Photos and a review from July Talk in Ottawa

[Another dispatch from Ottawa correspondents, Ross MacDonald (photos) and Karen Coughtrey (text). – AC]

It was an Easter weekend to remember in Ottawa with a surprise April ice storm cutting power for many residents. The city couldn’t ask for a better way to end this memorably strange long weekend and usher in a week of truly delightful and most deserved spring weather and warm temperatures, than the positive vibes and livening up provided by Crown Lands and July Talk at their show at the National Arts Centre Monday night.

Crown Lands in Ottawa

Progressive rock duo Crown Lands are doing something not many (if any) others are, in producing epic long tracks that induce a myriad of emotions and take the listener on a fantastical adventure through imaginary far-off lands. They would open the night with their newest of these ‘Starlifter: Fearless Part II’ an 18-minute long piece comprised of several distinct sections flowing near seamlessly into each other. The influence of bands like Rush and Led Zeppelin was evident throughout and combined with the use of indigenous flutes and the mystical blue and green lighting one couldn’t help but think of a fantasy world such as that in Avatar which is fitting considering the colonization themes of that film.

Crown Lands in Ottawa

Cody Bowles, the drummer and vocalist is a Mi’kmaq two spirit individual and Kevin Comeau on the keyboard and bass is Jewish. Their histories play a large role in the music they create, the bio on the website states “the band channels ancient spirits into fantastical stories. All of it tempered with current issues,” and their song ‘End of the Road,’ was dedicated to all the missing and murdered women and two spirits along the highway of tears.

Crown Lands in Ottawa

Because Kevin is both the guitarist and bassist of the group, he performed the opening song with a double-neck guitar. But unlike most double-necks (with a 12-string on top and six-string below), Kevin’s guitar has a six-string on top and a four-string bass down below. Subsequently, Kevin set up an acoustic double-neck guitar on a stand playing it and his electric guitar underneath. Performing with intricate precision, Kevin provided a lesson in guitar virtuosity.

Cody emerged from behind the drums and grabbed a mic and moved to the front of the stage for ‘Sun Dance’ giving the audience a chance to appreciate their beautiful low cut and flowy sheer black top, sparkly black pants and 70s style silver belt. Having them out front brought an extra jolt of energy to the night which was kicked up another notch when they returned behind the drums for the end of the song and into their last song ‘White Buffalo’ which had the crowd moving in their seats and clapping along.

The duos heart-moving, journey taking instrumentals paired with the intelligent (and rousing when sung by the incredible room filling voice of Bowles) lyrics allow the bands’ brand of psych rock to create emotional connections with the audience and they are bringing an excitement around a resurgence to the Canadian prog-rock scene.

The NAC is a storied event space, one thought reserved for the best and most sophisticated of Canadian artists such as orchestras and opera singers and so the crowd was well-behaved during the Crown Lands set. Although enjoying a drink or two (something that is only recently allowed within Southam Hall) the crowd mostly remained in their seats. However, it’s 2023 and times are changing, the NAC has greatly diversified the types of Canadian talent performing in its spaces and from the second July Talk took the stage you wouldn’t know it was a theatre with seats. The crowd stood immediately upon the opening notes of ‘After This’ from their newest album and most would not sit down for the rest of the night.

 July Talk in ottawa

Part of July Talk’s appeal to many is their ability to rock while also having a reputation of creating a safe space for all their fans. Not only did they recite a land acknowledgement but they made sure everyone felt welcome at their show by not only welcoming men and women but also specifically welcoming those who are gender fluid, two spirit, trans and non-binary. In addition a large straight ally flag was displayed prominently standing out beautifully in the black and white smokey lit stage setup. Perhaps the only thing that stood out more was the gorgeous Leah in her beautiful and striking lime green suit.

 July Talk in ottawa

The stage setup was simple, the lighting was dark and smoky and most songs were accompanied by a black and white video playing in the background, almost as if they were sharing the home videos that had inspired the songs, creating a surreal, dreamlike feel to the performance.

 July Talk in ottawa

Midway through the set Peter would pay homage to the important space in which they were performing (also recalling their first performance in Ottawa at the legendary Zaphod’s), explaining that the way to honour and do justice to a space was to be yourself and encouraged the crowd to be their weird self before performing ‘Identical Love.’

 July Talk in ottawa

July Talk is known for their lively performances and the band has amazing chemistry and ability to connect with their audiences. The set list was a mix of songs from throughout their catalogue and the crowd loved it all. New songs like ‘Human Side’, ‘When You Stop’ and ‘I Am Water’ were well received but there was a noticeable excitement and energy shift (as some would begin to move into the aisles to dance) around older songs such as ‘Beck and Call’ ‘Push and Pull’ and the one that really demonstrates Peter’s amazing soul scratching deep voice ‘Guns and Ammunition.’

 July Talk in ottawa

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and sometimes that happens just as the party is starting to get really good, which might have been the case on this night as the audience cranked up their energy levels perhaps to a level never before seen at the NAC. During the encore, the crowd was not even the littlest bit sleepy, as the city’s reputation would suggest, and were dancing and singing loudly along to some of the band’s earliest hits including ‘Summer Dress’ and ‘The Garden.’ Both songs are the perfect example of how the juxtaposition of Leah’s beautiful voice with the strong deep gravelly voice of Peter works so well to create something that stops you in your tracks and forces you to listen and react but leaves you feeling joyous which of course is the perfect way to end a great night of music.

 July Talk in ottawa

Crown Lands
Cody Bowles – vocals, drums
Kevin Comeau – guitar, keyboard, bass

July Talk
Peter Dreimanis – vocals, keyboards, guitar
Leah Fay – vocals, keyboards
Ian Docherty – guitar
Josh Warburton – bass, keyboards, backing vocals
Danny Miles – drums
Dani Nash – percussion, backing vocals

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38156 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.