Outlier and Bespin: Niagara’s finest in prog rock

Outlier and Bespin performed at Mahtay last Saturday / Chloé Charbonneau


Local progressive rock legends Outlier, and their “little brothers” in Bespin (as in Cloud City), played their annual show at Mahtay Cafe and blew the feeble minds of even the most strongly willed listeners.

The annual event took place last Saturday. For the first time, acoustic, duo version of Bespin and a 90 minute progressive odyssey of a set from Outlier were showcased. The two bands captivated the hearts and minds of all those listening and were able to take the crowd on a musical journey through time, space and the lives of the band members.

Progressive rock has always been a somewhat nerdier version of the typical rock set-up and these two bands are par for the course in that respect. They were charming, smart, and at times, a little goofy as they showcased their impressive musical chops.

Bespin started the night off fantastically. Their songs transitioned surprisingly well to an electric bass and acoustic guitar and the fast tempos seemed just right. Their set was impressive.

Outlier’s set was also fabulous and worth the year-long wait that many of their fans had to struggle through. They’ve been around for 21 years and have remained rocking since the first. In a special treat for all of those in attendance, Bespin joined the Outlier trio for their final three songs and together created a cacophony of progressive sound.

The acoustic set up is a “new experience” for Bespin according to Nigel Hollesen, the bassist. Before the show, singer Derek Smith added that the set up makes them “a little more self-conscious” because their “mistakes can now be heard.”

For the future, Hollesen says that Bespin plans to keep writing.  About a year ago their drummer moved out West and Bespin is toying around with the idea to see if there is a drummer out there to join the Bespin team.

Despite no current drummer, Smith says they want to still be a band because they really enjoy doing it and challenging each other.

“As long as we’re still having fun there’s still going to be a future for Bespin” Smith said.

After 21 years in action, Brett Richards says that working on new music is a “constant” for Outlier. “We have an entire album of about seven or eight songs sitting on a computer in Dunville right now,” added Josh Diamond and bassist and keyboardist.

In terms of their live shows they noted that they really enjoy doing Rush covers including “Subdivisions” and “Chemistry.” Richards says that they play “music that we find challenging.”

The band attributes its longevity to a couple of key factors. When asked how they have kept it going for so long Diamond joked “well, nobody’s really moved.” “We’re here in St. Catharines, we’re like minded in terms of music we like, we like writing our own music, we have a common vision and we’re all able to open up once a week or so for practice” he continued.

Diamond also said that since “it’s not a job [it] is a hobby,” they can “put it away and come back” which has enabled them to take breaks when necessary. It helps he added that “we’re not divas” and “we’re not worried about [making an impact on the scene] anymore.”

Richards explained that there are lots of benefits to making music the way that they do. “It’s freeing in a way, having careers, … creatively or musically, you can do what you want.” “We want to be true to what we enjoy and hopefully we can impart that on other people.” They find that “it’s a lot more democratic” than if they were under a record company’s restraints.

In terms of writing, Richards says that he and Andrew, their drummer, do most of the writing. He said that his lyrics come from his “own personal experience.” Some songs, he explains, are “inspired by internet culture but also my involvement in geek culture as well.” “A lot of the times the songs are almost like venting.” Richards is able to “throw [his emotions] into the lyrics and the music. It’s almost like a catharsis.”

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