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Riishi Von Rex plays Ottawa, then packs up to tour country

The experimental gypsy rock duo picks up where Mars Volta left off.

Ladies First! takes place at Live on Elgin at 8 p.m. on Jan. 9.

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Ladies First! takes place at Live on Elgin at 8 p.m. on Jan. 9.

Riishi Von Rex was ready to give up on her solo music career – until esteemed jazz drummer Michel Delage answered her Kijiji call.

The two found common cadence instantly shredding on experimental gypsy rock – tunes that slowly evolved into diverse jams infused with everything from jazz to ska to disto jam rock – and it’s damn good.

The pair has since recorded an EP and is set to head out on a six-week, cross-Canada tour from the east coast all the way to Alberta. They’ll be spinning heads along the way for sure. But before they go, they’ll be showing Ottawa how deep their progressive rabbit hole goes at the second annual Rocksteady Bookings’ Ladies First! show at Live on Elgin this Saturday. 

Although it will be only two people on stage, expect to hear as much racket as a full band. These two know how to fill a room.

“I wouldn’t have tried to do this with anyone but Michel (Delage). He can be really atmospheric, he can be really commanding and totally steal the show for me. It’s a good balance,” says Von Rex.

“You have to find someone that you are legitimately excited about working with and that keeps you pushing it to your absolute maximum, because there is no room for breathing when you are a duo. There is just no space that you don’t have to fill.”

Developing a great, walloping sound with only two players is a feat on its own and making it tight and solid is even tougher. Delage says the pair uses “chaos and craziness” to fill the space, rather than straight distortion and power. This is most notable on Shed Your Helmet, the title track from the duo’s EP.

“It starts out with my crazy drum intro and during the song, Riishi’s riff comes back and I just go absolutely crazy,” adds Delage.

“I don’t play anything in time, it’s just more about just trying to make the universe implode with my drumming.”

This is where the comparisons come in. I see Riishi Von Rex as a bit of an extension of former El Paso-based prog rock band the Mars Volta or Gogol Bordello, but with more of a jazzy, sinister ska feel. It’s a bit more playful than a Mars Volta concept album and just as fun as Bordello’s Pura Vida Conspiracy.

Von Rex’s raw vocals cut through the music like a chainsaw ripping through raw meat. Her silky and sometimes smoky voice gives you the feeling of something menacing to come: a ghostly encounter, a dark trip down a spiraling wave, a murder most foul. Shed Your Helmet is, at times, as heavy as it is silky, as deep as it is light and as refined as it is raw. The album is a perfect blend of crazy and cool, something I want to put on in any mood. The EP is soaringly progressive throughout – taking you on the wild rollercoaster ride that Delage and Von Rex have constructed. It all culminates on Shed Your Helmet – a progressive beast driven by Delage’s chaotic drumming and Rex’s sinister vocals and distorted guitar. The gypsy influence really comes out to play on this track – the spilling horns, the plunging bass and Von Rex’s high pitched haunting screech that gives it a fitful flair that’s impossible to ignore.

You’ll dance to this album, you’ll drink to it, you’ll party to it and you’ll even mourn with it. Delage and Von Rex have found a wormhole here and they want you to go with them on the ride. All aboard!

Ladies First! takes place at Live on Elgin this Saturday at 8 p.m. and features a handful of other artist including Maya Killtron, Amanda Lowe, Coccinella and Ghostly Hounds. Rocksteady have also teamed up with Harmony House women’s shelter to raise funds and awareness around violence against women. A portion of the proceeds will go to the shelter.

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