennyblackmusic CD review for.

A quick loo break was interrupted by the sound of pummeling hard rock thundering through the bathroom stall door. “Gee, these St. Bernard of Love guys really rock!” I observed -- actually, they don’t. The Bernard have a sound akin to the 'Dutch Harbor' soundtrack mixed with the Velvet Underground on heroin (make that the Velvet Underground on more heroin); the sonic culprits were a band using one of the basement rooms of the collection of small stores and offices that Irene’s resides in for rehearsal. They could be heard, faintly but distinctly, through the floor for all of Saint Bernard of Love’s set.

Saint Bernard of Love is actually one man, Michael D. Wieland, (his two onstage accomplices were described as part-time lovers (ooh, er!). Atmospheric guitar, violin, a touch of xylophone and piano and a single thumping drum made for a sparse but effective backdrop to his flat but not atonal delivery.

The first time Saturday Looks Good To Me played Ottawa in July 2003, a dozen people appeared to watch the threesome of mastermind Fred Thomas, accordionist/organist/bassist Elliot Bergman and drummer Steve play in Irene’s folksy environs.
This time around, the turnout was far better, with every table occupied, despite it being a chilly Tuesday night. The band was a bit more substantial as well.  Bergman stuck with a saxophone and keyboards; a bassist and keyboardist thickened the sound and -- most importantly – Betty Marie Barnes was on hand to serve as Thomas’ vocal foil.

For those who haven’t heard a Saturday Looks Good To Me record (you poor bastards), the group favours a lo-fi Beach Boys, Belle and Sebastian sort of sound, with some remarkably muscular guitar playing from Thomas.

He was particularly ferocious on this occasion, with some stinging leads that would have fitted in perfectly with the downstairs rockers. Needless to say, the reproduction of the group’s sound was far more faithful than the trio’s; the presence of a female vocalist was sorely missed last time around, and Barnes has a pleasantly husky delivery (and looks good to boot).
Throughout the show Thomas asked in his usual humble (or is that pretentious?) manner if it was okay by the audience for the band to “play a few more songs” – needless to say, it always was.

At times the group’s recreation of songs was on the roughhewn side – to be expected, given the rotating group of musicians Thomas relies on to record his albums – but never failed to convey the emotional impact of Thomas’ wistful and heartfelt pop.

A winning performance all around.


















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