Big band bliss: The Human Orchestra and The Double Cuts with Redanda

Have you ever tried forming a band with your friends? Chances are, you have (either in high school, or last night at the pub). It’s great when it comes together so well, and you get big bands like Toronto’s The Double Cuts and Hamilton’s The Human Orchestra playing the same stage at The Casbah.

Previous review: Arkells and Boris Brott dazzle in pop-up Art Crawl show

The official line-up for the night featured the two member-heavy bands, with Redanda opening the night. The Hamilton four-piece played their jangly brand of ambient rock and roll before giving way to The Human Orchestra’s big band folk-pop and the Double Cuts’ classic western swing.

There was something a little off about Redanda’s set. It might have been the band sounded much heavier than the two following bands. It might have been the table-laden atmosphere of the room. It might have been the audience’s reluctance to crowd the front of the stage at a standard rock show. Still, lead singer and guitarist Corey Wright cracked jokes and had fun with the audience, joking about playing covers and the band’s name. They even played an Arabic-themed jam and a polka alongside tracks from their recently release, Reverse Tranny Club, to fit in with the night’s diverse line-up. By the end of their set, Redanda had found their groove and finished strong.

Up next was The Human Orchestra. Most bands take the stage with a general idea of what they will play, with, at minimum, a set list mapped out in an iPhone note. After blazing through the first two songs of their set, lead singer JB Reed joked about a lack of a set list for the night, calling its spontaneity “almost liberating”. But they were professionals, they were fun, and they were great. The Human Orchestra played tracks from their four-song EP, Lip Service, as well as a handful of new tracks from their upcoming full-length debut album.

If you’ve never seen The Human Orchestra live, I recommend you do your eyes and ears a favour and check them out. Personally, hearing live horns is always a treat, and to see a band incorporate them so naturally in their big band alt-folk sound is fantastic. The front of the stage was occupied by guitarist/vocalist Ty Howie, Reed, and saxophonist Emma Borsellino, each taking turns on harmonies, hand claps, and whatever little accent each song required. And even with so many musicians on stage, Reed commanded the bulk of the attention with her look and her voice, each with the right amount of classic flair.

For The Double Cuts, it’s all about classic flair. It was their first show in Hamilton, second show outside of Toronto, so their business cards were all over the Casbah main room. Beyond their logo and a web address, the card simply states, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t Western swing!” It’s not every day you get a chance to see an old-style western swing band come through Hamilton, especially featuring such fantastic musicians and vocalists. Even though they were short two members, the band sounded great and unlike anything I’ve ever heard live.

They opened their set with an instrumental, with Raha Javanfar taking centre stage on the fiddle and singers Jamie Oliver and Angela Hilts casually sitting at the table at the front of the stage. As soon as the two took the stage, they played western swing standard after western swing standard, everything from the legendary Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys to Gene Autry to Hank Thompson. They closed their first set with “Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams, which was the perfect cue to step outside for a smoke break. Even Oliver paused to take a quick puff off a cleverly concealed cigar before breaking into the song’s last chorus.

Unfortunately, only a handful of people stuck around for the second set, but really they missed some of the band’s best work. Both Oliver and Hilts were fantastic on the vocals. Hilts’ on-stage energy and performance was the perfect contrast to Oliver’s classic country gentleman stance. On one song, each player had a few bars to show off their incredible musicianship: a lap steel solo from Mike Eckert, a fiddle solo from Javanfar, guitar solos from Gabe Kong and Ken Kelley, and a bass solo from Arif Mirbaghi. They closed the night with a roaring rendition of Bob Wills’ “Who Walks In When I Walk Out”. Check out this clip of the tune from a recent Street Folk Session.

The Double Cuts were missing a second fiddle player and a pianist, but still managed to wow the small crowd in their Hamilton debut. Redanda and The Human Orchestra are staples in the Hamilton music community and usually draw a good size crowd. I hope the next time The Double Cuts come around more people check them out. But be warned, you might get swept up in that western swing, so have your dancing shoes ready.

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