by Gayle Bird
Wednesday nights at Chandler’s Lounge is Open Mic with Mike LeLievre. (“Hi, welcome to open mic. I’m the Open Mike. You can talk to me, tell me anything”), of Slowcoaster fame. A few Wednesdays ago, Terrance Murphy and I picked up a friend from work and sauntered by in time to catch Mike and his Slowcoaster cronies Steve MacDougall and Devon Strang kickin’ it up to some of their own tunes. Terrance grabbed a draft, and as they finished up the current song, Steve shouted out, “Hey Terrance! You bring your horn?” He shouted back, “Yeah, can I down half of this first?” “Sure, I gotta down half’ a mine!” They struck up another tune and he bounded onto the stage with his trombone.
Now, Terrance had been holed up in my house for four or five days, in the past couple of weeks, composing some horn bits for he and Carrie Ellen Gabriel, (the Accents’ trumpet player), to play along with Slowcoaster’s newest songs, with the intention of trying them out here at Open Mic. I’d been hearing the songs on tape, plus him humming the harmonies and brass-lines he was coming up with, and even the computer playing the notes along with the tape after he composed the piece. But nothing prepared me for how smooth, mellow, and downright sexy it was going to sound, live.
Slowcoaster on their own is spellbinding enough, but this was one step higher on a stair I thought had reached its Zenith.
It was lovely, jazzy, throaty music. Slowcoaster plays funky, punky, rocky, bluesy, country, junky, story music. Terrance had been complaining that there are usually areas in songs where he can fill in holes with the horn – but these three fill every second with sound; however, the trombone did nothing but add to the experience that is Slowcoaster. I was sort of thinking that if it were just a trumpet, it wouldn’t sound as nice, because a trumpet is higher and harsher, and the deeper mellowness of the trombone just suits the band more. But the two of them as a harmonized brass section alongside the incredible bass that never stops is a melody on its own. The bouncy electric guitar, the smooth vocals, the lyrics that make your head spin, and the fullness of the drums….well I’ve run out of superlatives and metaphors. It’s going to bloody rock is what its going to do!
Damn. I used up all my good words and I’m only into describing the first, oh, 15 minutes of the night. They finished up playing (some guy played bongos for a while – I didn’t recognize him) and then Mike asked the time; “Ten to eleven? Man, we’re not even supposed to have started yet.” Awww yeah. So let’s see. It was a true jam session, with many of the members of the House of Rock (houseofrock.ca) in attendance. Jay Smith (Rock Ranger) was there, but he declined to play – instead, his father got up (“Pa Ranger”) and kicked the ass of some classical guitar. He was fantastic.
Arla Mrazek came in, and we goaded her into singing a handful of songs, including Barenaked Ladies’ “Bear With Me (Be With Me Tonight)” and her own composition, the crowd favorite (well, at least my favorite),”Bullshit.”
Craig Mercer, lead singer for the Jimmy Swift Band, came in, but I heard him refuse to sing because he was “All played out.” Sad. Dave Mahalik picked up the bass guitar and Mike had electric, though, and soon after Craig was up on drums. And I must say, he’s the most energetic drum player, I’ve seen in a while. Devon’s incredible, but very mellow, and always so serious; Craig looked like he was having the most fun in the world up there. And damn good, too. Eventually, Dave stepped down, Mike took bass, Steve came back on lead guitar and vocals and they played around with some great jams; and halfway through the song, Steve and Mike switched instruments.
Who else? Hm….Oh, Kelley Edwards with her fantastic jazzy voice got up and did Mustang Sally; and she and Mike did a sexay flirtay jazzay funnay number, back and forth with lots of backup, including the brass in the room, and a harmonica.
I spotted two-fifths of Slainte Mhath (Lisa Gallant and Boyd MacNeil) sneaking in at the back, behind Kelley Edwards. Mike stopped and asked Lisa, “So, what would you say if I told you I had a fiddle in the van?” “Well, I guess I’d be playing it!” “And what would you say if I made Boyd play the mandolin?” Done and done. After a jam, Mike announced that he’d be playing with the Country Bumpkins, and Lisa and Boyd popped onstage to join in the fun.
Several permutations of all these people – including Steve MacDougall on fiddle; trombone with harmonica and guitar; people making up songs, embellishing old ones, and just jamming their little hearts out – went on all night, with a handful of lesser-known musicians getting up and doing their own, just as wonderful, thing. I know I’m forgetting people and combinations and such, but it was such a sensual overload, who can blame me? I bet this is what it’s like to live in the House of Rock. Oh to be a fly on the wall there!
But in its stead, I think I’ll simply go back next Wednesday and see who shows up at Open Mic @ Chandlers.