Review: Jay McConnery
Photos: Mike Bouchard
The Ottawa Bluesfest re-opened its doors this evening to another sprawlingly diverse line-up (some would argue ridiculously so) ushered in with the usual pre-requisite online excitement, rule-changing announcements, back-talk and blah blah blahs. The opening night perimeter did not feature the usual electric mayhem of festivals past, and as I strolled up to the main gate- it seemed that technology was in fact improving the entry process as we gained access quite speedy and orderly.. Stepping onto the main concert pitch to the quirky old school synth psych of Tangerine Dream, I noticed the stage profiles did seem a little bit subdued compared to last year's imploding mega stage, and the angle of the main stage was adjusted to face more Easterly, down river, towards the rock-heavy hamlets of Vanier and Orleans, rather than directly North to mid-town Hull. And almost as if the call had been heeded, there was a bit of a younger, unfamiliar, french-er demographic skipping to the stages, or offering abundant assistance as blue-shirted volunteers.
My first stop of the night was to catch the Melvins on the Electro-stage. Touring as a scaled back three piece, short a drummer and guitarist though featuring upright bass- they held a large cross section of Ottawa's rock musician community rapt. Buzz Osborne never fails to intrigue listener or viewer with his exceptionally tight sludge-rock delivery and Sideshow Bob like spewing tower of grey frizzy hair; further accomplishing this tonight with the help of a lovely purple wizard's mu-mu. I am not that familiar with the band's catalogue, but certainly respect their contribution as inspiration to some of the more important bands of my generation. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw at the Electro Stage and moseyed to the new site of the Black Sheep (the old home of the Hard Rock) to catch Akron/Family.
Performing as a three piece, to a very small crowd the band worked through a series of very different song types and arrangements showing the abilities of the member on different instruments- showing off some pretty tasty harmony chops. I have seen them play with 7 and 10 members on stage, so was quite surprised to see only the three core members this time around. They began a number from 'Love is Simple' with a call to the audience to offer their favourite bird noises, and with an urgently violent 'Co-co-li-qwa!' I ventured to the River Stage to the opening of Fishbone's set.
Fishbone has visited Ottawa a few times over the years usually at tiny venues like Zaphod's or Porter Hall. Gaining their popularity in the late 80s with killer releases 'Truth and Soul' and 'Reality of my Surroundings' and a couple feature spots on the first few Lollapalooza tours; Fishbone has been a working-man's funk-punk traveling freakshow for almost three decades and are still not totally basking in the glory they deserve. To be fair, this may be due to front man Angelo Moore being slightly psychotic, but frankly, that is also what makes him one of the finest, most fascinating on-stage personas and all around musicians I've even witnessed. Fully dramatizing each lyric with reactive 'Huh!s' and accompanying horn-lines on saxophones of every conceivable size and shape- while singing, slapping his theremin and scatting just makes him pretty much my favourite performer to watch. A new 'Anvil' type documentary 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' has been released and I hope the band is able to keep things on an upward swing as they ride the momentum of it's release. It seemed as though they weren't having a perfect show this evening, but I think they definitely made some new fans with their energetic funk punk.
Way over yonder at the Mainstage, Tiesto lit up the night sky with a wash of colours, decibals and mediocrity. I strolled up to make sure I got a glimpse, and yes, the production value for one of the world's most popular DJ's was not surprisingly, very high. Just like the majority of the young people reacting to the predictable swells and bass drops vibrating the entire core of the city. Far be it from me to judge how kids spend a Wednesday, I went back to the Electro Stage to catch some of Vermont's Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. They kicked ass like a road worn rock band should. Lots of great tones from all the players using cool vintage gear, soaring vocals from Grace and some all-round good rock'n'roll - which is seemingly in pretty short order this year. The band played their tunes with conviction and really drove the groove hard and deep. It was difficult to leave, but I had to see some of Billy Bragg before calling it a night.
Billy was typically fighty, and hilarious. More talkative than he's been known to be, he gave us all some great thoughts to take home, as well as some perfectly crafted protest songs to sing as we went.