Y’all, I have a thing or two to learn from Thicke Sugar.
I was sitting at Petit Campus, staring into the purple-lit drum kit and waiting for the show to start. Aretha Franklin was playing through the speakers. It was a Saturday night. I was ready.
What’s great about shows featuring local bands is the friendships that form on and off stages. Bands help each other grow, as part of the family tree that is a musical community. Thicke Sugar invited Ottawa friends Lost Acres to open the night with their whimsical energy, followed by Montreal’s Paddle to the Sea who rocked the crowd with grunge moments and alcoholic donations, all this in celebration of Sugar’s single release, “Pocket Change.”
This was my second time attending Petit Campus, and unfortunately also the second time with sound issues there. Rhythm guitarist Zack Bryan was inaudible for most of Lost Acres set; along with Nick Price’s vocals, Bryan was drowned out by unnecessarily loud lead riffs, for which I do not blame guitarist Dawson Doyle. Both guitars blared during the final songs, creating an impenetrable wall of fuzz. Such a shame; Lost Acres is a newer band with some bad habits to break, but their songs are good. Price’s vocals were strong, the musicianship was mostly there, and they were clearly overjoyed to play on their largest stage yet. I couldn’t help glaring at the sound man.
Despite technical issues, the feels happened when Paddle to the Sea revved up. This was some solid, good ol’ fashioned rock n roll. I appreciated their attention to dynamics—Philip Shearing (a Kurt Vile type) wasn’t afraid to take his hand off the fretboard to leave space. We all bopped along to “Sentimental Trash,” which sounded like a grimier version of La Luz. I was very impressed with their inventive vocal harmonies, although I couldn’t look away from the new bassist’s mic stand, which was way too high for him. He’s a wildcard, by the way.
Their most memorable moment was when Shearing bribed the audience to buy him beer. He was also brought shots and got progressively tipsy, which actually made his performance quite fun and childlike. The crowd egged on the bassist’s goofy antics. Paddle gave a vigorous performance, and I truly enjoyed their songs. I’m sometimes picky with singers, but I appreciated that Shearing plays to his strengths. His vocal parts are well-placed, where they could’ve been an afterthought. He is who he is, and we didn’t need anything else.
At last! The piece de resistance!
Thicke Sugar had me from the moment lead singer Shawn Thicke opened his mouth, letting out a growl that brought me back to Screamin’ Jay. My draw literally dropped. Thicke is the real deal—bonus points for the theatre kid vibes! I pushed to the front of the room to dance. The band’s mix of blues, folk, rock and funk was so right, and definitely reminiscent of Janis Joplin’s band. I was completely pulled in by how tight bassist Kyle Gehmlich and drummer Cooper Gehmlich played together. And can we talk about sax player and co-founder Jeremy Juh Braziller?? It’s a good sign to see a saxophonist walking purposefully around a stage before a set, but his PLAYING. He is so soulful, he could stand on his own. I couldn’t help but sing along to “Pocket Change.” I was entranced by the vocals interplaying with the band, each note and chord change a welcome surprise. Everything was so well-placed– no musician’s playing competed with anyone else’s. There is definitely a Frusciante thing going on with lead guitarist, Aaron Shepherd. Yeah.
Jeremy and rhythm guitarist Jonny Cake recounted the band’s history; they’ve grown into friends. Jeremy and Thicke even wore the same shoes. What a beautiful thing. They played a Tragically Hip cover, which Thicke owned so well, I’d have though he wrote it himself. He removed his shirt and said the heat might force him to shed his pants too. The audience seemed 100% ok with that. He had them in the palm of his hand. The crowd sang along to “Pothole” while flailing their arms (an Ottawa thing?) I had my eyes closed during “Pied Piper,” and I swear I heard Beth Hart’s voice roaring through the room. Goosebumps!!!
This was what I came here for. I experienced their performance in my body, and not at all cerebrally. For the sake of objectivity, I like to close my eyes and imagine what I’m hearing as a live album, to test the solidity of the playing with the high-energy factor of live shows. These guys definitely pass.
My notes from the night are FULL of hearts and exclamation points.
Written by Hanorah
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson