Sons of Maxwell
Barrymore's Music Hall, Ottawa, Ontario
(16 September 2000)

When I heard that Sons of Maxwell were coming back to Ottawa, where they got their musical start, I booked a flight and the thought of not going never entered my head. I've never seen the band in a venue this big -- and I was worried that the intimacy of a pub show would be lost when the capacity crowd of 600 crammed the dance floor. I need not have worried -- the theatre was great, the sound was great and the performance exceeded even my loftiest expectations. Judging by the crowd that surrounded Mom and Dad Carroll (the parents and biggest supporters of Don and Dave Carroll, who drove down from Timmins to see their boys play) at the merchandise table during every break, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

Local boys Steven's Grove opened the evening, taking the stage and tempting us out onto the huge dance floor with catchy melodies and infectious charm. They played mostly cover songs, with a few originals thrown in. By the time they were done their short set, the dance floor was beyond packed.

The sell-out crowd welcomed Sons of Maxwell as long-lost friends who were finally coming home. The tone was set for the rest of the show when brothers Don (vocals, bodhran, tambourine) and Dave Carroll (vocals, guitar, harmonica) launched into "Rocky Road to Dublin" with smiles on their faces and a bounce in their collective step. The buzz of electricity flying around the room was evident from the moment the band took the stage -- and it was amazing to watch them feed off the energy. They were joined for the show by bassist Reece Nearing, drummer Julian Marentette and keyboardist Kim Dunn. I'd never seen the full band before and was impressed by how professional it sounded. The keyboard was a great addition -- I hope to see it at more shows.

The band played two generous sets -- each was a combination of original works, traditional tunes and some popular pub songs. We were also treated to a sneak preview of a few songs from their upcoming CD, set to be released in the spring of 2001. If songs like "Mrs. Stanley," "The 5:07," "So Confusing" and "Burning Bridges" sound half as good on the record as they did on Saturday night, these boys are going to have hit after hit on their hands. Dave dedicated one of the new tunes, a pop song about unrequited love and cars called "Lady From L.A.," to a fan who flew in for the weekend from Los Angeles just for the show. She was one of many out of town guests at the show; and from what I could make out, not one of us regretted making the trip.

The first set included Sons of Maxwell originals and fan favourites "Will You Come Home?," "So Many Things," "The Lighthouse," "Pandora" and "Sixteen for a While." I didn't think that "The Lighthouse," a heartfelt ballad, would translate well with such a fun-loving audience, but I'm sure that mine weren't the only teary eyes in the house when that one ended. On traditional sailing songs "The Last Shanty" and "The Leaving of Liverpool," the audience erupted with singing and dancing. A peppy cover of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" rounded out the set. The impression we were left with when the band took a short break was that they were having as much fun as we were -- and pouring everything that they had into every song.

For me, the highlight of the set was a beautiful interpretation of Harry Chapin's "Mr. Tanner." This story of a man whose music "made him whole" is a fan favourite which will be included on the upcoming re-release of the bands 1995 effort Bold Frontier. Dave took the lead, doing justice to Chapin's sentimental lyrics, and as Don sang the role of Mr. Tanner, the emotion came from somewhere very deep inside.

Dave's "Free To Be" opened the second set -- and got us clapping and dancing again. The audience showed its appreciation during "Maggie" by helping out with the singing and rhythm -- not that it was needed. There were no ballads during this set; from a happy cover of Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to the final notes of the crowd-pleasing party song "Oceanside Again," I don't think I had a chance to breathe. When Dave and Don sang "I've had a great time/the weekend's been so fine/and I'm sad it has to end," I was not alone in agreeing with them.

Thunderous applause followed them off the stage and drew them back up for two encores, where we heard their upbeat interpretation of Ron Hynes' mournful "Sonny's Dream," Spirit of the West's "Home for a Rest," traditional favourite "Drunken Sailor" and Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers." On the last one, the crowd surprised the band by starting the song before Dave could get to his mic -- it was an amazing blend of hundreds of voices. During "Home for a Rest," the entire floor was heaving with the crowd -- I thought we were going to end up in the basement! There were reports from the bar that half-full pitchers of Keith's were spilling. We weren't the only ones moving, though; Don was jumping up and down and running around the stage, a beaming smile on his face. Warms the 'eart, it does, to see both performers and audience having the time of their lives!

Thunderous warm applause said a final farewell as the band left the stage. I for one could have danced all night - and couldn't seem to wipe the smile off my face. It was a great show -- and I'd make the trip to Ottawa again in a second. I expect big things from this band -- they're talented musicians and songwriters, and spirited, passionate performers. Please do yourself a favour and see them if you have the chance -- you have my personal guarantee that you won't be disappointed!

[ by Rachel Jagt ]