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Ashley C.

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  1. Ra Ra Riot - Ottawa Bluesfest - photo Mike Bouchard More photos on Flickr While 10 straight days of music (practically anyway) can be exhausting, festivals are also exhilarating. The challenge to hit all the stages, balancing the desire to dance with the need for more beer, opting to endure the scorching sun to get the best view. This was Saturday night’s Bluesfest. It started with Austra, Canadian electropop darlings who made critic’s lists across the board with their dark, pulsating debut, Feel it Break, in 2011. A trio pulled from the wreckage of other Canadian indie bands, Austra’s driving songs haunt you, as lead singer Katie Stelmanis’ voice gets into every corner of your head. Not so Saturday unfortunately, as the bass was turned WAY up. It was especially unfortunate for those unfamiliar with their new album, Olympia, released mid-June, since I doubt they could’ve picked out any of the songs. I almost couldn’t make out “Painful Like”, but it might’ve been because I was listening to my heart rattle around in my ribcage. I’ve seen Austra thrice and know they put on a glorious show, but this was lacklustre. It might’ve been the heat, it might’ve been the sparse crowds, it might’ve been the inability to figure out which live versions matched which studio versions, but nobody really seemed to be into it. There was lots of running to and from the beer tents. Until “Lose it” came on, and people stopped in their tracks, finally able to get a sense of Stelmanis’ amazing vocal range. Thankfully they kept it up, finished strong with “Beat and the Pulse” and I left remembering why I’d wanted to catch them in the first place. Next up was Death Grips on the Bell Stage, an experimental hip hop group consisting of Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett (vocals), Andy “Flatlander” Morin (keyboards/sampler), and usually, Zach Hill (drums), but Bluesfest crowds missed out on Hill. Too bad, because apparently he’s a phenominal drummer and the biggest reason we wanted to watch the show. While many of the crowd was probably wondering how this amped up MC and Count Dracula-esque keyboardist (I swear he could’ve been playing at a Transylvanian wedding) managed to make the main stage, but Death Grips are a big deal in their scene. Oh, and they’ve also remixed a couple of Bjork tracks, so that might’ve played into the programming. It wasn’t enough to keep us though, and we moved on to a stage where we could make out the words being said. Lucky us, we landed at the Black Sheep Stage for King King, a kilt-sporting British blues band that’s been racking up accolades in Europe. Thank you, Bluesfest, for including some blues in the programming, because these guys were stupendous! Such a pleasure to have come across them, lay on the grassy hill and be treated to guitar solos that made my heart sing. Someone somewhere must’ve known they were going to be a hit with festival-goers, because they were scheduled to appear again on the River stage on Sunday! Hope you didn’t miss them twice. We decided to fill the next bit of silence with whatever was on the River stage, and found ourselves with Phosphorescent. We walked in on “Song for Zula” and that was it. I was hooked. I’m listening to it right now. Smooth vocals, graceful keys, a perfect summer song, the sort of thing you want to listen to as you speed along the highway, windows down and radio up. If the few songs we heard are any indication, the entire album Muchacho seems to fit that description, and I hope Phosphorescent comes back to Ottawa for a visit after I’ve had some time to practice road crooning. Oh the joy of mixed festival programming! Not everyone is keen on "festing" though, and the crowds on Saturday were light. Great for those of us who were stage hopping, and it was a breeze to float up to see Stars. Normally described as an indie pop band, we found Amy Milan (vocals, guitar) belting a rocking version of "Fixed" from The Five Ghosts. Not to be outdone, Torquil Campbell took the mic next and sang his face off to "A Song is a Weapon" from their newest album, The North. Jam band fans would've surely been impressed by their hard hitting rendition of "Ageless Beauty" with Milan, an ageless beauty herself, taking the lead on a huge jam at song's end. Stars are definitely indie pop in studio, indie rock on stage. They also showed some great versatility with songs like "Midnight Coward," pushing through with hard, fast, can't-help-but-dance-to-them drums, making the descent into the bridge even more impactful than ever...making Milan's voice sound ever more lovely. It plays so well off of Campbell's, and they got us dancing, finishing with crowd pleasers "Take Me to the Riot" and the (ridiculously) named "Hold on When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It." Oh, but they're a good Canadian band, and had 8 more minutes left, so they came out for an encore (according to Campbell anyway). It was an interesting version of "Walls" that many might have enjoyed, but not as an epic show closer. At least the night wasn't over. After we were unable to figure out what Bjork was wearing, we took ourselves to see Ra Ra Riot. If you were to guess their genre, what would you guess? Metal? Punk? Well you'd be wrong, because these talented New Yorkers play indie rock. They've also been said to play "baroque pop," most likely thanks to the talents of violinist Rebecca Zeller. I was mesmorized watching her play, her hair moving gently in the breeze as she ran away with "Run My Mouth." I can't imagine Wes Miles sing anything but indie rock, and his performance was stellar on "Each Year," from their first studio album The Rhumb Line. It felt like the crowd was having a bit of trouble getting into it, but a full snap-along for "When I Dream" took care of that. Followed up with the synthy, upbeat "Beta Love" we had ourselves a proper dance party. Play more songs off the short and sweet Beta Love released in January, the party went right through until the last notes of "I Shut Off" reverberated across the water. So early on a Saturday night, energy like lighting through the crowd, there was certainly enough excitement to warrant an encore. Ra Ra Riot was happy to oblige, and delivered a version of "Ghost Under Rock" that I'd dance to every night given the opportunity. Hmm, 10 days doesn't seem so long after all...
  2. More photos on Flickr What happens when you put sad lyrics to happy, synthpop music? You get “The Reeling,” or the song Passion Pit opened their Bluesfest set with. Off their first album Manners, the crowd was more than ready to watch lead singer Michael Angelakos bop around the stage. Maybe because they were 10 minutes late, something that’s been rare at this year’s festival. Something that hasn’t been rare, however, are the issues with sound, and the ever-patient crowd danced through gravelly renditions of the first few songs before it crisped up. Too bad, since that part of the set included “Carried Away”, the super catchy single released early this year off of their second album Gossamer. No matter, everyone was happy to dance like it was a new moon. Since both albums are equally good, the set generally bounced back and forth between them until they finally played “Little Secrets.” People love to sing easy choruses, and Angelakos zipped around the stage to hold his mic for each “higher and higher and higher/higher and higher and higher.” After that the boys gave their thank you waves, and new fans started to walk off. Encores aren’t generally the norm at Bluesfest, given the schedule and curfew. The rest of us? We cheered. We waited. Something was missing. We knew there was going to be at least one more song, and by golly we were right. The band came on and gave a huge rendition of "Sleepyhead" and everything in the summer festival world was right again. Passion Pit RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Ottawa, ON 2013-07-10 Setlist: The Reeling Carried Away (Unknown) Love Is Greed It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy (Unknown) Constant Conversations Take a Walk I'll Be Alright (Unknown) Eyes as Candles Cry Like a Ghost Little Secrets Encore: Sleepyhead
  3. More Photos on Flickr (photos: Mike Bouchard) That's right folks, we're well into festival season now, and arguably the biggest of the O-Town fests got off to a nice, sweaty start last night. Getting from work to the festival is sometimes a bit of a struggle, so the first thing we managed to catch was a short snipet of the Bahamas set. If you walked in when we did, you might not have recognized that it was Afie Jurvanen up on the Black Sheep Stage. Instead of his usual, laid back style of indie-rock, him + band were adding to the sweatfest with a bumping cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" Proving he's got confidence for days, next was a twangy, upbeat-take on Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" which the crowd seemed to really enjoy (something about that guitar riff gets people going). Unfortunately that's all we really got to sample, since it's a fest after all, and other stages were calling our name. Fortunately Bahamas is Canadian, and with any luck we'll catch their next Ottawa show. Down a stage this year, strolling from the Black Sheep Stage to the River Stage you'll pass the "Red Bull Live" area, where you can lounge on bean bags whilst DJ's lull you into sound comas. Nice for those who like to take a load off, but over here we want the actual live music. That's exactly what we got landing at The River Stage. As the crowd quietly waited for Austrailia's The Cat Empire, I overheard a lot of "who are these guys" and "I've never heard of them," despite the fact they've been around for 14 years. Then the silence was broken with a huge rendition of "Steal the Light" and there was nothing to be heard but solid trumpets, killer percussion and the stomp of dancing feet. Aussies are used to the heat, and the energy from front men Felix Riebl (persussion/vocals) and Harry James Angus (trumpet/vocals) manged to infect the whole crowd of heat-strucken Canadians before them. While most of the set consisted of funky-ska tunes perfect for a summer evening under a gorgeous sunset (this is the best part about the River Stage), the midway point got a little, uh, gypsy with songs like "The Wine Song." By this point the crowd was massive, many lured over by the trumpets no doubt, and dance circles erupted between strangers all across the lawn. Things I heard as we were leaving: "THAT WAS AMAZING!" Which brings us to our Bell Stage headliner: The Black Keys. While many missed their performance last year after running home from the rain, those who stayed were blown away by the show. Needless to say, there was a lot of hype for this year, and it felt like EVERYONE at the festival had gathered infront of the stage. Opening the set with crowd pleaser "Howlin' for You" you'd think everyone would've been howling...but no such luck. Turns out sound quality was compromised depending on where you were standing, so people started howling "turn it up" and "louder." Again, no luck, and for many it sounded like a concert from tweaky iphone speakers. Those who could hear fine, got an amazing show (the set list was drawn primarily from their album El Camino), with an especially gorgeous rendition of "Little Black Submarines" partway through. Finishing with a studio perfect version of "Lonely Boy" even those in the poor sound section left smiling. Many people who couldn't enjoy the show, left. Alex Clare's high energy show managed to take in a lot of those fans, and I heard many saying it was the highlight of their night. There's a good lesson festival goers: if you aren't enjoying a show, leave. It's a festival afterall, and there's always something else happening at another stage. Update on 2013-07-05 19:07 by bouche Here's a small snippet from the Empire Grill area at the right of the stage.
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