Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2010: Part 3
LeBreton Flats Park; Ottawa, Canada

[July 15-18, 2010]

The last trimester is the toughest but most rewarding, or so we have heard. After nine days of seeing bands, even the absent uteruses of TMT’s two intrepid reporters are tired. We know, we know. No one wants to hear about the labor pains; they just want to read capsule reviews about the babies playing live shows. Or something like that. Anyway, here is our third and final roundup of Ottawa Cisco Bluesfest 2010. If you want even more coverage of the acts we saw and many that we didn’t, the organizers have loads of interviews and backstage coverage of many of the festival’s artists at this handy link.

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Hollywood Minute…Spoiler Alert!

The battle of the Kevins — Bacon vs. Costner — concluded during the home stretch of Bluesfest, with Costner taking home the golden nothing for his show with his Modern West band. Costner might have won the battle but not the war, as K.C. and the Modern West delivered competent heartland roots music, but nothing that turned LeBreton Flats into a field of dreams.

Although not Tinseltown royalty, Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle has spent recent time away from his band to cavort around Sherwood Forest with pal Russell Crowe for the upcoming Robin Hood flick. Doyle’s main gig resides with GBS, however, and it’s not hard to see why. The level of popularity of the band is staggering considering their conservative take on trad-pop. Still, Great Big Sea know how to whip a crowd into a frothy mess, which is more than we can say about 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.

Time will tell if Drake returns to the acting stage. For he is no longer Degrassi’s Jimmy; he is Drizzy and surely enjoying all the star trappings that the role demands. This festival night, it means facing a shitload of mostly teenage, screaming females. Drake gave the girls what they wanted: a flirting, overtly sexed-up come on, leading to a feature performance of his monster hit “Best I Ever Had.”

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Noodle Scratchers

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to tell you that there are dozens of outfits up and down the Ottawa Valley playing the same down-home stew as Old Crow Medicine Show. Still, it is hard to fault a band laid bare at the front of the stage giving it their acoustic all. Elvis Perkins in Dearland is a mystery still not solved. Categorizing Perkins is tricky, but the band’s genuineness to each genre shone through, and showbiz family ties aside, there’s no novelty act at play here.

Islands are a novelty, but a decent one. It is hard to say if the band has lived up to its promise on record, but live the white-attired crew seems to put on a distinct and different show every time we’ve seen them, possibly due to Nick Thorburn’s penchant for mixing up lineups and the consequences that has on Islands’ tracks. On the other hand, could familiarity be breeding contempt as far as Stars are concerned? There is really nothing to dislike about Montreal’s charmers, but they rubbed against the grain with their Bluesfest show. It might have been our lack of enthusiasm for the many songs played from latest disc The Five Ghosts. It may be that Torquil Campbell’s showman schtick grows tiresome at times (we still looove Amy Millan though). It might have been the stinky, shirtless superfan standing nearby belting out every lyric at the top of his lungs…

Has Craig Finn always been such a diva? Wethinks The Hold Steady’s frontman used to actually play the guitar than simply have it hanging off his body while he acts out his whip-smart words, but that may have been the heat thinking. Regardless, Hold Steady’s set soothed all the right spots, as the band played through a long and lively set of favorites (“Hurricane J,” “Chips Ahoy!”, “Sequestered in Memphis,” Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” etc.).

Darting in between stages and shows, we caught glimpses of a well-attended gig by Derek Trucks and wife Susan Tedeschi, The Joe Krown Trio representing the more traditional end of the Bluesfest spectrum (and who ended with a fantastic Hammond-led rave up of Bobbie Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billy Joe”), suburban power poppers Hollerado, a pleasant but ultimately unobtrusive headlining concert by longtime faves Crowded House, great acoustic noodlery courtesy of Matt Andersen, high school heartache reminiscences from Matthew Good, and Marcia Ball & The Voise of the Wetland Allstars, who, as a multiple Grammy nominee with a stacked band of Louisiana veterans in tow, should have commanded a bigger audience and stage.

Speaking of veterans, Jimmy Cliff, rocked like a man half his age, playing a set of perrenial favorites like “Sitting in Limbo,” I Can See Clearly Now,” and “Rivers of Babylon.” But were we in the john during “The Harder They Come” or did Cliff not play his signature song? Devastating!

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We’ll Meet Again We Know Where We Know When

Devastating is the only way to describe the sparsely-attended but spectacular tent show by Konono Nº1. Small crowd be damned! The extra space just gave those in attendance the nice opportunity to shake some of the rust off their undercarriages. Congolese thumb piano wizardry and fearsome unison singing and dancing collided at high speeds, and in 20-minute trance doses, sweeping everyone in sight up in a rhythmic wall of sound. We left elated but silently cursing ourselves for missing even a little bit of the beginning. Simply intoxicating.

Even early in the day, the big stage gives bands a leg up to play to bigger crowds; there is just much more space to gather, watch performers, and relax. Those wanting a breather while The Budos Band played would have no rest, for they were too busy giving themselves over to the irresistible sound of Latin jazz, 70s soundtracking, Fania, and funk grooves. It was blazing hot, but no one seemed to notice or care because Staten Island’s finest was at the top of its game.

Equally enthralling and entertaining were Blonde Redhead and The Gories. Sitting at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, both gave memorable performances. The Gories played under strange circumstances. Using a stand-in drummer when regular stickswoman Peggy O’Neill’s flight was delayed, Mick Collins and Dan Kroha relayed beat instructions between each song before joking that all their songs had the same beat anyway. No such makeshift decisions were required for Blonde Redhead, who lulled their dedicated drove into a near dream-like state with its blissful roar.

A lot has happened to both Weezer and us since we last met face to face. When The Blue Album was released, Weezer were a scrappy upstart. Now they are America’s Good Time Band. There’s not much of a debate to be had when discussing if Weezer’s albums have digressed since their first record, but one can’t argue the fact that the group is one of the more consistently great singles band around. So, along Blue Album chestnuts like “Say It Ain’t So,” “My Name Is Jonas,” and “Undone,” the large throng was treated to every other significant hit: “Hash Pipe,” “Dope Nose,” “Island in the Sun,” “El Scorcho,” “Pork and Beans,” and gonzo cock-rock set-closer “Beverly Hills.” When Weezer weren’t playing their own tunes, they took stabs at Metallica, MGMT, and Lady Gaga (with Rivers Cuomo in blonde wig). Commanding the stage, crowd, and any place he could fit (including, at one point, a garbage can on stage), Cuomo was in rare form, as was the whole band, amping up the fans mercilessly until the Bluesfest-closing finale of “Buddy Holly” was over.

It was a super-strong finish to a festival that seems, as unbelievable as this might read, to grow each year. On some nights, we witnessed more impressive mullets and cougars in the crowd than impressive bands on the stage, but each and every day was entertaining as all get out. Same time next year? You bet. Until then, we need home for a rest.

by David Nadelle and munroe

Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2010: Part 2
LeBreton Flats Park; Ottawa, Canada

[July 10-14, 2010]

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.

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“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!!!”

– Some roid case yelling at the guy in the Subway costume. You can bet the German Subway mascot “Sub-Wayne” would have been up for the challenge!

“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

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Great Expectations

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.

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Homebrewed Heroes

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.

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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

Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2010: Part 1
LeBreton Flats Park; Ottawa, Canada

[July 06-09, 2010]

A festival this prolonged has something for everyone, but with less (quote-unquote) independent bands playing there seems to be an increased reliance on acts from days long passed. Shows by these veteran acts tend to be hit-or-miss, depending on the toll that hard living has had on band members’ bodies over the decades. However, if you have been playing the same songs for 40 years, there is no real reason to not have it spot on. In an effort to cover both the “veterans” and the other groups, we’ve broken down our first part of coverage into two major categories: “Respect the Vets” and “Brief Look At The Rest.” In addition to those categories, we’ve included the “Dem B’ys is Full-a Humour” and “Look at Me! I’m Famous!” categories about stuff we found amusing with a distinct Canadian spelling, and the acts that clearly inspired this year’s bizarre theme of “Bluesfest Goes Hollywood.”

On with the shows!

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Look At Me! I’m Famous!

The Bacon Brothers, featuring the “footloose” Kevin Bacon on guitar, harmonica, and tight black t-shirt, was the first Hollywood-linked act to take to the stage. Unfortunately, they played a limp set of sub-Mellancamp, countrified pop. Kudos to Bacon for trying his darndest and taking a stab outside his comfort zone, as he has for years with The Bacon Band, but this act was booked because of its name, not its content.

Rotten behavior is what people expect from Courtney Love, but the train-wreck rubber-neckers would have been disappointed by Hole’s show. Trying valiantly to resurrect her musical career instead of her tabloid-fodder career, the confident and jovial (seriously!) birthday girl ran the latest version of Hole through songs off new album, Nobody’s Daughter, faithful versions from her back catalog (“Miss World,” “Celebrity Skin,” Violet”), and a covers of Leonard’s Cohen’s “Take This Longing” (chosen instead of Canuck anthems like “Summer of ‘69” or “Black Velvet,” joked Love) and the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Musically, Hole was as unimpressive as always, proving that Love’s strongest suit is her ability to draw a crowd, not her ability keep them entertained.

The big-screen biopic of The Runaways hasn’t hurt to rekindle Joan Jett’s popularity, but Day 4’s headliner proved the real deal is always better than Twilight’s “it-girl” facsimile. Beginning with her classic “Bad Reputation,” the still-cool-as-fuck Jett and The Blackhearts rifled off crowd pleasers like “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Do You Want to Touch Me There,” “Crimson and Clover,” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Throw in a few Runaways hits like “Cherry Bomb” and “You Drive Me Wild” and the show was great enough to make me want to see Light of Day again.

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Brief Look At The Rest

The Gipsy Kings opened the second night on the Claridge Homes stage to a staggering number of people for an early show. The band responded kindly with an energetic set perfect for an open-air festival. Grupo Fantasma and SEPTENTRIONAL d’Haiti are excellent World bands, who played to small crowds of enthusiastic fans in the blacksheep tent. We also caught up with MonkeyJunk for a moment while they worked over the crowd with their brand of quality local blues.

The hillside setting at the Hard Rock Cafe stage is conducive to more intimate sets, and this year is no different. On Day 3 alone, mellow yellers were treated to a captivating show by Ottawa-born, Montreal-based Laurent Bourque, the standard, rustic fayre from Great Lake Swimmers, and quiet magic from Andrew Bird. Bird just can’t lose at festivals. Every time we’ve seen him he plays haunting sets that show off his sickening versatility and musicianship (yes, we’re a little jealous). Needless to say, his appearance was much appreciated by the dedicated contingent of indie fans and lovers of heartfelt songwriting alike.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band were suggested by a friend, and we’re happy we agreed after witnessing one of the best blues acts on the first leg of the festival. Randolph himself looks stuck between a hip-hop MC and somebody on their way to a wedding, neither of which would indicate he was a phenomenal slide-guitar player with a knack for improvising within a lock-tight groove, in this case provided by Danyel Morgan and Marcus Randolph. Similiarly gifted were the John Butler Trio, a chart-topping Australian group with a revolving set of musicians except for the guy in the band name. The trio play exceedingly well off each other, ending its set with a wall-of-noise drum finale that could be heard two stages over.

Caravan Palace are the type of festival band that do exceedingly well with a live audience but flounder a bit in the studio. The Parisian band consists of several members playing a variety of instruments, including an electric stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, clarinet, bass-heavy synth, and a female singer rocking a ’20s jazz style. In lesser hands you could deride an act like this for trying too hard, but the earnest delivery and high-energy set sold the gimmicky aspects. Another high-energy act that hasn’t lost an ounce of their grip on the 16-18 local demographic in the last 10 years are The Planet Smashers. They tore through a set of aging material, but the youthful crowd ate it up, circle moshing with a ferocity only found at the best ska shows.

We skipped much of the Kelp Records Revue (with the exception of the ever-reliable Andrew Vincent) and sidestepped most of the saccharine electronic sounds of Lights, the guitar goddess freakout of Ana Popovic, and the tedious heavy rock stylings of Dream Theater for the opportunity to see Iron Maiden’s long-awaited return to town.

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The Vets

Iron Maiden were their usual selves. Whirling dervishes Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris commandeering the large stage with the gusto of men 30 years younger, three guitarists trading solos, a massive drum set (and Nicko McBrain somewhere behind it), and a fleeting appearance by Eddie (who now looks like a cyborg linebacker, in case you were wondering). All “newer” songs sounded great and wouldn’t be completely out of place on the band’s early albums but, with the exception of five tracks from the first three albums, the entire setlist consisted of tracks post-Somewhere in Time. The band were fantastic as always but there was an anticipatory feel in the air that didn’t subside until “Iron Maiden,” “The Number of the Beast,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” and “Running Free” were done.

Snippets of sets by The Moody Blues, Steve Hackett, and the rain-delayed Renaissance came next. All flashed some golden-years form. Babe Ruth, in particular, stole pieces of hearts with a wonderfully arranged spectacle led by the overpowering presence of frontwoman Janita Haan, who is THE template for women rock singers. Her swaggering confidence and chops brought fans like flies to sherbet as the sun was setting on the Ottawa River.

The crowd at Further with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir was dense but peaceful, as most were in an altered state or were waiting for the perfect moment to enter an altered state without being noticed by the red-shirted security slinking about. Lesh and Weir sounded laid-back and comfortable, which only furthered the distinct vibe coming from within the crowd. This TMT-er is not familiar enough with past work to comment on their dedication to classic material, but they sounded great.

The B-52’s were radio dynamite in their day, but have been reduced to the following statement overheard from a young audience member: “I think is the band that did that Family Guy song about lobsters.” With their legacy on the line, the B-52’s put on their best “show faces” and rehashed their hits in front of a diverse group of just about every age, from 5 to 65. To their credit, the main trio of Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson, and Kate Pierson have plenty of enthusiasm for both the performance and music that has been paying their bills for the last 30 years.

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Dem B’ys is Full a Humour

Metal bands attract a certain type of crowd, but metal bands of a certain vintage attract an even more certain type of crowd. Where else but at a Maiden show would a hoary rock chick (sorry, she could only be described as such) deafen those in the vicinity with, “I don’t need a bike, this is MY BITCH!” as she straddled her startled husband’s back like he was a well-worn Harley seat? Alright, that could happen anywhere – and should happen more often – but it seemed more at home on this night.

The Subway stage, which has a glorious backdrop in the Ottawa river, and offers up some more eclectic musical choices for the city, is also unfortunately home for some of the more “aggressive” blues, including Jonas & The Massive Attraction, a band that really “wants it.” The stage theatrics of lead singer Jonas Tomalty were incredible in how uniformly awful they were, and even better when noticing the smirks on the faces of his band members. Jonas’ wife-beater tank-top, greasy curls, and rippling body mass might of attracted a very specific demographic (the type that enjoys chillin’ on the Jersey shore), but his Blueshammer level of terrible should of earned him a spot in the comedy tent instead of on a stage.

The laughs provided by Mr. Jonas inspired a visit to the Black Sheep music and comedy tent, a new addition to Bluesfest this year, and after getting past the crack security team of volunteer children (well, teenagers) we were presented with some relationship advice from Finesse Mitchell, a former SNL cast member. His routine was amusing and he delivered the material well, but the topic of relationships is a well-worn path in the comedy world and Mitchell didn’t offer any new insights. Louis C.K., on the other hand, was brutal, vicious, and absolutely hilarious. Even though some of his material can border on mean, his delivery and cushy personality sell jokes that would drown a lesser comedian.

The first slab of days at Bluesfest was a struggle of attrition for our already overworked sweat glands, but the heat wave is over. Whatever nonsense Mother Nature throws at us for the rest of the Bluesfest, it couldn’t be worse than what we endured (though we would probably endure razorblade-and-dirty-diaper tornadoes if it meant standing in a field drinking beer and watching an overwhelming amount of music). Bring on days five to nine!

by David Nadelle and munroe

Lou Barlow
The Hobby Shop; Los Angeles

[07-01-2010]

When I walked through the front door of The Hobby Shop, I was expecting to find a small crowd milling around inside a record store. Instead, I was met instead by an incredibly cozy, wood-paneled recording studio. There was just enough room for two rows of people to stand and still leave a reasonable walking path between the audience and the band, whom were lit warmly by tiny lights hanging off their mic stands. Beyond them was the booth, and beyond that was a beautiful backyard.

The space shouldn’t be the star of this review, but if The Hobby Shop does bring this weekly concert series back in August, you’re going to want to check it out. Besides the fact that it feels like watching a show in a really hip humidor, the perk of going to a show in a recording studio is that each attendee receives a digital copy of the show, delivered via e-mail.

The whole thing felt very homey, with the proprietor, Andrew “Mudrock” Murdock, revealing he’d heard every band in the series play, with the exception of the night’s opener, Woolen, whom he’d booked off the strength of their sort-of-sister-band, Random Patterns. That was okay, though, since I had. Woolen is one of my favorite local bands and they’re incredibly flexible live. Their sets can emphasize the proggy, 90s-influenced side or take you into wavering, twang-tinged bliss. They leaned toward the latter and were accompanied by a steel guitar. The set was more fluid and serendipitous as a result of breaking from the standard line-up, which probably led to the inclusion of a song frontman Paris Patt claimed he hadn’t decided on the lyrics for yet. Come to think of it, they did the same thing when I saw them a number of months ago, so this might just be a long running joke. Truth or fiction, the steel guitar player adapted admirably and it sounded just as polished as the rest of their material.

The aesthetic choice was logical given the stripped-down quality of a lot of Barlow’s solo material and the smaller space, but didn’t pan out completely in terms of matching the headliner. Barlow came out with more force than I had anticipated, backed by Mike Watt’s Missingmen, Tom Watson and Raul Morales. Strummy acoustic numbers like Emoh’s “Round-n-Round” became full bodied rockers in the trio’s hands and there were brief moments where they veered off and flirted with the stoner-rock elements of Dinosaur Jr. that always made me slightly uncomfortable. (Read: bored.)

In a neat twist, Imaad Wasif, who played with Barlow on Emoh and in The New Folk Implosion, was also in attendance. There was a great moment where Watson mentioned how weird it was to be playing Wasif’s own parts back to him, which led to musings on a word that could function as, “Thank you,” and, “Sorry,” simultaneously. Verdict: “Sorry,” with a lisp, or, “Thorry.” My verdict: no apologies necessary; fans and musicians should enjoy hearing old songs in a new way.

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio / JG Thirwell and Steroid Maximus
Prospect Park Bandshell; Brooklyn, NY

[06-18-2010]

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio sound like the footsteps of three tiny cartoon men running up and down a stairwell at extreme speeds. Smith’s organ ramblings lay a quietly complex framework for the dancing guitar of Jonathan Kreisberg and the psycho-syncopation of Jamire Williams’ drums. Smith’s scatting, occasionally bubbling to the top, almost always consisted of the syllables “ba ba dee ba dee ba da!”

Listening to the swelling and deflating sounds of JG Thirwell’s least electronic, most orchestral project, the all-instrumental Steroid Maximus, it is hard not to imagine a movie in one’s head. While Thirwell has a knack for high-energy, fight-scene music, this particular program boasted many subtler, more gradually mounting compositions. “I saw a chase through a swamp on motorboat,” came one audience member’s interpretation of the third piece. In the opinion of this reporter, however, the correct interpretation was, “The montage in a heist movie in which all of the members of the team get into position.”

Thirwell closed the evening with a rendition of perhaps his most famous composition, the score to The Venture Bros. An essential element of the heavy stylization of the cartoon, this music takes on a different dimension in live performance. Though certain instruments (mostly horns) lacked the aggressive loudness of their recorded counterparts, the greater dynamic range and number of tonal voices allowed for a different intensity and an ending epic enough to appropriately conclude the evening’s sonic drama.

Although Thirwell seemed to have little communication with the musicians onstage, the 20 or more instrumentalists executed his opuses with a flawless tightness regardless of his conducting. But as the final medley came to a close, his passive motions finally began to intensify until he leapt into the air, slamming back down on the stage and gesturing the cutoff with both hands. He then quietly acknowledged his band, thanked the festival organizers, and walked offstage.

Pavement
Hearst Greek Theatre; Berkeley, CA

[06-25-2010]

You’d think reunion tours would have something … special to them, some spark that would be powerful enough to invoke an emotion affecting the mindset of those involved. Minds being blown, especially to a crowd that, mostly, never even witnessed the band originally. A vibe that could shake the foundations of the venue.

None of that happened when Pavement played at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA. (And if you find that awful, stop reading. NOW)

Perhaps an imminent warning sign is the notice that tickets were still available to the show prior to opening at the box office. Now, at the time Pavement started playing, the venue was at about 90 percent capacity (based on observation), and the venue is pretty large (8500 seats). But given the sold-out shows in Central Park this fall, and the close proximity to hometown Stockton, CA, (which they just happened to play for the first time the night before), one would think this particular show would have sold out in the same amount of time those four shows did. That it didn’t may not just undermine the importance of this show, but the tour in general.

Pavement rolled in shortly after 9 PM, opening with the classic “Cut Your Hair,” followed by another, lesser-known “cut,” “Frontwards.” Steve Malkmus and crew threw down some weight: The set was filled with the hits, including “Spit on a Stranger” and “Gold Soundz,” and some lesser gems like “The Hexx” and “Unfair.” They also played a new song, supposedly titled “Linden” (though that title may have be mixed up with “Lions (Linden)”). A big surprise was calling in original drummer Gary Young during the encore, who played a couple numbers from Slanted & Enchanted.

It all should have made for an incredible night. Yet, the concert felt incredibly underwhelming. Everyone except the unpredictable Young was playing solidly, but not much more. The band got along and were enjoying themselves, and Stephen Malkmus behaved himself, but there were few if any shining moments that could raise the crowd into a frenzy. Every song was played with little deviation. The setlist’s depth was, at best, predictable. The more time they played, the more the crowd was into it, but it felt so standard. Their set length, 1 hour and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute encore, made the show as a whole seem more like part of a tour for an album (which, given the release of Quarantine the Past, it partly is) than a full-blooded reunion. Any person, never having heard Pavement or understanding their significance, would have simply seen this as an unexceptional indie-rock show.

Maybe they’ll improve by the time they reach New York in September. Maybe, like their ’80s brethren Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr., they’ll return to the studio and turn this reunion into a comeback. But for now, Pavement’s reunion tour just seems to cover the fans. And it doesn’t feel like enough.

[Photo: JessicaSarahS]

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