AWWKS Strums Barrie’s Sunday Night Blues Away with Cigar Club and Half Tight at Hometown Show

29 January 2024 / by Megan Hope
AAWKS performing at The Queens Hotel
AWWKS Strums Barrie’s Sunday Night Blues Away with Cigar Club and Half Tight at Hometown Show
Barrie fans braved the bitter January 21st air to file into The Queens Hotel for a night spent touring through the bluesy, psychedelic, and fuzzy avenues of rock music guided by Half Tight, Cigar Club, and AAWKS.

While others may have spent their Sunday evening preparing for the week ahead, Barrie fans braved the bitter January 21st air to file into The Queens Hotel for a night spent touring through the bluesy, psychedelic, and fuzzy avenues of rock music guided by Half Tight, Cigar Club, and AAWKS. The show was hosted by Black Throne Productions and featured some of the area’s most beloved performers. 


After announcing the formation of the band in November and releasing the flyer for their first show two days later, Barrie’s Half Tight are not wasting any time. The psych-rock trio have previously played informal gigs, but this night would be their first official performance with the finalized band name, lineup, and even t-shirts for sale. Without recorded music released as of yet, this show would act as the initial litmus test for how their songs are received by the public. Despite that pressure, Half Tight carried themselves with self-assurance, knowing they were surrounded by many of their closest friends and family. 


Vocalist and guitarist Ben Flewelling, who also plays bass in Overcrook, set the tone for their performance by urging the crowd closer to the stage and saying, “My goal tonight is that you love life and everything in it.” 


The trio began their debut shortly after 7pm with their original song “Cultivated” featuring Flewelling’s soulful growls and guitar solos, thoughtful lyricism, and staccato vocal rhythms reminiscent of Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Outfitted in 70s rocker-style stage presence, any time Flewelling stepped away from the mic to solo, his voice was replaced by impressed cheers. The frontman’s deep admiration for the Nashville rock band All Them Witches became well reflected in his songwriting. 


Showgoers got to see another side of drummer Jeff Burbidge who also drums for the dark and furious heavy metal band Loöse. With Half Tight, Burbidge is able to tap into a different energy and drumming style, proving the diversity of his skill set. 


An impassioned cover of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” filled the room with movement and was a shining moment for bassist Mike Spencer, whose nimble fingerwork spilled a deep buzz across the venue floor igniting the crowd’s dancing feet. 


Watching Half Tight perform felt like watching them live the songs in front of us, and despite hearing the songs for the first time, the audience support was so unanimous that it made it hard to believe that this was their first official show. 


Freshly after exiting the stage through a swarm of proud back pats and congratulations, Flewelling shared with a gleam in his eye that he is “so grateful to everyone who helped out. It feels really good to have it out of the system and know that it’s feasible.” He went on to reveal that the band are hoping to record their debut album in their jam space and plan more shows for the future.


“Are you ready to sob and headbang at the same time?” is how Flewelling prefaced the next act to take the stage. Toronto rock band Cigar Club arrived in Barrie for the fourth stop on their Dry Run regional tour in support of their Dark Market” and “Ocean Potion” single releases. 


After a close-knit band huddle, the four-piece slipped into the dreamy atmosphere of the first verse of “Miss Janefollowed by its floor-shaking chorus drop which revealed the addicting dynamics of their music. 


Guitarist and lead vocalist Trevor Coughlin’s balance of both clean and gritty vocals was evocative of Cage The Elephant singer Matt Shultz, and was braced by backing vocals from each of the other three members. The combined force of drums, bass, two guitars, and four singers made for an incredibly full sound.  


The next song on their setlist, “Aliens,” was an instant crowd favourite and featured lead vocals from guitarist Dan Amato-Gauci whose voice carried the spirits of Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon) and Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons). This song’s performance was also marked by bassist Jeffery Lefort’s low-end fortress and Tyler Booth’s explosive drumming and tortured expression as he gave his all. As a fan of music heavier than his own, Booth noted in conversation after the show that he was pleased to see the metalheads in the audience digging their music and headbanging in the front row. 


The band shared two new unreleased songs as well as debuting a breathtaking cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Amato-Gauci nailed the guitar solo, feeling every note with closed eyes, and shoring up a wall of raised beers. 


Between the enriching use of vocal rotations, their magnetic group chemistry, and larger-than-life energy, Cigar Club proved themselves as undoubtedly a band built for the stage. “To have people connect with the music is our ultimate goal,” shared Coughlin after the set, “We make music true to ourselves, and hopefully, when we play it live the people that are watching connect with it and feel connected with us.” 


“Heavy psych acid füzz röck” are some of the indicators the headlining band, AAWKS, uses to describe their collection of sounds. By 9pm, the Barrie four-piece took their familiar places on The Queens’ stage in front of a raring crowd. 


Looking up at AAWKS, one has to appreciate each member’s distinct look; vocalist and guitarist Kris Dzierzbicki fronts the band with his signature retro yellow-tinted glasses, Roberto Paraíso slings his guitar over a dark suit jacket and oversized cross pendant, drummer Randylin Babic looks mythic donning her fierce and unwavering battle face, and newest addition to the band, bassist Ryan Mailman, shows off his stunning cherry SG paired with a sampling from his sludge metal t-shirt collection. 


The Figure” from AAWKS’ latest EP, Luna, came as a highlight of the set, soaked in ominous green light bringing to mind the hooded travellers pictured on the EP cover. The band took a moment to welcome Mailman to the band before he played the track’s commanding opening bassline followed by Dzierzbicki’s bellowing vocals and the spacey effects of his extensive pedal board.


Affable moshing broke out as well as an impromptu game of ‘keep up’ when a stray balloon found its way into the pit and a wholesome sense of child-like playfulness fell over the crowd. The sweetness continued as the next song was an audience rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung in honour of Babic whose birthday had been the day prior.


With the crowd fiending for an encore, AAWKS closed the set with “Space City” from their debut album Heavy on the Cosmic with echoed shouts for yet another encore following them as they left the stage. 


As performers, AAWKS oozes with seasoned sophistication. They refrain from gimmicks or showyness and let the music speak for itself. Having already established a recognizable signature sound is worthy of high praise, and the standout quality of the band is in their ability to write songs that are crushingly heavy while also incredibly catchy and palatable. 


While basking in the post-show glow, Mailman shared that AAWKS are working on an upcoming album that can be expected to be “darker, heavier and tuned lower than the first one.” With two shows now under his belt, he remarked “It’s a good scene and a great group of people. I couldn’t be happier. All the homies are here, it feels great. I just want to play all the time and do better every time.”


One of Mailman’s childhood best friends Cameron McRobbie had been in the audience and was eager to share his excitement. “I’m so happy to be here. I’ve been watching him play since I was a little kid so it’s so cool to see him perform. He’s got the talent, and it’s what he’s always loved to do.” 


After three momentous sets delivered to a passionate crowd of faces familiar and new, young and old, the sense of community within the Barrie heavy music scene was the thread that tied the evening together. Even on a Sunday night, Barrie shows up.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Burbidge