PAUL COLLINS BEAT
By DAVE CHAMPION
+ MOTHER’S CHILDREN
+ SONIC AVENUES
+ WALNUT KIDS
Babylon, Ottawa, Canada
August 13, 2010
As the Barman has been known to say about me: "Champion will go anywhere for a rock n' roll show". It used to be true but owing to some abysmal misfortunes which have befallen me over the past 18 months, going to rock shows has taken a backseat to things like negligent quacks, surgical procedures to repair said quackery not to mention the removal unnecessary organs like gall bladders, physiotherapy and the blessed joys of dealing with er, bureaucracy.
So, I found myself visiting my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in August. Having not lived there since the late ‘80s I never really expect too much to be happening as far as rock n' roll goes. As a friend of mine once said: "Ottawa is the boil on the ass of rock n' roll".
I'm happy to say all that has changed and it's due to labels like Going Gaga Records as well as record stores like Birdman Sound and radio stations like CKCU and CHUO whose DJs not only play the rock but play in the bands that make the rock.
And when I learned Paul Collins would be playing while I was there, well, that was just the icing on the cake.
Babylon is a pretty decent venue with a low stage but a good sound system. The show was sponsored by Going Gaga Records and at $8 Canadian admission no one was going to get rich.
Unfortunately, early 80s Brit band, The Business, were playing the same night at another venue on the other side of town and to those who went there instead I can only say: "You're young and will one day see the light."
Up first was Montreal's The Walnut Kids. Great power pop with a 1977 set of balls to it that reminded me of a hybrid between the Vibrators and The Only Ones. 25-minute set with no long winded speeches between songs (all four bands stuck to that formula) so you got a full sampling of what they're about. And you gotta love any band who play a smoking version of the Real Kids' "All Kindsa Girls"
Killer 45 out now on Going Gaga Records. Check out their tune "Sabrina" which just rips. Their MySpace is here.
Setting the pace for the rest of the evening was Montreal's Sonic Avenues. From the first note played I got chills as they took me back to Montreal in the early to mid 80s and a band called the Nils. Comparisons aside, these guys have the multipart vocal harmonies down pat and took turns singing the tunes. I'd recommend you buy their debut album but it's sold out so stay tuned for the repress or if you can't wait you can download them from iTunes. Watch for them on tour in Europe in the fall. Worth your time and attention. More info here.
Up next was Ottawa's own Mother's Children. To quote my buddy, Phil Smith (aka Arm of the Paranoid Squirrel podcast) "I dare you to listen to these guys and not walk away humming a song or two." He's right as tracks like "What'll happen to all the girls?" and "Don't Tell Mom" attest. But what's different about this current crop of rock n' roll bands is that not only can they play catchy tunes but they're fun. To quote one of the band:
"People just wanna go out have fun, listen to exciting, unpretentious bands who know their rock n' roll roots and don't get all caught up in current music fads."
For an old fart like me that sentiment is critical. But don't take my word for it because watching their set, and digging it, was Paul Collins himself. I can't think of better praise than having the guy you're opening for checking you out.
Earlier in the evening as I was sitting with my long time ( and I mean LONG time) fellow punk rock veteran, Dave Aardvark, and his girlfriend Stephanie, a guy came by handing out little fliers advertising The Beat Army. After watching me shake the guy’s hand Dave said: "Who was that?" None other than Paul Collins himself spreading the word.
With little fanfare, other than Going Gaga label head Ian Manhire introducing the band by demanding, nay, insisting the audience genuflect and pay homage to "Sir Paul Collins", Paul and Co. took the stage.
Wearing a red T shirt stating "I Don't Fit In" with matching red deck shoes and armed with a red Rickenbacker , he was clearly primed to give the crowd a lesson in catchy rock n' roll. What better way to do that by opening up with the song he recorded with The Nerves that became a hit for Blondie, "Hanging on the Telephone"?
From the opening chord, the audience was owned. The place literally erupted and even Collins looked surprised at the kids who started crowdsurfing. One thing, quite obvious, right from the start was that his voice was not doing so well. As he explained to the audience who, quite frankly, could have cared less, this was not as a result of too many late nights, too many cigarettes or too many shots but rather the AC in their van. It didn't matter. Paul Collins at 50 percent vocal capacity smokes most bands operating at 100 percent.
For the next 55 minutes the hits just kept coming both from The Beat's back catalog and Paul's rather extensive solo output. Several of the audience kept jumping on stage and singing backups to many of the tunes and rendering bassist Juancho's microphone unusable without Collins' trusty sidekick having to almost kneel down to sing a backup.
Their new lead player, allegedly playing his third show with the band, had every subtle hook and nuance from all of Collins' material down pat and was entertaining to watch, the lead break in "Helen" being the standout for me. Especially entertaining was the debut of "Don't Blame Your Troubles on Me" from the new album "King of Power Pop!" (see review elsewhere this issue)
And he had no problem getting the ladies to take the stage to dance with him during "Look But Don't Touch", something I have seen him pull off before. Both band and audience left the venue dripping sweat with smiles on their faces. And no matter where in the world I see the rock that's the sign of a great gig.
Setlist: Hanging on the Telephone/Working Too Hard/Let Me into Your Life/The Kids are the Same/I Still Want You/That's What Life is All About/Work a Day World/Falling in Love with Her/When you Find Out/Rocknroll Girl/Don't Blame Your Troubles on Me/Do You Wanna Love Me?/Helen/Look But Don't Touch
Encore: Walking Out of Love/Don't Wait Up For Me
The King of Power Pop indeed!