Sound Seekers

SOUND SEEKERS: Super-fan alert! Steely Dan and Nick Drake get the high-art tribute treatment at two upcoming shows

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani

Arty photo from arty band. It’s The Darcys! They play Zaphod's on Friday.

THE DARCYS DO STEELY DAN’S AJA
Is Steely Dan your dad’s music? It’s Wes Marskell’s pa’s music too — but it’s all that and more for the drummer of the Toronto band The Darcys. His dad played the band’s 1977 album Aja frequently when Marskell was growing up and for years he has been drawn in by the head-scratching incongruity of the smooth jazz tunes and the eerily dark lyrics.

In January of this year, The Darcys released an album re-interpreting the songs on Aja. The Darcys version, available free through their website, is spacey with plenty of expanding effects that make the album sound experimental and with less of that ‘70s slick sheen.

It’s always a bold move to screw with a classic. You get the super fans wondering what can be improved upon. (The Guardian‘s review read, “we admire their gall.”) You also get admirers content with the fact that an album sees new light 35 years after its creation. Retirees in Steely Dan t-shirts show up at The Darcys’ shows to cheer them on.

If you’re cheering, you might be championing The Darcys’ brio — or their ambition because Aja is no three-chord, 10-beer performance. It’s a technically challenging album and Marskell says the shows they’ve played so far on the six-date mini-tour require a rigid focus. “It’s a difficult record,” Marskell says. “It’s amazing to see how many chords are in each song. To play it live, you need a mental checklist for time changes, chord changes. It’s very complicated.”

So, what can the band add to a classic?

Marskell says The Darcys version is more textured and atmospheric. He says there is plenty of sex, drugs, and violence in the lyrics of the songs on Aja, but the music is poppy. It’s easy to miss the connection between music and lyrics in the original.

“We wanted to bridge the gap and connect dark sounds to the ideas in the songs,” Marskell says.

The band will perform its version of the record in its entirety Friday at Zaphod Beeblebrox, 27 York St. 8 p.m., $10.

THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKE TOUR
Nick Drake (1948-1974) died of an overdose at age 26 — and there’s speculation as to whether it was accidental or not. The musician made deeply introspective, contemplative music that inspired devotion in fans.

People who like his music like it a lot and they seem buoyed by their sense of injustice about the fact that Drake never achieved fame in his short lifetime. That was certainly a motivating factor for Luke Jackson, a U.K. expat and Toronto musician who organized a nine-date tour in celebration of Drake’s music. The tour stops Friday in Ottawa at the First Baptist Church at the corner of Laurier and Elgin.

Jackson discovered Drake’s music in the late ‘80s as a teenager in London, and it stuck with him. “When you discover Nick Drake, you think that you and the person who gave you the mixed tape of his songs are the only people in the world that know his music.”

Of course the far reaches of the internet, mean fans of obscure musical genres can find like minds through a series of clicks. This creates a periodic renewed interest in his music, which, according to Jackson “didn’t belong to the era.”

At one point, Drake arranged songs with a string ensemble while attending Cambridge University in an exploration of what’s commonly referred to as chamber rock.

The Songs of Nick Drake tour will revive that act with a string section and Canadian musical heavyweights Don Kerr, Kurt Swinghammer, Oh Susanna, Jason Mercer, and Kevin Kane performing most of Drake’s back catalogue on stage, along with guest Jim Bryson.

Songs of Nick Drake Tour, Friday, November 9, First Baptist Church, 140 Laurier Ave., W. 8-11 p.m., with intermission, $40.

MEANWHILE…
No Kinds of Love, a Velvet Underground tribute band, will open for Ninety Pounds of Ugly (O-town country/lounge) on Friday at the Rainbow Bistro, 76 Murray St., 9 p.m., $10.

OTHER SHOWS
There was plenty of Twitter brouhaha, after word came out that the owners of the Whalesbone Oyster House were taking over the Elmdale Tavern, adding a kitchen, and changing the live music schedule. The current tavern operators, Nathalie and Bruce Myles, plan their last hurrah on Dec. 28 with a live set by Micarza Camaro. Until then, it’s gigs as usual. You can see Ron Hawkins & The Do Good Assassins at the Hintonburg drinkhouse Saturday. 1084 Wellington St., W., 9:30 p.m., $20.

If you were a fan of the band The Organ, you’ll like Diamond Bones. The Montreal trio sounds much like The Organ (ie: if a girl band covered The Smiths), but with much more electronic-indie rock in the mix. See them Saturday at the Avant-Garde Bar, 135-1/2 Besserer St., with Air Marshall Landing. 9 p.m., $5.

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