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Published: 2013/02/19
by Alex Baker

Plants and Animals, Black Sheep Inn and Ritual – 2/15-16

After catching Canadian indie-rockers Plants and Animals a couple times over the summer of 2012, I was hooked by the way their guitar-driven warble mingled with the sun in the festival atmosphere. They seem to create a real connection with their audience when they play live, in a way that doesn’t necessarily come through in their recordings.

As a result, I was excited for the chance to check them out again – this time in the winter (Friday and Saturday, Feb 15-16), and the intimate, closed-in setting of a couple of the smallest clubs around. Playing first at Wakefield’s Black Sheep Inn (a rowdy local hangout and live-show destination in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere) and the next night in Ritual, a rowdy local club and live-show destination in the heart of downtown Ottawa, the boys delivered.

Granted, there wasn’t the same connection as with the festival crowds, but Plants and Animals offered up energetic performances that kept the diverse crowds interested. If you’re not familiar with this low-key outfit, imagine a less-distorted Radiohead (or maybe Talking Heads…) combined with the jaunty bar-rock of a Social Distortion, or even a Sam Roberts (to use another Canadian band reference) – at least, that’s what popped into my head during the latest shows.

They can be a hard band to pin down, stylistically – they’re loud, they’re soft; they’re indie, they’re classic; they’re electronic, they’re acoustic. They have a sometimes fuzzy, meandering sound that mingles with strong bass-line backbones and a more music- than vocal-heavy approach.

The Black Sheep Inn tends to have an older crowd, who come for a good time no matter who’s playing the 100-ish-seat cowboy bar that sells out like clockwork. The Ottawa crowd was more hipster, and less hippy – and the band, for their part, appeared to enjoy playing for both.

Saving their biggest hit, “Lightshow,” for their set closers, the Montreal-based “post-classic rockers” (self-described) got good reactions from their latest single, “Why & Why,” and early hit “Bye Bye Bye.” However, my favorite song to hear them perform is a catchy, evocative and soulful tune called Good Friend, which features the lyrics:

It takes a good friend to say you’ve got your head up your ass.
It takes a good friend to meet you in the park in the dark.
It takes an enemy to help you get out of bed.
It takes your lover to leave you, to feel loneliness.

This refrain seems to capture the ennui of the post-teenage-angst, 20s-ish crowds that form the band’s main constituents, and always solicits a good reaction.

More than anything, though, what I noticed most was how much fun the guys – Warren Spicer (guitar, vocals), Mathew Woodley (drums, percussion, vocals), Nic Basque (guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals) were having on stage. Especially at Ritual on a snowy Saturday night, they were jumping into the crowd with mic stands, joining each other at the stage-front and jamming together, even yanking their shy bassist from the rear shadows to get some “camera-time” at the fore.

The opening band, a teeny-bopper outfit called the Loodies who were playing their first-ever gig outside Montreal, all had huge grins as they came onstage during the encore to share the vocals and enjoy the limelight of their musical apprenticeship – a role the P&A guys clearly relished.

With their laid-back, unassuming and revelatory demeanor, Plants and Animals provide a consistently entertaining and head-bobbing live show. From flora to fauna, their shows on this latest tour have everyone going home happy.

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