When m’lady and I moved from downtown Ottawa to rural Newfoundland we knew our entertainment options would plummet and we were quite prepared for it. But we also figured that overnighters to see live music in the big city (aka “St. John’s” aaka “Town”) would become a rather common occurrence, and that we would soon be intimately familiar with all the local music haunts and the best/cheapest hotel options.
But then just a few months after we began our resettlement covid kneecapped our (and all of humanity’s) plans. Stupid covid.
But here, finally, on October 22nd, 2021, after more than twenty months of mask-wearing, window-staring, binge-watching and thumb-twiddling, a planet-saving vaccine had made sufficient rounds through the relatively isolated benevolent and acquiescent population of the eighteenth-biggest island in the world so we drove a hundred kilometres along the inappropriately-named Trans-Canada Highway to the very east of Newfoundland and checked into The Duckworth. The room cost us just $80 for the night and was only one short stumbling block from George Street, Newfoundland’s famous alcohol-fuelled avenue that is most notorious for having more drinking establishments per square foot than any other street in North America, even if it is just a snickeringly short two blocks long (take that, little tiny section of Bourbon Street).
We were in town to see a band I had never heard of called The Burning Hell at a bar we had never been to called The Rock House (which is at least a double entendre), the result of a slow facebook scroll that caught my attention. “Atlantic Canada Tour Kicks Off In St. John’s” was enough to get me to check out their website. The fact that their tour extended to include about forty dates in Europe was enough to get me to listen to a few tracks, and the lead singer’s slightly sardonic spoken-word style subtly reminiscent of Cake mixed with the cool part from I’m an Adult Now was enough for me to book a pair of $20 tickets.
We got to the bar around 9pm* which was pretty early, grabbed a couple of drinks (no IPA’s to be had anywhere) and snagged a spot on the thus-far empty dancefloor straddling a sightline-eating pillar that sported a small shelf upon which to set said drinks. It was a small-to-medium-sized venue with two bars (well, three, but one was being used solely to sell merch), no balcony and had a capacity of maybe 300 people. By the time the opening act began the place was pretty close to full and the tender at the sidebar knew my drink order at a glance.
The warm-up band was Kelly McMichael, a singer and guitarist who impressed me out of the gate by sounding almost just like Lucinda Williams. She had a good band with her too – a 50-50 gender split of bass, keys, drums, and a keyboardist/guitarist who sang backup vocals as well. When she started the second song she sounded like Debbie Harry, and like the Lucinda it was in a good way; much more influence than mimicking.
When the third song started and she sounded like Joan Jett I’d say I was pretty much hooked. This Kelly McMichael was someone to watch for. And then when the headlining act started whattya know? Kelly McMichael was also the bass player in The Burning Hell (and her drummer was the drummer). And as if I wasn’t already hooked in enough…she was a great bass player! Like, best player in the band, pretty much hands-down.
Which is not to take away from other members of The Burning Hell; au contraire. They were fun, solid, professional, musical, and really quite awesome. The singer (and main dude…I’m pretty sure Mathius Kom is The Burning Hell) looked (from our vantage-point and sobriety at least) very, very much like a guitar-wielding Zack Galifianakis singing Bob Wiseman’s less-tragic material in a voice almost like the guy from Cake.
I bought the record.
But the real takeaway was Kelly McMichael; I’m a fan. Oh, and that entertainment overnighters in Town are super-fun. We went to Newfoundland’s premier museum The Rooms the next day and did a million shopping things and ran Town errands and stuff and it was great.
The Rock rocks.
*Before the show we went for dinner at an Italian place called Bellissimo that was recommended by a friend. The place wasn’t too fancy and wasn’t very expensive, but I swear that my meal ranks amongst the best food I’ve ever had at a restaurant. I ordered a beef braciole that blew my mind with every bite. I was so taken with the food that I did something I never do at a restaurant: I ordered dessert. It was affogato, a chocolate-encrusted scoop of vanilla ice cream that was salted and drenched in an espresso shot. And again, every single bite was a mind-meld. My word…it was so, so very good. It reinvigorated my weakened post-lockdown opinion of the worthiness of restaurants. Heck, it made me wish I was a food critic.
That’s Bellissimo Bistro on Quidi Vidi Road in St. John’s, right next to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. It looks rather unassuming from the outside but I assure you, from inside it’s very, very assuming.