I know that I write about amazing musicians from all over the world on TJM, but I am lucky enough to live in a city where our local talent rivals that of the most well-known acts.

Wednesday night there was a benefit to help the people of Japan, put on by Octopus Army – a local radio show that spins Japanese music and held at The Casbah Lounge. The show’s host James Tennant rallied bands from Hamilton – old and new – to show their support for this much needed cause.

The show opened with Dawn and Marra – 2 young girls with voices so sweet you couldn’t help but smile. They sounded a little like First Aid Kit – a Swedish sister duo who came onto the scene with their cover of Fleet Foxes “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”. I don’t have a sample of Dawn and Marra, but if you like what you hear in First Aid Kit, you’ll want to keep these girls on your radar.

First Aid Kit — Waltz For Richard

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Next up was Karen and Frank Koren. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from these two. Frank looked like a slightly heftier Iggy Pop and Karen looked like a 90s version of Joan Biez so I was interested to see what they would put on the table. I’ve said it before, but I love musicians – or people in general – who stand proud while doing what they love. Like the boys on one of my favourite shows – The Big Bang Theory. Their nerdiness is endearing and even more so because they embrace it. Not to say that Frank and Karen were nerdy in any way, but I got the sense that they weren’t up there for fame, they were up there because it was something they loved to do together. They started with heartfelt songs about natural disasters and ended with a song that had a nice Melissa Ethridge, loudness to it that showed Karen’s full potential.

As Karen and Frank left the stage, the crowd got a little thicker and people started heading towards the stage. Local favourites San Sebastian were up next and ready to play for their hometown city. Some Canadians may recognize this band from their time on Much Music’s DisBand and their success on that show, but anyone who lives in Hamilton knows that these guys aren’t a band who fell into success – they’ve earned it. I was watching one of the Dawson brothers (Brodie) as he played the guitar and I loved that he was playing with so much intensity. It was like watching a kid who dreams of becoming a rock star and goes all out strumming his guitar as hard as he can – it was a great mix of childhood dreams and grown-up realities. Sean Dawson is more of a subtle intensity, but passionate none the less. Ted keeps the train running with a steady beat while the Veerman brothers play off of their sibling rivalry with endearing onstage banter and affection. But the show isn’t what kept my attention, it was the music. Two of the band’s favourites were sandwiched between 2 new songs and I was pleasantly surprised with the direction the band had gone since I had seen them last. They had a more grown-up sound and were able to top my sundae with a cherry tentatively called “Eat Your Heart Out George Thorogood” This song had a Bo Diddly feel mixed with a little Jerry Lee Lewis excitement in Veerman’s vocals mixed with some Thorogood dialogue. I loved seeing how this band had grown and that they still had my toes tappin’. I was left with an uncontrollable urge to dance and an album that I’ll definitely be waiting for.

San Sebastian — Young Youth

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After a set that had my toes tapping and booty shaking, I was ready for an act that I’ve been waiting to see live for a while now. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are seasoned musicians, both having successful solo careers as well as supporting Sarah McLachlin on her tour. It’s always a good time to catch new, up and coming acts that are just breaking onto the scene, but there is something to be said about witnessing musicians who have years of gigs in small seedy bars and large cross-country tours under their belts. This experience and maturity shows in their performance and makes for a show that had me staring without blinking the whole time — there could have been a mariachi band beside me and I wouldn’t have noticed. It wasn’t only their music that had me locked in, it was their on-stage chemistry. As a married couple you might think it would get boring or even irritating, having your partner with you on stage — as the couple showed us, not all Luke’s songs are written about Melissa. But she gracefully played his song about an ex, being able to see it for it’s brilliance and not it’s content and he stared at her like she became more beautiful to him with every note she sang. It was amazing to watch and to hear this couple make beautiful music — just imagine what their babies will have to offer! Luke’s album Steel City Trawler is out now as well as Melissa’s Victoria Day, but they are said to be working on a collaborative album, so stay tuned for that.


The Christopher Clause Trio played classic rock jam session. The guitarist spent what felt like half an hour on his knees fondling his guitar in the most memorizing way. There is no denying that these are very talented musicians, I just wish I had some acid so I could fully engage in the experience – I think the guy beside me had just started his “trip”

I was half expecting a barnyard sing along with this 7 piece that included an accordion and banjo, but was put in my place when Fry Truck began to play some amazing classic rock sounding tunes. We sat at the back of the venue as they played their last song and its Skynard influenced sound had me feeling like I was in the final scene of Dazed and Confused where he is on the cliff at sunrise, taking in the events of the night.

Joe Pernice is an accomplished singer and songwriter with bands like The Scud Mountain Boys and The Pernice Brothers, but he took to the stage with drummer Mike Belitzky of The Sadies to play a short, yet powerful acoustic set. He opened with a Del Shannon cover of “I Go To Pieces” from the soundtrack to his novel “It Feels Good When I Stop“. His book has received good reviews on sites like Pitchfork, but his live cover of this song, was one of my favourites of the night. I had never heard the song so I was scrambling to write down any lyrics to remind me, but it wasn’t long before the words were burned into my brain. He played another cover and one original before leaving the stage, but I went home and grabbed the album with songs to accompany his novel. It almost reminded me of a soundtrack you might hear in American Splendor and has a cover of Chim Cheree — who doesn’t love Mary Poppins and The Sherman Brothers?

Joe Pernice — I Go To PIeces (Del Shannon cover)

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Adam White, the singer from local band The Reason took to the stage with fellow member Cubby to play an acoustic set. White has a voice that is unmistakable, loud and effortless. I love when you can hear the passion in someone’s voice, when they close their eyes and get lost in the time of their life when they wrote those words. I saw that in White during his whole performance. The Reason has been steadily gaining popularity across Canada and the U.S with their latest release Fools and although the band’s debut Ravenna was an amazing album, they have come back with a more folk inspired sound and it is a welcome change. They ended with a cover of Sloan’s “underwhelmed”. Of course, I knew the song, but hearing it stripped down like that, I realized that I had never really listened to the words of that song. White made me realize how amazing that song really is. I won’t lie when I say that I went home and looked up the lyrics – I suggest you do the same. Seriously with lines like

“;She said, “You is funny”
I said, “You are funny”
She said, “Thank you”
And I said, “Never mind”
And she rolled her eyes
Her beautiful eyes
The point is not the grammar
It’s the feeling

I love that! When a singer can make me see a song in a new light, find an appreciation for a song I once took for granted.

I’m not sure how much money was raised to help the people of Japan, but music wise — the night was a success. I was so grateful to live in a city that has so much talent who were willing to share their gift to help others. Make sure to check out below for the night captured in pictures by Jay Perry.