It's now time for our review of Saturday night's birthday concert for prolific local metal/punk drummer Johnny Belanger at The Oddfellows Hall, under the curious name "Johnny B.'s #Litfam Birthday Sheezy"! Only a mixed turnout at best, peaking for the last two bands, which may have partially been from the show's branding as a birthday event (maybe people were scared off thinking it was private?) Hot dogs and pop were on sale for the occasion, and everyone even sang "Happy Birthday to You" to Johnny midway through the show, which was a nice moment!
Opening Saturday's show was new local hard rock quartet Heavy Head in their Oddfellows Hall debut, and it's safe to say that they've improved a ton since their VM Radio Battle of the Bands set! The talented quartet seemed more casual and tighter than they did during their early appearances, and seemed to entertain early fans with their set, which seemed to evolve their cover selection away from poppy songs like "Shut Up & Dance" into a better-suited rock set. Actually, punk made up a substantial part of their set, with Blink-182, NOFX, and Sublime getting prime spots alongside a handful of originals (like their closer "Mikey Doesn't Whiskey".) The guys all performed strongly, with Daniel Horton and Jesse Cook having fun interactions, but Mike Gaetano mostly stuck to the mic stand, only rarely bantered with the crowd, and, in what was to recur with later singers, was often inaudible on heavier songs. Heavy Head are definitely turning the corner, and hopefully they keep at it into the summer!
Eclipse (also making their Oddfellows debut), and for fans who like their System of a Down renditions, you'll have been quite happy, as the first 7 songs of their 11 song set were S.O.A.D. covers! I often find it hard to critique the same band twice in a short span, as things don't usually have drastic changes in the interim, but this definitely helped! The guys have the instrumentals down well, but I will say that Curtis McKenzie's vocal range doesn't suit certain S.O.A.D. songs with Serj on lead vocals ("Aerials" is a good example.) Closing with originals "Crywolf" & "Silver Bullet" and Led Zeppelin & Billy Talent renditions, Eclipse were in good form with solid energy, with Chris Thompson keeping the beat strongly on drums, and Fred Dunn holding his own on bass! Eclipse delivered a unique set for early fans, and we'll have to see if they repeat it at all in the future!
Kaepora Gaebora in their own Oddfellows Hall debut, and they delivered a strong, if work-in-progress set that got some light moshing going on Saturday evening! Playing a short 5 song set (including songs like "Evolution By Force" and one that appeared to be called "ABCDEFG"), Kaepora Gaebora endured some technical difficulties with their own amps and gear to deliver a strong death metal wallop that called to mind guitarist Dan Souliere's Bring the Fallen past! Original B.T.F. drummer Joey Graham proved to be a capable growler, but with vocals muffled for most of the night's bands, I'd want to hear him again before I really compared or critiqued him. It was also nice to see Kevin Overton back behind a drum kit for a local band, his skilled playing has been missed in recent years! Kaepora Gaebora need to get some more songs under their belts, and some more guitar solos, but they're on their way, and hopefully we hear more soon!
Jack Spades took the stage next in Heavy Head bandmates Johnny Belanger & Jesse Cook's second sets of the night, and they were up to their usual entertaining standards on Friday! Unfortunately, the first half of their set had a very low turnout, but with songs like "Breakneck Speed", "To The Left", and covers of the likes of SNFU and The Ripcordz, fans in the hall definitely took to Jack Spades' melodic punk/metal fusion! J.D. Pearce's vocals were as consistent and fitting as ever (just a shame the vocals were quiet all night), while Jesse & Tiffany Stocco provided strong guitar throughout! Jack Spades are a band that really feeds off the crowd, so they've had stronger sets than this, but the guys delivered well!
Winkstinger, who showed clear improvement from their new lineup's debut last month! Playing a similar set mixing familiar originals with covers of the likes of Pantera and Anthrax, Winkstinger avoided the technical difficulties and stage rust of their debut with an entertaining metal onslaught, with the new members showing improved stage presences! Keith Gagnon (complete with Little Mermaid poncho) relied less on lyric sheets this time out, and had a fun chemistry & rapport with Jesse throughout the set, while bassist Andrew MacDonald didn't face the back of the stage as much as he had during their return. It was also fun seeing Johnny, Dan, and Bear Hunters frontman Nik Deubel joining in for vocals on Winkstinger's covers, and if Winkstinger continue on this path, they'll be back at their early 2010s peak before you know it!
The Bear Hunters in their first show of 2015, but their set contained the teased special guest appearance, as rhythm guitarist Josh Stephney did indeed return to the fold for the first time since the "Eternal Hibernation" release show in November 2014! It was great to see Josh retake his rightful spot on stage with the Hunters, and he didn't lose a step in the past year & a half, fitting right in like he'd never moved! Busy in studio lately, The Bear Hunters broke out a set full of brutal originals new and old like "Servitude" and "Neckbreaker", plus fan favourite covers of "Guardians of Asgaard" and, yes, "Squirrel Buddy", though the quiet vocals killed the humour of the latter with Mitch Sirie's vocals virtually inaudible. Everyone was on form, with Nik in ferocious form, and Justin Lam strong on bass, and it was great to see The Bear Hunters' full lineup again! Here's hoping it's not another 18 months!
Overall, this was a very fun concert despite the constant vocal audibility issues, and it looks like Johnny had a great birthday party with lots of local talent, including three of his own bands! You can check out our photos from the show at this link or at our Facebook page, and as for or videos, here's Heavy Head playing their original "5 A.M.", Eclipse covering System of a Down's "Hypnotize", Kaepora Gaebora playing "Death Spins", Jack Spades playing "Crossroads", Winkstinger playing an unclear song (let us know if you can help title it!), and The Bear Hunters playing "I Fear No God"!
That's all for today, but stay tuned for more news and updates this week! Thanks everyone, and Happy Birthday, Johnny!!