Gigs, Show Reviews, The Revue — June 23, 2015 at 7:50 am

American Wrestlers jam in Ben’s Basement

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DSC_3253There’s no question that life is full of surprises. On most occasions, they are things that occur unexpectedly and unplanned. Sometimes, they are organized events that catch the unsuspecting birthday girl, soon-to-be fiancée, or anniversary couple off guard. Then there are those moments where it requires taking a chance and luck – and a lot of it. For Gary McClure and his band American Wrestlers, it was a bit of a leap of fate to respond to a request from a guy they had indirect contact with a few months ago. It was an unusual request because they were asked to play a house concert on their current tour, which was predominantly held in venues like Philadelphia’s iconic Union Transfer and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

That guy who made the surprising request was me. I had interviewed Gary back in April, where I asked a couple of not-so-brilliant questions. Yet, I took a chance, thinking the worst thing he could say was “No”.

Seeing American Wrestlers had a four-day gap between their gigs in Portland, Maine and NXNE in Toronto, I wrote to Gary with the following suggestion: “Stop in Ottawa on June 18, and I’ll arrange a living room show at my house.” Not expecting a positive response, Gary replied, “Deal”. Less than two weeks later, Gary and his band – which includes his lovely wife Bridgette on keys and second guitar, lawn mower extraordinaire Josh Van Hoorebeke on drums, and the always smiling Ian Reitz on bass – are jamming in our basement.

This small, intimate affair was unlike any show American Wrestlers would have nor will likely play on their tour. It was a stripped-down performance played in the confines of my wife’s and my basement, which to our amazement has great acoustics. It required all the band members to show restraint – to not override the guitars, to bash on the drums, or hammer a few elongated bass lines – because of how close the audience would be (not to mention to respect the neighbors). But beyond the sound, the setting put the band in a vulnerable state because the audience was directly in front of them. There was no escape, nowhere to hide since they would have to mingle with the guests after the show.

The quartet, though, pulled off the show like true veterans with Gary even doing some small talk and cutting a few jokes at his and my expense. American Wrestlers started the show with the album’s opener, “There’s No One Crying Over Me”, which sounded even more intimate than it did on the album. Whereas it takes most bands a few songs to get in a groove, American Wrestlers hit their stride immediately and seemed to be enjoying the moment with huge grins on their faces (although Ian’s smile may be the result of playing a Rickenbacker 4001). They would then delve into the engrossing rocker “Holy” followed by the jittery pop-rock tune “I Can Do No Wrong”, the bonus single “It Ain’t”, the shimmering and boppy “The Rest of You”, the contemplative “Wild Yonder”, before ending the main set with the riveting “Kelly”.

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Gary then was left alone to play a couple of songs, including a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and finishing the set with a low-key but beautiful version of “Left”. It was the perfect ending to a terrific, intimate show. Maybe the setting wasn’t ideal, but it was pretty special for all those involved. Speaking to the band afterwards, they really enjoyed the setup and its intimacy. Our friends and neighbors couldn’t stop talking about the gig. Even today, I’m left with a smile on my face, not only because the show was a success but to introduce people to a great new band and to meet the people behind American Wrestlers. Let’s do it again soon!

Photos of the gig are mostly by Dina MacLeod with contributions from Darren Boucher.

American Wrestlers is available via Fat Possum. Get it on iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and Fat Possum’s store.

Bandcamp – americanwrestlers.bandcamp.com
Facebook – American Wrestlers
Twitter – @americanwrestle

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