If ever you needed to illustrate musically how COVID-19 turned our worlds upside down over the past 6 months, my August 20th is the perfect example. What should have been a giant Rammstein concert in Parc Jean Drapeau with thousands of people watching Industrial Metal is, in the end, a tiny show in a studio in Chambly with about 10 people, watching country music. Contrasts don’t come much starker than that!
Pre-COVID, I would often complain to my work colleague and fellow Montreal Rocks writer Jason that I was struggling to write up the 50th Alternative band I had covered that month, and his advice was always the same; “you need to review something you don’t usually listen to!” This evening I am finally following his recommendation.
Country music; it’s a genre I know almost nothing about. When the Lasso festival was announced back in February, I didn’t recognize a single name on that line-up. Not one. So here I am. The opportunity to check out a rising star in that genre, combined with the fact that it has been over 5 months since I last saw any live music being performed by actual humans in the same room as me, means that I am more excited for tonight’s show than I have been for any show in quite a while!
Montreal-native Brittany Kennell has certainly earned her stripes in this field over the past few years. Raised in Beaconsfield (West Island represent, woop woop!), she studied in Boston before going on to live in the Country mecca of Nashville for almost 8 years. She even appeared on The Voice in 2016, the first Canadian to ever do so, teaming up with Team Blake (Shelton) for a good chunk of the season! So yeah, if anyone is well qualified to educate me in the ways of Country music, its Brittany.
And so to the show! When I was invited to check out live music at a studio in Chambly for a concert webcast, I envisaged a dusty studio and a couple of acoustic guitars. The reality is quite different though; a huge stage area, high-end sound and camera equipment, and the kind of light show that Rammstein would have been proud of! Tip of the cap to you, WhiteBox Play, for creating such a spectacle; it really is just like being at a Metropolis show (no, I still won’t call it MTelus).
The dazzling show kicks off with Brittany atop a raised podium at the back of the stage like a proper rock star, before stepping down to start the wonderful ‘Neither Did I’ in conjunction with Mario’s Cajon drum and John-Anthony’s guitar. Her note-perfect vocals are immediately reminiscent of Carrie Underwood, still sounding every bit as perfect as that debut on The Voice. The time spent in Nashville has led to a remarkably authentic country drawl at times, as exemplified on the jaunty cynicism of ‘Eat Drink Remarry’: “If you gotta force it, its called divorcin’ / The new tradition is called rehitchin’!” John-Anthony’s bluegrass guitar solo at the end is absolutely killer, too.
New single ‘You Don’t Get Me Stoned’ is somewhat stripped down from the single version released recently, its sleek production reworked into a more bluegrass-skiffle drum bluesy vibe, but it still sounds amazing, augmented by the stellar light show that accompanies it. Written with The Reklaws, ‘Most Wanted’ roams into ballad territory and sees some stellar harmonies between Brittany and John-Anthony under swirling red lights, while ‘Wallow’ sums up 5 months of bad days and bad moods quite aptly. ‘Speed Queen,’ which closes out the show, sounds absolutely gorgeous tonight too.
In addition to Brittany’s original material, the event invitation promised a generous dose of covers of country classics, old and new, which are sprinkled in throughout the 18-song set, and elicit a singalong from the lucky few in physical attendance more than once. Drift Away is appropriately and convincingly “countrified” right down to the guitar hooks, as is the huge bluegrass guitar solo on Little White Church. After watching us wobbling in our socially-distanced seats, Brittany jokes that “dancing nowadays is all upper-body anyway huh, 2m apart?!” Having shared a stage with Maren Morris in the past, it makes sense that she covers her song Rich (which I never realized was actually pretty hilarious), and after crediting Shania Twain for her choice of black leather pants for tonight’s show, If You’re Not In It For Love probably gets the biggest cheer of all the covers.
All in all, the 75-minute set is a resounding success, for those of us in the WhiteBox Play studio as well as the many fans worldwide who tuned in to the live stream, which, to steal Brittanys adjective mid-show, looked truly “écœurant.”
Who needs Rammstein anyway?!
- Neither Did I
- Eat Drink Remarry
- You Don’t Get Me Stoned
- Drift Away (Dobie Gray cover)
- Most Wanted
- Drawn To Ya
- Little White Church (Little Big Town cover)
- Loose Change (The Highwomen cover)
- Old News
- Hold My Breath
- Baggage Claim (Miranda Lambert cover)
- I Can Buy My Own Drinks (Runaway June cover)
- One Night Standards (Ashley McBryde cover)
- Rich (Maren Morris cover)
- If You’re Not In It For Love (Shania Twain cover)
- Drunk Lips
- Speed Queen
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Whitebox Play & Simon Williams