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

[July 17-19, 2009]

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- {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.

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- {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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