Saturday night, Monster Truck rolled into Ottawa’s Bronson Centre, and turned this once Catholic high school for girls 700-seat auditorium into a spectacular arena rock show. Ultra high ceilings, a massive elevated stage, theatre-style seating, and plenty of standing room up front, made this the perfect sized venue, and despite its cavernous interior, maintained excellent acoustics.

The name, Monster Truck, was first introduced to me by way of the many who spoke of this amazing rock band from Hamilton, Ontario that opened for the legendary Deep Purple in 2012. Formed in 2009, Monster Truck was the coming together of four musicians, who delved outside of their own respective bands, to put together a side project. They are Jon Harvey (bass/lead vocals), Jeremy Widerman (guitar/vocals), Brandon Bliss (organ/vocals), and Steve Kiely (drums/vocals). Each brought their own influences of classic rock, punk, blues, and grunge, resulting in powerful flavours of well-written, uncomplicated songs, rich in catchy hooks, beefed up instrumentals/vocals, and flowing melody lines. They discovered they had the ability to write completely infectious material that encapsulated the heart and soul elements of classic rock, but with a modern infusion, and as the name implies, blown to monstrous proportions.[quote]We’d play to people who had waited in line all day…[/quote]

They released their first self-titled EP in 2010, but it was their second EP under Dine Alone Records, simply entitled, The Brown EP (2011), that made headway with tracks, “Righteous Smoke”, and “Seven Seas Blues”, which hit Canadian radio airwaves and reached top ten status results. At this time, the decision was made by the members to take their band to the next level, and they entered head-on into the fray of full-time rock ‘n roll. A relentless touring schedule ensued, which included a cross-Canada series of sold-out shows with The Sheepdogs in 2011. Other tours would follow, throughout North America, the UK, and Europe, and alongside the likes of Billy Talent, Kid Rock, Alice In Chains, Buckcherry, Sevendust, Slash ft. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, Alterbridge, ZZ Top, and Deep Purple. The year 2013 saw the release of their first full length album, Furiosity (Dine Alone Records), with singles, “Sweet Mountain River”, “The Lion”, and “Old Train“, receiving massive airplay. The same year also garnered them a JUNO award for “Breakthrough Group Of The Year”.

This year, the band has been busy touring once again across North America, and has just returned from another European stint of shows…six headlining, and about a dozen in support once again of Slash. I asked Monster Truck’s guitarist, Jeremy Widerman about the ups and downs of the touring experience:

Jon Harvey, Steve Kiely
Jon Harvey, Steve Kiely

“By now, we’ve become pretty used to it. There’s not much alone time, and you’re on a strict schedule. At first, the adjustment was difficult coming home…it was hard to stay still. But now the transition has become easier…I can turn if off, relax, and actually enjoy my downtime.”

Then, of course, I wanted to hear about this latest experience of touring across Europe with Slash: “The front row always varies from place to place when you’re opening. We’d play to people who had waited in line all day in some cases to see Slash. We’d see the anxious faces in the first few rows who didn’t know who the hell we were…and what these four bearded, long-haired Canadian dudes were all about, makin‘ them wait some more. But we were well received and the crowds were always respectful. Then there were other places where the audience would be singing along by the third time we’d hit the chorus on brand new material we hadn’t even recorded yet. That was amazing.”

Widerman also spoke of the band’s current songwriting efforts on new material for their second album, which will be ready for release by the summer of 2015. The plan is to market themselves in Europe first, where there now exists a larger amount of interest and support, before hitting the U.S.[youtube width=”600″ height=”338″ video_id=”2wB9GUkEJek&list=PLYtGjTb6IKvHBqBnPt-KFnHxuBFJ_lOuP”]

Tonight, Monster Truck delivered a solid hour and a half of tunes from their past and present, including some of their new, unreleased work. I especially liked the slow driving rhythm of one of their new pieces, “Don’t Tell Me How To Live”, which featured Harvey’s signature long sustaining vocals, a great rippin’ bluesy rock guitar solo by Widerman, and some great lower harmony vocals by drummer, Steve Kiely.

Next, came one of my personal favourites, “My Love Is True” (Furiosity), where the guitar, bass, and drums followed each other to deliver an intense, rhythm-driven tune in three quarter time, heavy in classic blues rock, and enhanced by the deep rumble of the Hammond, which was skilfully played by Bliss…a completely soulful blend that took me on a trip somewhere between Bad Company and The Allman Brothers. Widerman’s guitar solo burned in soul-bearing passion, as did the build-up of vocal harmonies (including my own from my seat) toward the end of the song. This one had me in its grip from start to finish.

Another gem of the night, was “The Giant” (Furiosity), quite a heavy piece which had a more modern rock edge, changing rhythms and time signatures, and full of exotic modes. Harvey’s insanely impressive powerhouse vocals were completely pushed to the limit on this one. The intensity of the music sent many of the younger viewers up front into the first attempts at a mosh pit.

Jeremy Widerman
Jeremy Widerman

They later played their first major hit, “Seven Seas Blues” (The Brown EP), which was readily identifiable with most of the crowd, who chimed along word for word. It was clear there was a mass of longtime fans who have followed this band since their early days. I loved its hammering, tribal beat, changes into double time, and the almost primal chanting throughout the choruses.

Another highlight of the night came with, “For The Sun” (Furiosity), which began with a smouldering blues guitar intro, more sweet tones of the organ, and another slow and steady three quarter beat. Harvey’s vocals climbed from a lazier comfort zone, to relentless, power-packed long sustains. There was more of that drums/bass/guitar sync, which also worked its way into an absolutely hair-raising crescendo…a formula these four have down to a science. I was riveted by Widerman’s performance, and as he dropped to his knees to bend out those last notes, I could feel the energy in the passion of his playing. It was brilliant.

Another high point of the night came during the encore, which included “Old Train” (Furiosity), where Harvey stepped back from the mic to let the crowd sing the song’s recurring mantra. Plenty of rhythmic hand-clapping led into the next song, “Righteous Smoke” (The Brown EP), another that roused more interactive chanting. Both songs had the unmistakeable qualities of Deep Purple goodness.

By the end of the evening, the band had successfully stolen the energy from the crowd, and gave it back to them in spades. The wide range of age groups that were present tonight proved the fact that the great phenomenon of rock music continues to live on. Monster Truck joins the huge roster of younger bands that are forming the face of rock music today, who have picked up the ball to create what will become the classic rock of the future.

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