Ottawa Bluesfest: Days 10-12
July 17-19, 2009;

[July 17-19, 2009]

[PREVIOUS]

- {Day 10}

{Silver Creek} had quite a following of local new country fans on the main stage, but the night actually started when {John McCrea} of CAKE walked out on the second stage in a red hat, white-rimmed sunglasses and white gloves. After ripping right into some of their early material to placate the fans, McCrea took off the gloves, both literally and figuratively. The new material isn't earth-shattering, but it is a different direction for CAKE, who sound thrilled to finally be on their own label. Overall, the set was what can be expected of a band who made its living off the radio; they sound exactly the same live as they do on their records.

{Paolo Nutini} (pictured) has a following that would make the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync jealous, as the women at his concert were actually old enough to fornicate with. Regardless of age, the collective noise made by thousands of women/girls screaming at the same time sounds entirely different from of a sexually mixed crowd. There is ample reason for the adoration, as this guy looks like he fell out of an Abercrombie ad and actually still uses innuendo. People like to use their imaginations, so today's straightforward approach to sex in pop music gets old quickly. Using a word as innocuous as "wiggle," Nutini was elicited noises of pure joy from the early twenty-something crowd of gorgeous women. Kudos my man.

----

- {Day 11}

The {Deep Dark Woods} opened day 11 to a very small crowd that looked concerned about the weather. Tellingly, it began to to fall nearly 10 minutes into the Saskatoon boys' set, which was strangely fitting for their sombre style of folk rock. Their 2009 album is among the brightest of the year in this writer's opinion, which made it all the more upsetting to hear a lack of strong harmonies, a prominent reason the album is so enjoyable. The sound engineers might be to blame, as two other band members did have microphones but were almost impossible to hear alongside lead singer Ryan Boldt.

After intermittently catching hand-raising songs throughout the day by the likes of Voices of Praise, NewWorldSon, Reggie Young & Gospel Park, and Israel & New Breed, and popping in and out of other fields to witness some old school blues by Louisiana Red and masterful string playing by David Lindley, we came across one of the most bizarre and innovative sights of the festival so far. Berkeley, CA's Mike Silverman, or {That 1 Guy} (pictured) as he is known, put on an incredible street performance, as he mimicked every known instrument to man on his magic stick. Playing his hand-crafted amalgamation of pipes, strings, drums, and effects, and winning smiles with a Zappa-meets-Primus vibe singing songs about bananas and butts, That 1 Guy had the crowd mesmerized by his playing and in near-hysterics with his words. It was then time to turn the volume up to something way past 10.

There was an interview in Ottawa's entertainment rag with {Black Mountain}'s Stephen McBean this past week to coincide with his band's appearance at Bluesfest. He delved into talk about their "retro" tag being not at all constricting and how they could conceivably make a wyrd folk or metal album without anyone blinking a suspicious eye. This genre-hopping idea makes even more sense if you have seen the band live. For all their Black Sabbath bombast and Deep Purple organ workouts, their songs are conducive to epic-ness, be they pastoral or thrash-tastic (I, for one, would love to see the band pull a Wicker Man soundtrack thing heavily influenced by keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt's Sinoia Caves work). Of course it is the vintage riffs and spacey drones that the people were here to see during their Saturday night set, and Black Mountain did not disappoint. Starting with "Stormy High" and ending, appropriately enough, with "Druganaut" (dedicated to that day's main stage headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd), McBean and co. showed everyone that "retro" shouldn't be confused with predictable and that labelling should be done to cans, not bands.

{Drive-By Truckers'} maiden voyage to the national's capital provided the answer to why the band is so ridiculously revered by its followers. It is equally astounding and embarrassing that I haven't sought out more than a cursory listen to Drive-By Truckers' albums since their inception more than 10 years ago. For crissakes, there is no good reason for me to know more Metric songs than those by Athens-via-Muscle Shoals' favorite sons (and daughter)! Regardless, their show gave newbies a wonderful introduction that was not altogether unexpected but great nonetheless. I was pleased to find the set selections doled out among members rather than simply coming from under Patterson Hood's aegis. In fact, Mike Cooley's and Shonna Tucker's Replacements-esque and sweet, soulful turns, respectively, were my favorite moments of their warm, embraceable show. Not quite a slap in the face for my past listening crimes, but the Drive-By Truckers set was a much-needed eye-opener and an interesting diversion from the same-time, main-stage set by DBTs' southern brethren, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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- {Day 12}

It took 12 days, but the final day of Bluesfest brought what many like-minded, TMT-reading folk thought was the lineup of the festival, starting with alt-country Rhode Island act {Deer Tick}. Having previously seen John McCauley III in solo guise, it was exciting to see the this band in "band" form, especially considering the current hot-to-trot status afforded to them courtesy of their gruff-voiced, attention-grabbing Born on Flag Day album. They backed up boastful talk with a strong set of folky weepers, amped-up rockers, country pop songs, and honky tonk shufflers, including a great version of "Friday the 13th" (McCauley dueting with the song's co-author Liz Isenberg), a half-cover of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" near the end of their set, and a bunch of Born on Flag Day songs ("Song About a Man," "Easy," "Houston, TX," etc.) scattered throughout.

{Handsome Furs} (pictured) tore the Bluesfest a new one by pumping out guitar-and-synth jamz with a healthy disregard for safety and a joie de vivre absent from many of their contemporaries. Looking like vintage Debbie Harry with a coke habit and a clash-heavy dress sense of adventure, Alexei Perry was a star in every sense of the word. Looking like he was just granted release from the halfway house down my street and sounding not unlike a hoarser Kurt Cobain, Dan Boeckner thrashed around the stage like a spooked king rat. Together Perry and Boeckner contorted themselves into inhuman shapes and lunged violently towards each other in a mad musical suicide pact as they played a wild set highlighted by wildly good songs off of their two albums, Plague Park and Face Control. This would have been considered a special show on its own, but as a warmup for the last main stage headliners Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it was damned near perfect.

The White Stripes came to Ottawa two years ago and decimated anyone's opinion about them being a "meh" band. Well, Meg is still an awful drummer, but Jack proved himself a bona fide rock star, so the turnout on the final day of the festival for his new band {The Dead Weather} was ample. Alison Mosshart of The Kills was the first to stride on stage, and after taking the final drag on her smoke, she pinched and flicked the butt as if to say "Let's fuckin' do this." That simple move was a perfect distraction so Mr. White could sit at the kit with little fanfare. As the opening notes of "Treat me Like Your Mother" ripped through the previously serene setting, the crowd response was extremely enthusiastic. The band only released their debut album two weeks ago, so they had a limited song library to pull from, which worked in their favor as they kept the set short, tight, and to-the-point.

The final act to arrive at Bluesfest, {Yeah Yeah Yeahs}, had to have been the strangest this buttoned-down government town has seen in a while on a big stage. Karen O careened into view wearing bright colors, a tutu/skirt, and a mask that had a spiral of LED rope lights that circled her face. Springing right into material off their latest album, the rest of the Yeahs looked unenthusiastic about playing a festival on a Sunday night at 9:30. It was as if the band were told everyone was going back to work tomorrow morning, and Karen made several sarcastic remarks about how much of a party it was. Besides an impressive light show and releasing the biggest inflatable eyeball ever onto the crowd, the band was fairly unremarkable when stacked up to the rest of the great material that graced Lebreton Flats this year. The band relied on quite a bit of their quieter material, which wasn't fitting for their getups or their latest recorded output.

Our biggest regret of this year's festival was not having the Turkey Drumstick. The food overall at the festival was excellent, with nothing over $9 and a wide variety of countries represented, including Thailand, India, Greece, and Lebanon. The Turkey Drumstick was something else entirely, with guys walking around with this hunk of meat on a bone that was bigger than their head. They may as well have been Pterodactyl Drumsticks, and at $6.50 including beans and coleslaw, we were fools to pass it up. And a quick note to the organizers: hearing the brain dead radio jockeys say the word "cupsuckers" like it's an increasingly hilarious joke is not only juvenile, it's also irritating. Overall though, this is a festival worth making the trip to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada for. Even if you're not a fan of the "blues."

[Photos: munroe]

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Mile High Music Festival 2009
Dick's Sporting Goods Park; Denver, CO

[July 18-19, 2009]

This year’s Mile High Music Festival, the second annual celebration of all-things-elevated in Denver, Colorado, was an odd beast if you looked at it up close. Let’s see, first off we’ve got Widespread Panic playing... bo-... both nights? Umm okay, could be a typo...

Moving right along, we’ve got a list of bands you’d expect to be playing with Panic: Ben Harper (sure, why not), Matisyahu (I’m in a good mood, go for it!), Thievery Corporation (yeah, still rockin’), Gov’t Mule (things are gettin’ weird), G. Love & Special Sauce (now I’m just getting angry), Ani fuckin’ DiFranco (I’m freakin’ out!!!)...

Then, after you peel the initial, stinky-hippie layer, you’ve a few choice pieces of action: DeVotchKa (incredible!), Lyrics Born (indelible), and Pepper (incredibly unoriginal and indelibly enjoyable).

Then the REAL head-scratchers enter the mix: Incubus (it is now officially 1999), Black Keys (it is now officially 2004) and, mother of all motherfuckers, Tool’s first show since December 2007 (it is now officially time to take three hits of sunshine acid).

It all melted together reasonably well. And I mean literally: The hot-to-the-touch temperatures had my balls sticking together like velcro straps. How can one enjoy music with so many distractions, including sweltering heat, lots of food, tons of drunk people, and several well-distributed recycling tents?

Very carefully. To me, Mile High wouldn’t have made any sense at all without the VIP tent, where I was able to grab roughly seven-or-so ice teas -- iced -- every hour. Those who did attend without the heightened luxury must have spent every bit of disposable income they had on beer at $8 a cup.

I just can’t do that; maybe that’s why I write about it instead. Regardless, despite the lineup gaffes, Mile High didn’t crash to the ground.

LIGHTNING SPEED REVIEW ROUND!!!!!:

- Incubus: Yr pretty, but HA! Make yrself, fucko.
- Ani DiFranco: I ... I just have no idea.
- Thievery Corporation: Good; no seriously, it’s good, I promise. When is it over?
- The Black Keys: No seriously, it actually DOES sound like two people, nothing more.
- Pepper: It’s good, but it’s Sublime. Be honest.
- Ben Harper: Is that a KISS cover? No? Shit, sorry.

As short as that last section seems, I’m not sure if I could have shit out another word for any of those groups if my life depended on it. The real reason I -- and everyone else -- went to Mile High was to get beaten over the head by Maynard James Keenan’s big, floppy Tool.

They didn’t disappoint. Or maybe they did; after seeing them five times starting in 1997, I can’t really tell anymore. All I know is that Tool are a consummate live act, even though I find myself not as starstruck as in the past. It’s not so much the songs or the killer-cool stoner vibe or the whole Tool-is-the-new-Rush thing; it’s more that, as a four-cog machine, the quartet have few peers. Danny Carey, their drummer, is the ultimate conservatory musician, trained in the fundamentals to a fault; he can do anything required of him except grow an extra limb (though I’m told he is working on that). Their bassist Justin Chancellor is the perfect wall for Carey to bounce his beats off, as he can go from a head-charge rumble to a fluid melodic groove in no-time-flat. Guitarist Adam Jones is the least skilled but just as important, his brush strokes adding something tangible for the masses (no one wants to pay $70 to sit on the grass and listen to drums-and-bass solos).

And then you have Maynard James Keenan. He’s a decent lyricist in a pinch, or at least he was before 10,000 Days, but his best quality is his ability to project his voice over the daunting din of his band. THAT’s what sets him apart from the Chino Morenos of the world: He can hold a note, and more than that, he can hold it next to a distortion guitar and still be heard.

Well, there you have it: Two days of 90-degree temperatures to really see one, maybe two bands.

Such is life.

Ottawa Bluesfest: Days 6-9
July 13-16, 2009;

[July 13-16, 2009]

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- {Day 6}

Every year at Bluesfest, there's one night where the organizers give the festival pass owners a break. They tend to put on acts that appeal to people who aren't really "in" to music, in so much as they only like a few select radio-friendly bands. Monday night featured Silverstein, Gym Class Heroes (pictured), and Stone Temple Pilots. Total. Only 1 stage out of 5 was active that night. Silverstein was missed entirely, Gym Class Heroes played a great set if you were a 16-year-old girl just getting into rock and hip-hop, and Stone Temple Pilots created pitch-perfect recreations of their 90s hits. Weiland was toast, but I suppose it couldn't have been any other way.

----

- {Day 7}

Although {Spencer Davis} and his group played a lot of hits that had the crowd singing along ("Gimme Some Lovin', "I'm a Man," etc.), the set was a tad pedestrian "blues-rock" and only highlighted the problem with many of these revisionist shows -- b(r)and name alone cannot hide key lineup deficiencies (in this case Steve Winwood). Because of this, Davis was in tough to provide the thrills the other two bands on this bill more sporadically managed. {The Yardbirds}, comprised of longstanding rhythm guitarist and drummer Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty alongside a posse of young gunslingers, banged out formidable takes from a well-known back catalog that ended up being more than just good facsimiles. Of course, the band is primarily known for honing farm-club muckers into major league stars (guitar maestros Clapton, Page, and Beck) but the crackerjack session musicians on hand belted out Yardbirds gems like "For Your Love," "Shapes of Things," "Heart Full of Soul," "Happenings 10 Years Time Ago," "Over, Under, Sideways, Down," and a super-charged version of Jimmy Page's Yardbirds-written/Led Zep-mastered "Dazed and Confused" with ease.

Out of the three "big" hip-hop acts to hit Bluesfest this year, {Ice Cube} (pictured) was the only professional. Both Luda and Busta were late, played short sets, and generally had no idea what to do with a festival. Ice Cube had his DJ out on stage a few minutes before he got there, getting the crowd of mostly young suburban gangsters whipped up until Ice Cube strutted on stage, with a calm, assured swagger. He must have mentioned Ottawa 30 times in his set, and we were the "Westside center of the world," which I imagine is the same for all the cities on his tour itinerary, but played into the insecurity of all wannabe gangsters. He played one half of the crowd to the other, and had a minute-and-a-half interlude where he told everyone to smoke more pot. Between encouraging narcotics use and a passionate rendition of "Fuck Da Police," the security and police on hand were looking nervous. Nothing came to pass, except everyone in the crowd having a good time on a sunny evening.

{The Zombies} fared better than Spencer Davis, much to do with the still honey-voiced Colin Blunstone and the unmistakable signature sound of Rod Argent's keys. Rumors of an in-its-entirety Odessey and Oracle set were quashed as the band played with some generic blues riffage, Argent solo hits ("Hold Your Head Up", "God Gave Rock and Roll To You"), and a couple of non-Odessey songs ("She's Not There," Tell Her No," "I Love You"). When the band played the four-song run of "A Rose for Emily," "Care of Cell 44," "This Will Be Our Year," and "Time of the Season," Zombies fanatics were overjoyed. The Zombies show was a rare treat by a still under-appreciated act, but the too-short set and emphasis on non-Zombies material made for a mildly frustrating, yet admittedly beautiful show.

You simply cannot attend a festival and ignore {Toots and the Maytals} if you tried. If you did, the legend himself would come and drag you to his must-see show. Toots, flanked by an unstoppable rhythm band and buttery-voiced backing singers, addressed and suppressed the big crowd with his uniquely gruff voice and gave the large crowd on hand a much-needed jolt of heartfelt reggae. Starting with their hallmark "Pressure Drop," The Maytals chugged through a loved-up set of their standards and sweet covers (Toots -- and possibly Lemmy -- is one of the few singers that can make "Louie Louie" his own) that were as infectious as superbly played, and they rightfully could have commanded a much larger stage to wow wide-eyed shufflers. This was another no-brainer festival must-see among many (see Sharon Jones below) and a great show by one of the genres most loved and important figures.

----

- {Day 8}

{Rocco Deluca and the Burden} started the evening destroying eardrums on the smallest of stages, tearing through their awful recorded output with a toothy set that was 100% meat. Two of the four members were missing from the ensemble, so Deluca and his drummer put on their best Black Keys/White Stripes impressions for the night. The drums varied between vicious blues-inspired pounding and serene accompaniment for the lightest of guitar flourishes. Deluca himself is a force on guitar, if only in a live setting. When he went balls out, just banging on the strings while his drummer went apeshit, I swear they were encouraging bowel movements two stages over. Highly recommended live, but avoid their recorded output until they grow some studio balls.

And then {KISS}. The leadup to tonight was ridiculous based on word of mouth alone. Everyone was talking about it, even people who don't care for the band's music at all. The main area of the festival was packed with people on Wednesday night, from toddler's that had to be carried to keepers of the flame in full face paint. KISS had the most impressive stage setup this writer has ever seen. A massive LCD screen covered half the stage, a wall of fake speakers complete with stairs covered the rest, while lights, fireworks, and pyrotechnics made up for the flaccid, turgid sound that escaped the PA. It was neither the band's fault nor the organizers'; it was just a couple of people who whined that the festival was too loud in their houses (even though it finished at 11 every night on the dot), so I imagine the city was ready to pounce if the decibels climbed too high. The ridiculously oversold event meant that there was nowhere to stand without being groped by men in sleeveless AC/DC 79 tour shirts and their wives sporting a Tom Waits rasp and droopy eyelids.

On a much-less-packed side stage, {K'Naan} (pictured) was moving the small, but passionate crowd with both hits off his new album, and the a capella material off his debut. Although a relatively tame set overall, it was an enjoyable experience watching a rapper who actually had something to say. Consider him the antidote to the overblown spectacle that went on over on the main stage.

----

- {Day 9}

Judging by the clever "Shirt Irt Irt Irt Irt" tees witnessed, it was no surprise to see a small but dedicated crowd beginning to gather for Edmonton's electro-pop heroes {Shout Out Out Out Out} on Thursday afternoon. Playing many tracks off their impressive sophomore disc Reintegration Time, the Shout Outs took electronic cues from Holy Fuck (who played a stellar set earlier during the festival) by layering loads of bass, synths, and percussion (using two drummers though) but their set was dampened slightly by vocoder overload. Conversely, there was nothing about {M83}'s set that was out of step as France's premier dream-pop won over many newbies in attendance. Fronting a three piece, Anthony Gonzalez wheeled between keyboards and guitar and played a string of tunes that were alternately atmospheric, dancey, new wavey, hi-NRG-inspired, and even rockier than many expected. Popular tracks got a slightly more enthusiastic reception, but the whole set was so good and sounded so precise and spectacular that everything was eaten up by those in the throng.

{Les Claypool} (pictured) had the unfortunate timeslot of playing against Sharon Jones, Alan Parsons, and Styx. So even fans of his, who would normally of wanted to check out his set, were off seeing other "bigger" acts. Those people missed an eclectic taste of his solo material and a truly bizarre stage presence. All the members of his band were wearing half face masks, which only exposed their mouths. Claypool himself was wearing goggles and a hat, which lent him a willy wonka vibe for his madcap tomfoolery. The entire stage was bathed in red light for most of the set, which made it hard to see anything. Regardless of the purposeful distractions, Claypool knows how to put on a show, and he tore through his solo material with his usual weirdo commander swagger. The accompanying band (including a guitarist, cello player, and drummer) was tight, even though they probably had a hard time seeing out of their silly masks.

Like every other city in the free world, Ottawa has seen {Sharon Jones} strut through town a number of times, so it was strange to see her atop a smaller stage, but it's no wonder that she entertained a larger-than-normal crowd while there. The Jones spectacle is always entertaining as hell, but as her albums get mellower and mellower, so does the song selection in her gigs. What she and The Dap-Kings lacked in up-tempo soul they made up for in a deep, relaxed change of pace, a nice genuine tribute to Michael Jackson, and stage patter and antics galore from Jones, including bringing up a near-continuous line of more-than-willing males to the stage with whom to serenade and mildly frisk. The Dap-Kings were unbelievably tight, and the Georgia singer was as sunny as a peach. So, it was a completely expected show of pure class from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings... as always.

[Photos: munroe]

[PREVIOUS | NEXT]

Ottawa Bluesfest: Days 6-9
July 13-16, 2009;

[July 13-16, 2009]

[PREVIOUS | NEXT]

- {Day 6}

Every year at Bluesfest, there's one night where the organizers give the festival pass owners a break. They tend to put on acts that appeal to people who aren't really "in" to music, in so much as they only like a few select radio-friendly bands. Monday night featured Silverstein, Gym Class Heroes (pictured), and Stone Temple Pilots. Total. Only 1 stage out of 5 was active that night. Silverstein was missed entirely, Gym Class Heroes played a great set if you were a 16-year-old girl just getting into rock and hip-hop, and Stone Temple Pilots created pitch-perfect recreations of their 90s hits. Weiland was toast, but I suppose it couldn't have been any other way.

----

- {Day 7}

Although {Spencer Davis} and his group played a lot of hits that had the crowd singing along ("Gimme Some Lovin', "I'm a Man," etc.), the set was a tad pedestrian "blues-rock" and only highlighted the problem with many of these revisionist shows -- b(r)and name alone cannot hide key lineup deficiencies (in this case Steve Winwood). Because of this, Davis was in tough to provide the thrills the other two bands on this bill more sporadically managed. {The Yardbirds}, comprised of longstanding rhythm guitarist and drummer Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty alongside a posse of young gunslingers, banged out formidable takes from a well-known back catalog that ended up being more than just good facsimiles. Of course, the band is primarily known for honing farm-club muckers into major league stars (guitar maestros Clapton, Page, and Beck) but the crackerjack session musicians on hand belted out Yardbirds gems like "For Your Love," "Shapes of Things," "Heart Full of Soul," "Happenings 10 Years Time Ago," "Over, Under, Sideways, Down," and a super-charged version of Jimmy Page's Yardbirds-written/Led Zep-mastered "Dazed and Confused" with ease.

Out of the three "big" hip-hop acts to hit Bluesfest this year, {Ice Cube} (pictured) was the only professional. Both Luda and Busta were late, played short sets, and generally had no idea what to do with a festival. Ice Cube had his DJ out on stage a few minutes before he got there, getting the crowd of mostly young suburban gangsters whipped up until Ice Cube strutted on stage, with a calm, assured swagger. He must have mentioned Ottawa 30 times in his set, and we were the "Westside center of the world," which I imagine is the same for all the cities on his tour itinerary, but played into the insecurity of all wannabe gangsters. He played one half of the crowd to the other, and had a minute-and-a-half interlude where he told everyone to smoke more pot. Between encouraging narcotics use and a passionate rendition of "Fuck Da Police," the security and police on hand were looking nervous. Nothing came to pass, except everyone in the crowd having a good time on a sunny evening.

{The Zombies} fared better than Spencer Davis, much to do with the still honey-voiced Colin Blunstone and the unmistakable signature sound of Rod Argent's keys. Rumors of an in-its-entirety Odessey and Oracle set were quashed as the band played with some generic blues riffage, Argent solo hits ("Hold Your Head Up", "God Gave Rock and Roll To You"), and a couple of non-Odessey songs ("She's Not There," Tell Her No," "I Love You"). When the band played the four-song run of "A Rose for Emily," "Care of Cell 44," "This Will Be Our Year," and "Time of the Season," Zombies fanatics were overjoyed. The Zombies show was a rare treat by a still under-appreciated act, but the too-short set and emphasis on non-Zombies material made for a mildly frustrating, yet admittedly beautiful show.

You simply cannot attend a festival and ignore {Toots and the Maytals} if you tried. If you did, the legend himself would come and drag you to his must-see show. Toots, flanked by an unstoppable rhythm band and buttery-voiced backing singers, addressed and suppressed the big crowd with his uniquely gruff voice and gave the large crowd on hand a much-needed jolt of heartfelt reggae. Starting with their hallmark "Pressure Drop," The Maytals chugged through a loved-up set of their standards and sweet covers (Toots -- and possibly Lemmy -- is one of the few singers that can make "Louie Louie" his own) that were as infectious as superbly played, and they rightfully could have commanded a much larger stage to wow wide-eyed shufflers. This was another no-brainer festival must-see among many (see Sharon Jones below) and a great show by one of the genres most loved and important figures.

----

- {Day 8}

{Rocco Deluca and the Burden} started the evening destroying eardrums on the smallest of stages, tearing through their awful recorded output with a toothy set that was 100% meat. Two of the four members were missing from the ensemble, so Deluca and his drummer put on their best Black Keys/White Stripes impressions for the night. The drums varied between vicious blues-inspired pounding and serene accompaniment for the lightest of guitar flourishes. Deluca himself is a force on guitar, if only in a live setting. When he went balls out, just banging on the strings while his drummer went apeshit, I swear they were encouraging bowel movements two stages over. Highly recommended live, but avoid their recorded output until they grow some studio balls.

And then {KISS}. The leadup to tonight was ridiculous based on word of mouth alone. Everyone was talking about it, even people who don't care for the band's music at all. The main area of the festival was packed with people on Wednesday night, from toddler's that had to be carried to keepers of the flame in full face paint. KISS had the most impressive stage setup this writer has ever seen. A massive LCD screen covered half the stage, a wall of fake speakers complete with stairs covered the rest, while lights, fireworks, and pyrotechnics made up for the flaccid, turgid sound that escaped the PA. It was neither the band's fault nor the organizers'; it was just a couple of people who whined that the festival was too loud in their houses (even though it finished at 11 every night on the dot), so I imagine the city was ready to pounce if the decibels climbed too high. The ridiculously oversold event meant that there was nowhere to stand without being groped by men in sleeveless AC/DC 79 tour shirts and their wives sporting a Tom Waits rasp and droopy eyelids.

On a much-less-packed side stage, {K'Naan} (pictured) was moving the small, but passionate crowd with both hits off his new album, and the a capella material off his debut. Although a relatively tame set overall, it was an enjoyable experience watching a rapper who actually had something to say. Consider him the antidote to the overblown spectacle that went on over on the main stage.

----

- {Day 9}

Judging by the clever "Shirt Irt Irt Irt Irt" tees witnessed, it was no surprise to see a small but dedicated crowd beginning to gather for Edmonton's electro-pop heroes {Shout Out Out Out Out} on Thursday afternoon. Playing many tracks off their impressive sophomore disc Reintegration Time, the Shout Outs took electronic cues from Holy Fuck (who played a stellar set earlier during the festival) by layering loads of bass, synths, and percussion (using two drummers though) but their set was dampened slightly by vocoder overload. Conversely, there was nothing about {M83}'s set that was out of step as France's premier dream-pop won over many newbies in attendance. Fronting a three piece, Anthony Gonzalez wheeled between keyboards and guitar and played a string of tunes that were alternately atmospheric, dancey, new wavey, hi-NRG-inspired, and even rockier than many expected. Popular tracks got a slightly more enthusiastic reception, but the whole set was so good and sounded so precise and spectacular that everything was eaten up by those in the throng.

{Les Claypool} (pictured) had the unfortunate timeslot of playing against Sharon Jones, Alan Parsons, and Styx. So even fans of his, who would normally of wanted to check out his set, were off seeing other "bigger" acts. Those people missed an eclectic taste of his solo material and a truly bizarre stage presence. All the members of his band were wearing half face masks, which only exposed their mouths. Claypool himself was wearing goggles and a hat, which lent him a willy wonka vibe for his madcap tomfoolery. The entire stage was bathed in red light for most of the set, which made it hard to see anything. Regardless of the purposeful distractions, Claypool knows how to put on a show, and he tore through his solo material with his usual weirdo commander swagger. The accompanying band (including a guitarist, cello player, and drummer) was tight, even though they probably had a hard time seeing out of their silly masks.

Like every other city in the free world, Ottawa has seen {Sharon Jones} strut through town a number of times, so it was strange to see her atop a smaller stage, but it's no wonder that she entertained a larger-than-normal crowd while there. The Jones spectacle is always entertaining as hell, but as her albums get mellower and mellower, so does the song selection in her gigs. What she and The Dap-Kings lacked in up-tempo soul they made up for in a deep, relaxed change of pace, a nice genuine tribute to Michael Jackson, and stage patter and antics galore from Jones, including bringing up a near-continuous line of more-than-willing males to the stage with whom to serenade and mildly frisk. The Dap-Kings were unbelievably tight, and the Georgia singer was as sunny as a peach. So, it was a completely expected show of pure class from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings... as always.

[Photos: munroe]

[PREVIOUS | NEXT]

Mission Of Burma / Fucked Up / Ponytail
East River State Park; Brooklyn, NY

[07-12-2009]

Let's start this review off with some trivial context. McCarren Park Pool, a gigantic, empty, disused outdoor swimming pool in Brooklyn, played host to free rock shows since 2006. But sometime in 2008, the owners decided they wanted to put water in it again. Hipsters, cheapskates, and general music fans were sad. Then the promoters quickly figured out a way to move the whole shebang a few blocks away to a new state park on the East River and decided to keep calling shows "pool parties."

This show, with Mission of Burma, Fucked Up, and Ponytail, was the first Pool Party without a pool, and it lived up to its forebears admirably.

I almost wrote off Ponytail as nothing more than magnet school kids haphazardly fucking around with wild vocalizations and delay pedals, but I'm a believer now: at this show, the funk pushed through the noise, the hooks revealed themselves as actual hooks, and singer Molly Siegel's yelps largely blended into the mix as yet another joyous sound. Their music and attitude, as it turns out, are perfect for outdoor shows on beautiful days overlooking horribly polluted rivers. As long as people are willing to believe that a band that sounds like OOIOO could come from Baltimore, then there's no reason Ponytail can't be as big as all outdoors.

Fucked Up were up next, and with a largely stationary and unremarkable presence from everyone but lead singer Pink Eyes, it's hard not to compare their live show to Les Savy Fav's. To be fair, they managed to play like grownup hardcore kids without losing its sense of purpose, and Pink Eyes' smart-guy-doing-stupid-shit routine is worth whatever the price of admission happens to be. After watching them struggle to mesh with the implications of a sunny outdoor performance, I fear only that their newfound Eastern European nu-metal fame (they recently opened for Korn in Serbia) will mean that we've missed our chance to see them tear up dank basements.

Mission of Burma sidestepped the possibility of a comparatively predictable set by playing mainly new songs likely destined for their recently announced upcoming album, The Sound The Speed The Light. While the new songs were good, they were obviously not what the crowd was in the mood to hear. Judging by the reaction that even "Spider's Web" received, the audience would have been perfectly pleased with a set comprised solely of Onoffon and The Obliterati tracks. But that was not to be. If they come back to Brooklyn next year and play the same set, they'll probably have the slightly aging hipsters slurping it down like Jamba Juice and gin, but after a long day of drinking in the sun, the new tracks bled together too much to deliver a truly memorable experience.

If anything stood out from the set, it was Bob Weston's performance on tape loops. While his reversed vocals and spliced-up guitar can sometimes clutter up a perfectly good rock ‘n’ roll performance, he masterfully thickened up Roger Miller's guitar solos this time, providing incisive stabs of noise at only the most opportune moments.

Before ripping into "Photograph," which continues to somewhat surprisingly assert itself as the most crowd-pleasing of Burma live tracks, Clint Conley exhorted the crowd to shuffle over to Spike Hill for a Future of the Left show following the Pool Party festivities. Future of the Left, of course, proceeded to decimate the day's previous performers, but that's a story for another day.

[Photo: Kelly Davidson]

Wilco / Yo La Tengo
Keyspan Park; Coney Island, NY

[07-13-2009]

Playing outdoors at Coney Island’s Keyspan Park, Wilco’s past lurked just behind the grandstand.

One block from the stadium lay the street where Woody Guthrie lived and scrawled lyrics eventually sung on Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue. The album became Wilco’s first major step out of the shadow of singer Jeff Tweedy’s first band, Uncle Tupelo, and freed him to follow his own sonic course, a famously troubled one. This was Wilco’s first New York City appearance since the drug overdose of former member Jay Bennett, conspicuous in his absence since being let go after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band’s widely accepted classic.

But from the first muddy, chugging chords of “Wilco (The Song),” off the band’s new album of Americana-inflected rock, no one within the friendly confines seemed too sentimental. At its core, the show celebrated the band as it stands. During “California Stars,” one of only two old Mermaid Avenue songs in the band’s set, Tweedy even forgot some of the lyrics.

The florescent pink Wonder Wheel turned slowly over Left Field, JFK-bound planes drifted behind the Parachute Jump’s flashing red lights, and Wilco managed the lineup’s current balancing act: mixing quiet, pretty folk music with eruptions of atonal noise, precise rhythms, bluesy jams, and even soul. Sometimes these elements fought for air within a single song, as with the band’s beautiful rendition of Sky Blue Sky’s “You Are My Face.”

After Bennett's departure, the vacuum was filled by Nels Cline, a virtuoso guitarist. Bennett's talents for pop songwriting and arrangement were replaced with Cline’s passionate bluesy riffs and visceral noise. In a black shirt and bright red pants, the lead guitarist often stole Jeff Tweedy’s spotlight. During A Ghost Is Born’s “Handshake Drugs,” Cline stabbed at his guitar with a unique violence, strangling from his instrument notes that squealed and hissed. On “Impossible Germany,” his guitar work suddenly became angular and limber, reminiscent of another guitar god, Tom Verlaine. He filled “Jesus, etc” with yawning slide guitar before achieving his greatest musical violence in “Misunderstood,” the only song performed from 1996’ Being There. During the song, he whipped his hand off the strings, as if angrily igniting a chainsaw.

Tweedy had plenty of his own moments. He sounds entirely at ease within his songs. His raspy voice hushed quiet sweetness one moment and screamed for “Something in my veins/ Bloodier than blood,” on “Shot In The Arm” the next, as if he were still in the desperate throes of addiction (he kicked a prescription drug habit years ago). His banter (“You guys really look good. I’m not just saying that.”) kept the audience buttered up, as he embraced his inner showmen, leading the crowd in a rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and briefly lifting his guitar to play it behind his head during “I’m The Man Who Loves You.” Tweedy was the portrait of a serious musician, trying his hardest to not take anything very seriously.

Wilco gets grief from the press for being too predictable, but no boredom could be detected in the thousands of happy attendees, nor in the performers. Indeed, it was almost anti-climactic when Leslie Feist and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste joined Wilco on stage. Their contributions were barely notable, as if swallowed up by the momentum Wilco had steadied over their two-hour-long, free flowing, consistently excellent set. Wilco has emerged from years of drama to become a truly great band, even if a predictable one, with little use for guest stars.

Yo La Tengo, whom Tweedy called “one of the greatest bands ever” when they joined Wilco onstage, opened the concert with a fantastic daylight set, but their casually dressed bodies could barely be detected between the metallic glare of amps and equipment coming offstage. Rather than match Wilco’s finely tuned showmanship, the three-piece band achieved epic transcendence by turning in on themselves. Their closing song, a 10-minute-long “The Story Of Yo La Tengo,” found them basking in washes of distortion and propulsive rhythm, their backs nearly turned on the crowd. They seemed self-assured. The audience could fend for themselves.

  

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