Strong enough to be Weakerthans.

Maybe it's John K. Samson's deadpan vocals.

Maybe it's the singalong "I hate Winnipeg!" chorus of the proud Winnipeggers' One Great City.

Maybe it's the name-dropping of such unlikely rock 'n' roll subjects as philosopher Michel Foucault and explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Maybe it's their penchant for singing about dogs and cats.

Something sets The Weakerthans, a band well-versed in pop music verse-chorus-verse convention, apart from the indie-rock pack.

And as they return to Ottawa for their first performance since a packed Bluesfest show, The Weakerthans remain outsiders -- despite the success of their latest Epitaph release, Reconstruction Site.

And despite drummer Jason Tait's potentially ominous relocation to Toronto.

Guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Carroll wishes to dispel any rumours that the remaining Weakerthans will follow as part of any campaign to make it big: "We are by no means trying to make it," he declares.

Rumours of a recent shakeup within the ranks, however, are true. Bassist John P. Sutton handed in his notice last month and should probably feel flattered that his former bandmates have dealt with his absence by adding not one but three new members -- at least for this tour.

Abetting the patented Weakerthans' sound will be bassist Greg Smith as well as full-time Fembots Brian Poirier (guitar) and Dave Mac-Kinnon (keyboards).

"For us, it's really put new life into some ragged old songs that we couldn't bear playing anymore," Carroll says of the new lineup. "There's so much more we can do with songs onstage now."

By ALLAN WIGNEY -- Ottawa Sun