The first time I saw Julie Doiron it was at the basement box generally known as Lucky Ron’s (though it sported a few names in its time), guesting for a few numbers with her occasional collaborators the Wooden Stars. Hunched, with her hands stuck in her pockets, she appeared to be trying to disappear into the thick scarf around her neck.

By comparison, five or so years later, she was far more voluble (and she took off the scarf before she started performing).

In the last few year Doiron has released a number of albums to critical acclaim and won a Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent to a Grammy). She accompanied herself on guitar, strumming some fairly complex chords (as a guitarist, I’m in awe of her mobile pinky) and singing in  style that blends Joni Mitchell with Chan Marshall. Between numbers she commented on the song, asked for a request (“play what you like!” one audience member offered. “Oh ... okay” replied Doiron) and the time, twice, so she wouldn’t run over her predetermined set length (one wag replied “8:25!” then gave the same answer a quarter-hour later). She also recounted how annoyed she had been with a heckler who sat on the stage at a show in London. The thought of the physically unimposing Doiron hoofing an ill-mannered audience member off the stage was comical, though one suspects a certain Londoner narrowly escaped getting a slab of mahogany to the side of his head.

Suffice to say she had no such problems with the audience at Zaphod’s, who set some kind of record for quieting down when she stepped up to the microphone to sing (one second, chatter and the usual crowd noises — the next, only the whir of the lighting system), and when she was done, applauded enthusiastically.

The Rheostatics have a hardcore fanbase in Canada and are sometimes referred to as the quintessential Canadian band (singing about hockey players and doing thematic soundtracks for The Group of Seven can do that).

Like so many Canadian acts, they’re heavily influenced by Neil Young, and also have something of a humorous streak, though they aren’t directly aiming for laughs like the Barenaked Ladies.

The four-man group has four extremely talented musicians in Dave Bidini, Tim Vesely and Martin Tielli ( all three play guitar, while Vesely and Bidini switch off on bass) and drummer Michael Phillip Wojeda. Tielli in particular has crafted his own sound with his trademark Steinberger guitar, which is alternately sweeping, searing and atmospheric.

There’s something of early 'Drums and Wires'XTC (who they namecheck in one of their songs, along with the Ramones) and the aforementioned Neil Young distortion to the Rheos’ sound; Vesely’s off-kilter bass playing adds complexity to songs which range from pounding rock to more acoustic fare. But at Zhapod's, the Rheostatics were at their most freeform; yes, they had a few recognizable songs, and humorous jabs in the shape of a melodrama-free version of the Doors’ 'The End' and a snippet of Meat Loaf’s 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light', frequent cawing and arm-flapping (not quite sure what that was
about ...) .

But the tenor of the show was summed up by Wojewoda, who asked “When are we going to play ‘Jazz Odyssey’?”

'This is Spinal Tap' references aside, the Rheostatics once again entertainedtheir fans, but their goofing around made Doiron’s opening set the more memorable of the two.

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Commenting On: Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa, 7/2/2004 - Rheostatics and Julie Doiron

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