On November 1st, 2008 a American jamband with the punny moniker Garaj Mahal pulled into Ottawa for a stop at what was my second home at the time, a downtown live dive called Maverick’s. I suppose this was my first time seeing the jazzy/dancy quartet (“jance music,” is what the guitarist called it), a supposition made more likely by the fact that it was the band’s first-ever swing through Ontario, a booking that was a labour-of-love for the Hamilton promoter who was willing to lose his shirt on the run just ‘cuz he dug the band.
And it seemed like we all dug them too. At the time all it took was one post on the local jam-oriented message board to get a sizeable crew of hard-listening easy-drinking fans of fun out to an Ottawa bar so I was surrounded by my people. And despite the fact that I (and I suspect most everyone else) knew little more about the band than their name we all knew at least a few of the tunes. After a couple of extendo-jams that showed off serious proggy chops coming from the guitarist’s doubleneck SG the band settled into a simple two-note groove that extrapolated itself into a cover of When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around by The Police and I remember them doing a run-through of Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight too, probably to remind us that they were jazzy.
And just in case any of us forgot that we were in Canada Garaj Mahal peppered their encore with snippets from countless Rush tunes, a little Can-con tip ‘o the hat which was, is, and will always be a-okay with this guy.
I can’t tell you if they ever came back to town (or Ontario) again. I later heard from the promoter and learned that the band’s Hallowe’en play the previous evening elsewhere in Ontario had proved successful enough to elevate the weekend’s receipts all the way up to ‘break even’, which is pretty good, all things considered. But probably not good enough for him to risk getting a return on his investment by bringing them back around for another tour. Rock & roll is a vicious game, and I guess jance music is too.
(Unfortunately the flow of the above narrative didn’t leave much of an entrance for me to mention the opening band, though I’m sure I have expounded upon them elsewhere. The Murder Plans were an Ottawa-based rocky-poppy quartet led by a super-nice fellah who I worked with at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. They always reminded me a teensy bit of Talking Heads though the guys in the band didn’t see it. Anyway, they were excited to open the show and they were good. I wish they were still around.)