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Review by David Barrett Photos by Mike Bouchard Peter Elkas in Ottawa at the NAC - Mar. 16, 2012 More photos by Mike Bouchard on Flickr The Fourth Stage at the NAC is a unique venue in Ottawa- at once intimate and spartan, the stage is barely raised from the floor, placing the artist on an almost equal footing as the audience. To many of the acts that play there, this lends an opportunity to converse fairly freely with the audience and this was obvious from the start on this night, with Peter Elkas working the room well with his disarming smile, perfect teeth and natural, spontaneous stage banter. We learned, for instance, before the show got going how he was born in Montréal and had played in many venues in Ottawa over the years; in fact he listed off each venue, one by one (tally being around 14, for those interested). The series of bands playing at the 4th Stage has been impressive, with someone giving careful consideration to those artists that would take maximum advantage of the room's qualities and this was no exception. “I tune because I care” was something of an ongoing joke and the band even strayed from the setlist to accommodate one or two requests In listening to Peter Elkas you are at once struck with both the feeling of experiencing a unique voice but one that resonates with a certain familiarity. In making a name for him self as an indie-rock songwriter, he has had the opportunity to venture out from well trodden trails and into the fringes, having had on his musical journeys a variety of interesting companions (Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Neko Case, Feist are, for instance, past musical companions to Elkas), each seeming to subtly infuse his style with their own voice. That Elkas is an accomplished songwriter is something of a given; this was evident from the get-go with the release of his reflective, catchy and melodic 2003 debut album, Party of One. His subsequent efforts underscored this as the sophmore Wall of Fire demonstrated a slightly different type of sound in equally accomplished fashion. Elkas's Repeat Offender (released last year) shows how this evolution in styles has showed what I've felt was a Motown sound with rich harmonies shaped into a uniquely Elkasesque sound (occasional heavy and fuzzy guitar licks and short solos and a nice departure from the verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure and the other musicians). Elkas's songwriting centres around good melodies, interesting chord changes and ultimately, solid hooks. A great vocal range and a great command of both electric and acoustic guitars give him a nice little arsenal of talent from which to draw. This was demonstrated in his professional approach to the gig, warming the audience by opening his first of two sets solo, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. Thus, Sweet Nancy and Sunlight showcased reflective lyrics, pretty melodies and interesting chord changes. They also serve well to show off Elkas's vocal range, falsettos scattered throughout. Burt Neilson Band veterans Jeremy Little and Gavin Maguire then joined the stage and Elkas switched to an electric Epiphone (then to a Fender by the fourth song). He also explained that [our very own] his keyboard player, Jeff Heisholt couldn't make the gig as he was in Texas at the SXSW festival; more on that later. Blue of You from his 2011 album, Repeat Offender, cranked things up a notch with a driving rhythm and a bit of heavy guitar at the song's close. While tables of women in the 20-30 age range lapped up the gentle side of the Elkas songwriting catalog, the more testosterone-laden male bracket seemed to hoot and holler a bit more during and after the heavier numbers. Having three albums of songs to draw from kept the sets interesting and Elkas's influences were given nods with distinct flavours ranging from Motown/Soul through to Beatles sounds as well as Bruce Springsteen songwriting sensibilities. And in keeping with Elkas's easygoing banter we were treated, later in the night, to stories involving his teenage self making a trek to meet his childhood hero, Springsteen, and how it finally came to fruition years later– more on that the CBC website. Little and Maguire kept things tight, and stepped up in making up on some of the harmonizing with the absence of Heisholt. The songlist itself was evidence of thoughtful musings on how to make a set flow and Elkas's efforts paid off well. By the end of the first set the energy had been waxing, and by the time they took to the stage again the audience was palpably ready for more. When a songwriter knows his material inside-out and understands the dynamics of a good musical flow, the results can be insidious– this was such a night, despite the absence of a quarter of the band's sound. The fact that Elkas was comfortable with all of this shone through via more and more banter, back and forth between himself and the audience (“I tune because I care” was something of an ongoing joke and the band even strayed from the setlist to accommodate one or two requests). Anticipation was a great warm up to Cruel Thing to Do, providing the meatier part of the first set and set a certain tone for the songs of scoundrels that rounded out the set. Perhaps not coincidentally, during the string of scoundrel songs Elkas made a request of the audience, “We miss Jeff, can everybody say that?”. The second set opened with Elkas on the Wurlitzer (hoping, as he told us, that he wouldn't make too many mistakes, he didn't, by my reckoning) for 2011's Atlas and merged into a second set that proved to shuffle hooks, change pace and add audience participation (Elkas had the room yelling/singing “Yeeeahhhh” and “Wooooooo” during the effervescent and vaguely My Girl-reminiscent Something Beaming). The hooks abided throughout the rest of the set with Elkas “replacing” Heisholt with a kazoo for (appropriately?) Build a Harmony, and the second set crescendo-ed via Cool Thing to Do, and a very rocking (& rather Blues Brothers-y) Everybody Works. The encore was a nice one-two punch with an acoustic solo version of “How Do You Sleep” and a “tribute” to Springsteen in the form of Only You and concluded with the Beatles-esque Turn Out the Lights, once again featuring Elkas on the Keyboard. While it's somewhat of a truism, the combination of Elkas's professionalism, song crafting and excellent stage presence left all in attendance with the realisation that this is a band that will continue to make itself heard and will continue to entertain and inspire– hope for scoundrels yet. Peter Elkas Mar. 16, 2012 Ottawa, ON - NAC 4th Stage Set I Sweet Nancy Sunlight Blue of You My Well Runs Deeper Anticipation Cruel Thing To Do Repeat Offender Fall Apart Again Party of One Set II Atlas Wall off Fire Goodbye to Dublin Paid Back Something Beaming Build a Harmony Cool Thing Everybody Works Poor Young Things How Do You Sleep Only You Turn out the Lights