The Balconies invited Lex Magazine to the debut of their first LP, Fast Motions, at Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa’s Bytown Market. If you haven’t heard of them, then stop reading and go check them out right now. They are one of the best rock bands this city has ever produced.
Even though they’re currently based in Toronto, The Balconies’ roots trace back to the nation’s capital. Siblings, Jacquie and Steven Neville grew up in Osgoode, a village in the south of Ottawa. They attended Canterbury High School, in the east end, and later studied classical music at the University of Ottawa.
I first saw The Balconies perform by accident in 2012 while I was working on the River Stage at Bluesfest; they played in the early afternoon, in between July Talk and Chains of Love. The venue was nearly empty and the band was local, so I wasn’t expecting much.
They seemed cool. They weren’t as well put-together yet, but they had some talent and some attitude. It was clear even in 2012 that Jacquie was in charge. When she’s on stage, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. She’s intoxicatingly beautiful, even while making shockingly theatrical facial expressions as she belts out the songs.
I don’t remember much from that concert, except being surprised that they were from Ottawa. Usually, the city is a huge disappointment when it comes to producing good rock music, but The Balconies were an exception. In fact, I couldn’t get the hook from “Kill Count” out of my head, which is why I walked into the festival store and bought their EP.
The Balconies certainly matured as a band in the past two years, because what I saw at Ritual was much more impressive. A 300 show tour in Europe and North America had transformed them, opening for bands like Sloan, Bad Religion, and the Sam Roberts Band. A week before the show at Ritual, Much Music listed The Balconies as a band “you NEED to pay attention to.”
The band’s on-stage style and confidence made it obvious that they knew they had it - that extra dose of talent that sets pros apart from the amateurs. They knew that they had released a good rock album, and they now aspired to something much bigger. They were professionals.
However, this new, shiny version of The Balconies didn’t sit well with everyone at Ritual. After the show, there were a few people who said that they felt like they were watching a tape from previous live performances. That there was no uncontained heat. No danger. That they were simply going through the motions.
I don’t believe that all rockers are meant to live their lives asking, “what would Sid Vicious do?” I’m sure there comes a point during the year when a band limits itself to playing everything perfectly, and wants nothing more than to go home. Perhaps they were simply fans with very strict views of who’s a “real rocker” and who’s just a well rehearsed pro. But from where I was standing, if there was some sort of disconnect between the band and the crowd, I didn’t notice – or even care. The music sounded incredible. Every inch of Ritual was coated in thick, droning guitar riffs. Jacquie’s voice was the only thing commandeering more attention. Everything else faded into obscurity as the crowd focused exclusively on her.
Except for when they’re required to sing back-up vocals, her band-mates also tend to fade away. The Balconies are a brilliantly well rounded band in that each element is vital to their sound, but I’m sure that most wouldn’t notice if the boys were replaced by randoms every night. It works though. There’s not a hint of conflict from within The Balconies. Everyone knows their role and they don’t overstep their boundaries. Evidently, Jacquie is the figurehead. She’s the one who makes the band special. The one whose stunning “disco lunge” is on the album cover. The one who people really pay to see.
After the show, The Balconies left their newfound rock stardom to man the merch table. Even Jacquie and Steve’s grandmother took part. Plus, each fan got a hug with their signed vinyl, which was nice to see. Every band claims to love their fans, but The Balconies come off as incredibly genuine and down to earth during fan interactions.
Fast Motions is, from start to finish, a great rock album. After talking to members of the crowd, “The Slo” seemed to be everyone’s favourite song, though “Boys and Girls”, “Kill Count” and - the super catchy - , “Do It in the Dark” were never far behind. All in all, it was a very rock and roll night. Sweat, smoke, booze, piercings, tattoos, long hair and leather jackets.
There is a lot to love about The Balconies. They get love as a Toronto band. They get love as a Canadian band. But their true true roots are in Ottawa. If you want a new, hot local band to love – love The Balconies. They might just love you back.