Monday night's lineup at Ottawa Jazz fest stood-out like a beacon of hope for me for several weeks leading up to the event. It was the kind of bill that was like a mysterious and exciting hooded rider..You know the kind? With a leather satchel, on a dark horse.. in that, you don't know what's under the hood, what's in the satchel (like bread? or firecrackers? who knows!), or if the horse is fast or lazy. Or lame. What a bloated, unsatisfying metaphor, I know, I apologize- but it fits here. Frankly, for so much hope, the evening ultimately provided only diminishing returns.
The event kicked off with a taste of Jazz-Punk from amazing local heros Fet Nat in the Tartan Homes tent- another brave booking in a desirable time slot. Really, what better way to celebrate St-Jean Baptiste day, than being musically terrorized by a group of Quebecois nationalist noise-anarchists in the heart of English Canada's Golden Triangle? I guess the wise elder crowds got the memo, as attendance was poor. Regardless, the band performed with memorable energy and positivity in a riveting though short set. They are a lot like early Pod-era Ween in their sounds, with no interest in traditional songwriting or money-making. Fet Nat tore through heavy dissonant grooves and distortion with screaming and vocal modulations which brought me personally, great delight. The band used social commentary with humour to get a reaction, and leave you with something to think about. For example: the 'singer' / 'host' directed the sparse crowd to shift their seating comically using cute handmade child-like signs and traffic police-like direction, while other band members were screaming aggressively and pointing accusatorially at audience members. Then, the group thanked everyone cordially for their participation sheepishly, in a high pitched mouse voice- again very satisfying. I did have difficulty at times understanding the all-French lyrics, and felt bi-lingually inadequate, as per usual. Time to tune into French CBC a little more often, I guess. Local sax player Linsey Wellman adds some wonderful texture to the group, and their drummer Olivier Fairfield is one of my favourites to watch, using only a kick, snare and hi-hat to great effect. One of the set highlights was his son climbing onto the stage and cozying to his kit as the ferocious drumming continued. Looking forward to seeing this band again.
Chaka Khan on the main stage provided a rare opportunity to scream 'Chaka Khan!' loudly and specifically- which was also a delight. Especially when it draws an irritated look from my favourite CBC voice, Lawrence Wall. Chaka took the stage with her huge backing band of world class players- and brought the smooth funky disco of the late 70s to the Plaza. Her band was most certainly super badass. It's not often you see a leather do-rag coupled with aviators glasses, a pink Stratocastor, rhinestone everything, and infinite sparkles all in one place without irony- and it somehow worked. The group had some great choreographed struts and rock squats, and kept the groove moving all night. The sound was a little bit on the harsh (digital?) side, and sorely lacked the necessary warmth of disco vinyl. I suppose this is a result of the concrete. After thrilling the audience with 'Tell me Something Good", and 'I'm Every Woman' - she shuffled off the stage without an encore, and just like that - Chaka 'Gon. I can't say if it was a good set for her, but it felt a little bit flat for me.
Over to the Tartan Home's stage for - Knower - one of my most anticipated events of the festival. A weirdo duo from Los Angeles who incorporate funk, and upbeat dance rhythms in their tunes, have produced a series of ridiculously irreverent songs and videos which are impossibly catchy and clever; including - 'The Government Knows (when you masturbate)", "Butt N Tits N Money", and others whch have recently captured my heart. I enthusiastically sang their praises to several friends throughout the evening- but ended up slinking out of the tent sheepishly, hoping they wouldn't notice when things weren't going as well as I'd hoped. It was kind of like when you really want to take a friend (who has never been) for a great sandwich at Dirienzos, and the day you bring them the bread is staler than those packets of McDonald's orange mix at the back of your cottage cupboard. That kinda thing. First problem was that the show began at 10:40pm, almost 50 minutes after Chaka ended. This is not an acceptable amount of time to go without music at a 'music festival'- but especially on a Monday night. Producers need to start the Tartan Tent stage at 10:15pm, or earlier, even if music overlaps a bit. This way the 'fans' or those who want to shift stages can make that choice. It would also keep music playing and avoids useless lineups, and also prevent the chair-people from staking out inappropriate real estate on the dance-floor.
Anyway, the band took the stage to an seemingly epic backing track intro, and then timidly stumbled through a few tracks and motions. They certainly got their groove at certain moments- but the confidence of their playing was lacking and they seemed quiet and concerned. I wondered if they had been introduced to some of Canada's over-potent, soon to be legal, recreational herbage backstage: it was that kind of awkward. Singer Genevieve Artadi looked bashful from the get go- and her voice lacked tone and clarity. The whole band seemed intentionally quiet, which is never a good sign. Drummer Louis Cole played with intensity in compensation. He made some snide remarks about the sponsor, then admitted the duo only met the guitar player and keyboardist that day, so not to judge too harshly. Ooof. They he launched into a drum solo that seemed disconnected from the songs, while the rest of band waited, chatting. I only managed to stay for a few more tracks as I realized I was actually hoping for a big choreographed production with backing tracks that made me move. Something big loud, ridiculous and fun with video- not some timid wank. I really just would like to be entertained, unequivocally- and I feel I'm still waiting for the satisfaction. It was also earlier revealed that St Germain had cancelled their appearance on Wednesday, so I suppose perception played a big part. Hopeful for tonight!