Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2010: Part 2
LeBreton Flats Park; Ottawa, Canada
We’ve no need for wordy intros for recap # 2. With over 17,000 artists on 72 stages over the span of two and a half months there is no way to see everything. Very slight exaggerations aside, here is what we saw, heard, smelt, and felt on days 5 through 9.
“I’ll Take Potent Potables for $600, Alex.”
Just keep your ears open and eventfully someone, onstage or off, will fill them with nonsense or a laugh …
“Two years ago we were almost wasted in a car crash … but like herpes we keep coming back!”
– Your similes are not wasted on us, Loudlove.
“I dare you! I dare you to punch me in the stomach. I DARE you!!!”
“Oh c’mon … that’s got chords. Like, more than two!”
– The Gories' Dan Kroha self-deprecatingly responds to a fan request.
"People, people! Only 10 bucks, fer crissakes!"
-- A hard working under-aged kid trying to raise enough cash to get his under-aged ass drunk warms our hearts. A manic, zit-faced loner holding a copy of E.T. on BluRay over his head kinda creeps us out.
"Hey, you at the back! Drop that hot dog and put your fuckin' hands together!"
-- Command obeyed, singer from Dream Theater!
"That Flaming Mouth band was a novelty act. They need to write better lyrics, and stop being so lovey-dovey."
-- A friend's lawnchair/tilly-hat-toting father
If we said that The Flaming Lips show at Bluesfest was a life-affirming overdose of magic and compassionate entertainment would you believe it? If you have seen them live before, then, um, I guess you would, right? Wayne Coyne and co. moved from show-opening mind-fucks into a visceral “Silver Trembling Hands,” from the recognizable bombast of “She Don’t Use Jelly” into delicately done versions of “I Can Be a Frog” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” with enrapturing grace. The Lips are ridiculously fun live but also achingly tender at times, with Coyne’s earnest anti-war appeal willing the crowd to pitch emphatic peace signs above its collective head before the beautiful coda of “Do You Realize??” The Flaming Lips delivered one of the most inventive, charming, and downright wonderful shows this town has witnessed.
A mix of the strange, beautiful, and powerful was what Arcade Fire sought to replicate a few days later, with a great deal of success. Although not quite bettering Alanis or Avril in the stadium stakes, Arcade Fire are a fully-fledged festival band now. A festival band, but still “our” band to many Canadians, important but not self-important (yet). New tunes collided with old and everything was more than hunky dory to the clamoring congregation; but still, nothing ever hit the potent heights of, say, The Flaming Lips show described above (we hate to pull that cheap comparison out of the bag, but it’s true). Never ones for balking at an impromptu vocal jam, their greatest moment of the night might have been when they took to the streets after their show to join this Hanson-esque band of pre-teen rockers that played fund-raising shows outside the park every night.
Last year we happened by a stage where a man was standing by his lonesome next to a massive apparatus seemingly bolted together from spare junk-yard parts. The show ended up being a festival highlight as, That 1 Guy’s only member, Mike Silverman, is a virtuoso talent on an instrument of his own design. For the unitiated, Silverman’s “Magic Pipe” is a combination drum-kit, bass guitar, and midi-keyboard. The keyboard isn’t really a keyboard, but instead a series of contact points placed strategically on the instrument that, when touched, trigger samples on a laptop hidden out of sight. The bass guitar comes in the form of two fret-less strings on different parts of the instrument, with filterable sound provided by a twistable second pipe/string. Finally the drum-kit is another midi-triggering device on the lower part of the instrument that Silverman plays with his feet. To state That 1 Guy is unique doesn’t even scratch the surface of the talent on display here. One part Frank Zappa and two parts Les Claypool, That 1 Guy is not content writing songs about girls and good times; they’re about butts and a gross moon made of dirty cheese. Although clearly not for everyone, That 1 Guy delivered again this year with a high-energy set that was weird for even a seasoned festival goer. While the crowd dwindled throughout the performance, those who stayed witnessed something entirely unique and a firm affirmation that live music is, in fact, awesome.
A Canadian festival without Blue Rodeo? For shame! Unexpected, for sure, but their place was amply filled by fellow compatriots Sarah Harmer and Basia Bulat, two singer-songwriters with an abundance of talent and impressive fan bases to boot. Both shows were light on raucous entertainment, heavy on delicate introspection and lyrical nous. Harmer had her nimble band a-buzzin’, but we’ll give a slight nod to Bulat’s cozier tent show this time.
Metric continue to rise through the hierarchical pecking order of venues each and every year, landing on the main stage in 2010. Will headlining be far off? It’s doubtful. While they get older each year, their following seems to stay the same age, perpetually hooked on the catchy-but-less-than-thrilling energy pop of “Monster Hospital” and “Dead Disco.”
Timber Timbre played a raucus set for the small yet boistrous crowd in the opening hours of Day 6. Lead singer, guitar player, and principle member/songwriter Taylor Kirk donned a sexy mosquito-net hat, either for fashion points or to actually benefit from its purpose to keep pests away from his face while he ripped through some material from his big debut on Arts & Crafts. Violin player Mika Posen was unbelievably stoic throughout the performance, which was odd considering the man seated beside her was giving it 110 percent.
Moneen from Brampton, Ontario, exploded onto stage with a blistering set of indie-rock heavily influenced by both punk and thrash as they bounded about, whipping the young, mostly male crowd into a frenzy. More than a few bodies went over the front fence and were manhandled out of the pit by the guerilla security guards. Chris ‘The Hippy’ Hughes, in particular, was a sight, with dreadlocks – almost reaching down to his ass – being spun around in perfectly executed arcs (I’m sure there was some practice involved) that had all the concert virgins buzzing.
Alexisonfire took the stage quickly after Moneen, trying to capitalize on the crowd energy before it peetered out. The band delivered their brand of radio-friendly hardcore with an intensity lacking from most heavy acts. Unfortunately their sound is a muddled mess on record that doesn’t come across much better during a live show. The lyrics were buried deep in the mix, just like the face of lead screamer George Pettit, but these nitpicky comments were lost on a crowd that wanted nothing more than to mosh the night away. On that note, the band delivered.
Down With Webster have been quickly climbing the charts here in Canada; evidence of that was the mainly teen audience, and the music itself. A combination of early ’00s boy-bands, passable rapping ala Kanye West, and a guitar presence that looks remarkably like John Mayer, the band were young audience candy. With the exception of the drummer and the guitarist (tied down by pesky cables), none of the band members stopped moving for even a second, busting out numerous call and responses and even pulling the tired (yet novel for some) move of “filming” the audience for later viewing (most likely discarded before the check clears). Drenched in sweat by the third song, DWW will be a big name in coming years, just not amongst those who ignore the Top-40.
Plants & Animals were a surprise, bucking the sonic trend that has overrun the city as of late. A combination of both classic- and post-rock mentality, the Secret City Records band were an absolute delight in a live setting, whereas their recorded output has occasionally left this reviewer a little bored. Their energy was projected onto the crowd with little or no fanfare, and after telling myself that I would only listen to a song or two before checking out Santana on the main stage, I ended up staying for the entire set and loving every second of it. Plants & Animals are one of Canada’s best kept secrets, and everyone who witnessed them put on one of the strongest shows at the festival this year headed straight to the merch tent to revisit 2008’s Parc Avenue and check out this year’s La La Land.
And the rest…
Certainly one of the bigger surprises we witnessed arrived care of Caravan Palace, an electro-beat-driven, swing-era spectacle from Paris. It might not be something you would ever put on the hi-fi to impress the neighbors, but in this context, it was a sure fire hit that attracted a curious storm of people that grew exponentially as the set whisked by.
In an age of worshipping past idols for no more a reason than, “It’s kitchy and ironic, tee hee!” the lack of love for Supertramp, even of the novelty variety, is depressing. You’re not likely to see Roger Hodgson popping up in our Chocolate Grinder section anytime soon, but you can’t deny the man’s gigantically popular oeuvre. In Ottawa, where vintage bands go for one more kick at the can, Hodgson was enthusiastically received by a large throng of nostalgia tramps as he played a sick amount of spot-on, recognizable songs from his past (“Take the Long Way Home,” “Breakfast in America,” “Dreamer,” “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song,” “It’s Raining Again,” etc., etc.)
A band you catch often on the blahgoszfere is Brooklyn’s Bear in Heaven, who played a tense set culled primarily from their impressive Beast Rest Forth Mouth album. Meanwhile Steve Dawson brought his Mississippi Sheiks tribute project to live fruition. Joined together by the likes of Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jim Byrnes, Dawson’s collective played old-time tracks by the Sheiks, which brought out lovers of country, blues, and Southern gospel the likes of which get scarcer at Bluesfest every year, despite its brand name.
Steve Winwood took the stage early in the evening to a polite crowd of festival goers looking to be entertained by the seasoned industry veteran of Traffic, Blind Faith, and the Spencer Davis Group. Winwood was stoic behind his piano at the age of 62, but still managed to deliver a set consisting of exactly what the audience was hoping to see, which was not a difficult feat for a man with more than 40 years of performance experience.
The Swell Season emerged from the other side of the road from both Rush and The Levon Helm band. Normally a quiet, reserved set like this would play out perfectly at the Black Sheep Inn stage, naturally sequestered by a hill on one side and the War Museum on the other. Unfortunately, that stage has migrated to a tent this year, and a lot of acts were pushed out to the Hard Rock Cafe stage as a result, which offers no sort of auditory protection from other stages. All of this is relevant because lead singer and principle song writer for the Swell Season, Glen Hansard, spent most of his set brooding like a child who’s had his milk taken away because of the bleeding sound from other stages. Hansard’s anger was primarily directed at Rush, since they were the headliner, but in reality a lot of the noise was coming from the Levon Helm band (which played a wonderful set we didn’t catch much of). Despite his bickering and mocking, The Swell Season played a lot of the material that has made them relatively famous, including “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “Lies,” both of which engaged the crowd on a much higher level than ripping on Neil Peart for having too many drums.
More than halfway through our festival experience, youthful exuberance and dexterity have made way for bloodied feet, stomachs, kidneys, and livers. Stay tuned for Part 3 to see if we fall further to our failings or redeem ourselves with triumph as we near the end of this live behemoth for another year.
by David Nadelle and munroe