“No rain! No rain!” was the mantra running through my head – and possibly many other people’s – as The Heavy Medicine Band entered the Claridge Homes Stage yesterday evening. Synonymous with the prophetic overcast skies of RBC Bluesfest‘s second day, the music of this poetic Psychedelic quartet set precisely the right atmosphere.
Opening to a gathering audience with the melodic Speak Light, the echoing interlace of Keturah Johnson‘s lyrical voice among Rob Cooke‘s reverberating guitar strains and the swaying rhythmic flow of Sean Cooke‘s bass and Chris Di Lauro‘s percussion seemed as if to draw the Storm Goddess to pause from her mood of grey brooding to listen closer.
Knuckles and Blood Orange, two of eight (as of now) unreleased numbers, preceded the moody incisive Pattern, about the recognition of verbal manipulation and the only other song present from their Conduit EP. This gave way to another short ambient interlude like had been in between the previous songs – as well as had introduced the show.
This concept of populating the space between songs while instruments are adjusted or changed (usually silent or filled with stage banter) is an intriguing addition – and the flow of the performance remains intact.
The next two numbers were a surprise. In The Ditch is a bluesy, lightly jazzy, instrumental piece built on a ground-shaking bottom-end steady beat of bass and drum intermittently breaking into a short feedback-drenched guitar leads. River is slower, almost quixotic, with a mystical Mediterranean undertone to it that begins as an instrumental and then is joined by Keturah’s idioglossia vocals that, after around halfway through, she flows into lyrics. Periodic soaring guitar lead explorations punctuate the ‘river-flow’ of this number, heightening its already rarified aura.
Two of the four more songs that filled out the set, Teeth, featuring Rob on vocals, and a “Song With No Name”, preceded Strawberry Red, which closed the show. This mystical piece began with a bright duo-guitar interplay that slowed to a more floating presence while Keturah’s mellow bluesy vocals encircled the music passionately – reminiscent of the caress of a warm summer’s eve breeze.
Before the previous three songs, The Heavy Medicine Band wrapped the audience in an interlude of waves crashing on shore that introduced Informal Bliss. This composition wandered into the valleys of the psychedelic at a slow, almost doom-laden pace. Weighty nether-region bass and drum underpinned Rob’s haunting harmonica keening overtop of reverberating guitar riffs creating a ghostly, Arabian-like apocalyptic atmosphere.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with the band for an informal chat after the show. Obviously still ecstatic after their awesome performance, we talked about how the show was and what their plans were for the near future. Considering article length, I will paraphrase most of the conversation.
This is the second time The Heavy Medicine Band has appeared at the RBC Bluesfest – the first time being at the Barney Danson Theatre. Asking the band what the difference was between their previous show and and performing on the Claridge Homes Stage, Sean spoke probably the best answer – “Were a Band, now!” – though I would, in good humour, disagree with him.
Keturah met Rob a while ago and they began to busk together. They decided that a band would be was an avenue to pursue and contacted a drummer (Chris) through a friend who was ‘insistent’ they meet this drummer. Now a trio and playing together for a period of time, they intrinsically knew that a bass player was an absolute necessity… so onboard came Sean.
From this point on, these four artists have been a band. The alchemy and friendship that is evident between them, on stage and off, precludes any assumption that they have not always been ‘a band’. Each artist contributes their own unique qualities to their shows as well as to their songwriting in which ideas and themes get thrown around and eventually coalese into songs.
Since their first public performance, both the terms ‘psychedelic’ and ‘stoner’ have been attached to them. In listening intently to their music, especially the new songs showcased at RBC Bluesfest, the moniker ‘stoner’ does not apply. Psychedelic, clearly, but ‘stoner’… no. And the band agrees, as well.
Their sound transcends any restrictive label placed on them, even ‘psychedelic’, though it is an appropriate starting point. Their compositions are more mystical and sublime with an Arabic undertone which comes from the Mediterranean scale structure of Surf music that some members of the band listen to. This is evident in River and Informal Bliss.
the Moon and Me from their Conduit EP is my current favourite of their songs (…so far), so I had to ask Keturah what the inspiration was for it – (paraphrasing, again) this arose from being in a place where boredom thrives and the the deep need to just get out and live free become a passionate desire and wish.
Though there are no plans for a full tour (…damn!), playing in Montreal/Toronto corridor is – as is gigging as often as possible in Ottawa. What comes initially is their new, as yet unnamed, album of which several of the songs in their RBC Bluesfest set will be included.
This project harks back to the band’s past before their Conduit EP and will include songs they played before. They will be playing several of these during upcoming shows as they rework and tighten them up in preparation for recording. Though no date is proposed for the album, hopefully it will be soon. I’m throwing bunches of loonies into the wishing well (jeez, c’mon… not those kind of loonies).
Being chosen to appear on the Claridge Homes Stage by RBC Bluesfest demonstrated the confidence they put in The Heavy Medicine Band that they were ready for the big stage. No question or doubt – they are and, in my opinion, have been ready for a while. Exuding confidence and professionalism, and performing quality songs that kept their audience entranced and swaying, speaks to the fact that this is a band to watch – to keep one’s eye on. There may very well be big things on the horizon for The Heavy Medicine Band.