The first week in March is Canadian Music Week. Vast hordes of bands gather in Toronto to jam every venue in town and attempt to improve their profile, get a record deal and impress the punters.

Some of these bands come from quite a distance, and like other big music weekends across the continent, try to fit in a spot of touring. Brisbane record label Plus One records sent four of the groups on their label all the way from Australia, and as part of their trip they landed at Ottawa’s small-but-hip music club, Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Unfortunately the turnout was middling. The Aussie invaders blamed the weather; native Ottawans were amused by the frequent thanks for coming out “On such a cold night!” it was only -9 Celsius; not really punishing by the standards of late winter in the city. The Oscars was the more likely culprit for the underwhelming turnout.The few dozen people who did show got a fine and varied series of acts.

The first band on stage was the Gin Club, a rootsy pop band with several vocalists and a fluctuating lineup. They got up to seven people, including a cellist, and have apparently reached the double digits on other occasions. The music was flavoured further with accordion, electric piano and harmonica. Vocalist Conor J. MacDonald made a particularly good impression, inviting a Sparklehorse comparison with both the appropriate T-shirt and fragile fleeting songs. The band kept things moving despite several instrument changes, and would undoubtedly find favour with fans of earlier Wilco or the Scud Mountain Boys.

The next band on was Iron On. The band wears its Sonic Youth influences on its sleeve (and on Ian Rogers’ bass guitar, which sported a 'Sonic Nurse' sticker). My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr. and other bands fond of walls of guitar sound also feature in their makeup. Vocals were shared between Ross Hope, a somewhat reedy singer, and Sarah Cooper who has a more declamatory style. They were quite entertaining.

The next band up, Brindle, has a standout lead singer in soulful singer Deb Suckling. They are good musicians but they were definitely getting by on live energy rather than any sort of distinctive sound or songwriting.

Giants of Science closed the night out. With the exception of their drummer, everyone in the Giants had already been on stage as part of the Gin Club, but their sound stayed clear of roots rock. Amped up alternative rock in the vein of Swervedriver and the Catherine Wheel is their deal, and they put on a fantastic show. As with Gin Club there was a good attention paid to the vocals and a three-guitar lineup that combined electric force with some pop smarts. Add an active stage performance and you’ve got a winner.















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