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Ottawa Venues / Yo La Tengo Review. Goodstuff


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Well since I've got some down time with nothing to do up here, thought I'd post this article from today in the Citizen. It's a part commentary on two venues in Ottawa, and part review of the Sunday Yo La Tengo show. I think her conclusion at the end about the venues is very good. Even though I still don't like seeing shows at Babylon. I'm interested to hear what others think, although this is an old debate on here for sure.

Babylon is fine, but some bands need Barrymore's

Low ceiling, small stage too tight for Yo La Tengo's expansive sound

Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2006

You could see the sweat pour off indie-rock icons Yo La Tengo as they crammed themselves and their gear onto the stage at Babylon Club on Sunday to perform music from their ambitious new disc.

"We're a little cramped up here," singer Ira Kaplan said, carefully picking a path through the gear to switch keyboards.

With his wife, Georgia Hubley, on drums and James McNew on bass, onstage real estate was at a premium.

Conditions weren't any better in the crowd, where almost 350 fans stood shoulder to shoulder as the band played.

The New Jersey rock trio has a cult following among music geeks, and the show had been sold out for weeks. Babs, which is basically next door to Barrymore's, holds a decent number of people and has a great atmosphere, but its disadvantages are a low ceiling and small stage.

You could tell Yo La Tengo doesn't often play clubs like that -- they came equipped to blow the roof off a bigger room. In addition to Hubley's drum kit and the two keyboards, there was a ton of sound equipment and at least a half-dozen guitars next to the stage, plus a hospitable guitar tech who was nice enough to share his space with me.

That was a pretty good vantage point to observe the workings of this semi-legendary band. Over two hours, they veered from sunny pop to dreamy ballads to feedback-laced freakouts, switching instruments and trading vocals.

But I had to sympathize with those at the back of the crowd, where it was impossible for anyone under six-feet tall to see any of it. During the quieter songs, all you could hear was chattering.

Don't get me wrong -- Babylon is definitely one of the top five clubs in Ottawa and owner Adam Kronick has the smarts to welcome shows such as Yo La Tengo and KRS-One (the hip-hop legend plays tonight) -- but it wasn't the first time I found myself wishing an act had been booked at Barrymore's.

After all, Barrymore's has been the setting of many historic events during the past couple of decades of Ottawa's rock history. A former theatre and strip joint, it has a seedy charm, and over the years has hosted memorable, pre-fame gigs by the likes of U2, REM, The Dave Matthews Band, Nickelback, Bryan Adams and The Tragically Hip, to name a few.

Despite recent years of decline, Barrymore's is one of the few spots in town that's earned the right to call itself legendary. With a roomy stage and tiered seating, it used to be considered one of Canada's world-class club venues.

But Barrymore's is not available on Sundays because of Eighties' Night, the cheesy DJ event that involves disco balls, a bubble machine and hits of dubious quality. It's so popular that people line up for hours to get in.

Part of the reason for its popularity is that it's known to be a good place to meet a person of the opposite sex, especially on long-weekend Sundays. Here's a sample quote, overheard on the sidewalk the other night: "You told me we'd get laid at Barrymore's on Sunday."

As a live-music fan, this situation drives me nuts. Babylon is big on atmosphere and street cred, but if I had to choose between seeing a sold-out show at Babylon or Barrymore's, I'd rather go to Barrymore's, where one is actually able to see the stage.

Thursdays are also off-limits for music promoters at Barrymore's, when the club hosts an almost-as-popular Retro '90s DJ night. Although Babylon has its own popular Sunday retro event in Mod Night and a fun Thursday feature with the Soul Jazz Orchestra, Kronick knows his is a late crowd, and is happy to accommodate early shows.

Anyway, so there I was in line for the bathroom at Babylon (grungy as usual, with two stalls were out of order), contemplating this conundrum of the Ottawa music scene and trying to find meaning in the scrawled messages on the wall. It wasn't looking good: Smurfs are Asexual, Tom is Hot, Don't Say No to Mommy, I Dated Chef Boyardee and something poetic about self-righteousness dying tonight.

As Yo La Tengo rocked, loud enough that I still needed earplugs, two things hit me. First, I wouldn't have seen them if not for Babylon. And second, the swaggering title of their disc, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, suddenly made sense.

How come? Because it fit with the graffiti.

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