It was an unseasonably warm and rainy February night when I ventured down to Club Soda to check out a show drenched in blues. Sadly, the venue was nowhere nearing capacity for the entirety of the evening; I doubt if it ever made it to half capacity. Such is the life of a rock and/or roller, I guess.
The first band to hit the stage was Ontario born rocker Billy Raffoul. He and his band came out to the Mighty Mouse theme song. As the intro faded out, they came hammering in all toms and hard hitting notes before delving into their set. Watching Justin, the drummer, play was very tantalizing to the eyes. Before nailing some of his more forceful hi-hat hits, he’d lift his right arm above his head before slamming it back down. Not to be outdone by such theatrics, Billy Raffoul bellowed his best Boss rendition; it was a sound that can only be achieved through many cigars and whiskeys, me thinks. Sadly, while the attack of Lena’s bass was on point, her backing vocals were completely drowned out in the mix in the room. It’s such a shame because when I was able to hear her, she killed it. My favourite tune of theirs was Raffoul’s solo rendition of “You Be Love.” He stood silhouetted in a jean jacket and cascading spotlights while he laid down a rather intricate guitar riff behind a stellar vocal line. One thing that bothered me about their set, however, was the constant use of pre-recorded backing tracks. It’s a little thing, but it always sounds weird to me. C’est la vie.
Next up was Black Pistol Fire, and holy shit, if you never had the chance to see The White Stripes live, this duo can scratch that itch. Singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown threw himself, and a rather sexy looking turquoise hollow body Epiphone guitar, around the stage. He did it with such ferocity that I thought he was going to explode, or slip off the stage and die; lucky for us he didn’t. McKeown howled and crooned his way through many a blues standard, but his use of pedals is what stole the show for me. Expertly intermixing a sweet, sweet phaser pedal with some delay, and even the ole stalwart, the Whammy pedal, McKeown made his guitar walk and talk blue thunder. Not to be outdone, drummer Eric Owen owned those skins. He kept up a steady, pulsating beat that was the perfect void filler. I only wish his hi-hat was louder in the mix. Still, don’t sleep on these cats. Make sure they get on your musical Bucketlist for this year.
And then it was time for ZZ Ward. I had mixed feelings about her set that I’ll try to explain. What was phenomenal about it was her voice. It shredded through the ceiling of what I thought possible and continued on; it handily found its way to every corner of the less-than-packed venue with ease. Not only was her singing voice on display, but daaaaaaamn that chick rocked a mean harmonica too! She was also a more than ample frontman. She did her best to get the crowd to sing and clap along, while never staying in one place for too long. For the majority of the set she was bouncing around the stage.
What I found really weird was the set layout. She’d go from an uptempo rocking blues tune like “Ride,” to a sit down acoustic number. Then, she’d pick up an electric guitar again to wail away on some balls out tune only to go back to the slow jams the next song. The entire setlist had an odd, catch-as-catch-can flow to it. That’s not to say it was bad, because she fucking rocked every song with ease and splendor, but I found the set selection peculiar. Such is life, I guess. I still had a great time.
Alas, much like a great night of blues on the 20th of February had to end, so does this review. Check these bands out at your leisure and tell me what you think of ‘em in the comments below.
Written by Aaron Deck
*edited by Danielle Kenedy