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  1. Written by Jay McConnery Photos by Mike Bouchard Wayne Coyne - The Flaming Lips - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-5-2011 Bluesfest opened its reconfigured doors to a colossal crowd this evening, and people were out in droves to check out the music and enjoy some amazing July weather. Much like the first day of school, the first day of Bluesfest allows one to quickly get reacquainted with friends you've missed, check out some new faces, smells and tastes, and digest some of the changes that will be effecting your experience this year.. and there have been some very noteworthy adjustments to the festival's layout; This year, the two mainstages are essentially side by each, on the Parkway side of the property. This reconfiguration allows a much roomier MBNA mainstage experience, but also creates a bit of a bleedy sound factor for those that prefer the smaller stages tucked far away by the river, although some baffling has been erected by the Hard Rock stage- and it looks a little bit like a 2 levelled porta-pottie condo, but in actual fact, it is this year's Leamy Lake Casino experience area. There are fewer entrances, less bicycle parking (west end parkway?? hello?!!), bigger beer tents and a prominant, giant tented merchandise area that one can only assume formerly housed the "Comedy Tent" last year. I think this is a better use for it although the vendors might not enjoy being stuck inside for 2 weeks.. All in all, my first reaction was that producers are approaching the festival with bottom line in mind perhaps a little bit more than usual, and a nudge in the direction of consumerism. Tonight, starting out a little dis-oriented, we entered to the distant crowdpleasing sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- unoffensive to my ears, it was a fine soundtrack to while away a few moments waiting for the Flaming Lips. I have seen the Lips about 4 times in the last 10 years and they have never failed to leave me with a strong feeling. Usually, it has been a feeling of appreciation for their showmanship and video imagery, crafted songs and energetic performances, other times, confusion or downright speechlessness.. This year, it was kind of just 'meh'. It felt as if we were given a less inspired, shorter version of last year's performance. They played slowed down stretched out versions of Yoshimi, and Do you Realize (again)- and although these songs are beautiful, and the new arrangements are interesting in a stripped down way, most fans would prefer they dip (a bit!) into their catalogue of great records and sugary pop songs, instead of spending 20 minutes (of their 55 minute set) on these re-worked tunes and the vast majority of the set on material from their last two records. I like their heavy side, but they have so many great songs.. why not play a couple more of them? Soundgarden - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-5-2011 After catching the entire Lips set, we watched about 20 minutes of SoundGarden- who were headlining the MBNA stage. They were loud and distorty, and sounded very much like the band we all remember from the grunge heyday of the early 90s.. probably because all the original members were onstage, and the only additions to the group were the extra 40 or so pounds on the bass player. Kidding aside, I was happy to hear some cuts from BadMotorFinger, (I think that was the first compact disc I purchased in grade 9) and Superunknown. They are an Internationally popular with a very recognizable sound, and that is a huge acheivement. However, I was always a little more of a Nirvana or Pearl Jam guy, so we skipped over to the Subway stage to see headliners Tegan and Sarah. It was like listening to a beautiful red transistor radio... no, actually, more like a haunting, dark haired, lez-sister radio, tuned into some catchy and familiar tunes, drifting from the stage through the happy river-side crowd. Their band was top notch and the subtleness of their arrangements kept me interested much longer than I expected. I have never felt the urge previously, but maybe I will investigate their music a little more. I thought their harmonies might've been a little more soaring, but the sound is always a factor on first nights which may have been the problem. I actually found most of the stages to be a little loud or tinny, or in the case of Bootsy Collins- both loud and tinny! Bootsy Collins, though, definitely brought the funk, with a huge kick-ass band that crowded onto the Hardrock stage, featuring Bernie Worrell and former members of Parliament and P-Funk. They kept the crowd moving for the first half of the set with classics like Flash Light and Bop Gun played at high intensity, and then suddenly, left some of us a little confused with his slowed down number about making love in motels, I think he said. Far be it from me to deny Bootsy his slow down, we left him to stroke and throttle his star-bass and zipped over the hill to check out a few minutes of Pablo Menendez and the Mezcla Cuban All-stars who were playing to a handful of dancers at the National Bank Stage.. Flanked by very well lit ATMS, the stage is back to it's original Black Sheep glory, although without the programming of Paul Symes, only time will tell if it can win our hearts back.
  2. Craig Finn - The Hold Steadyby Sean Taylor photo by Mike Bouchard (more photos) After raging through The Hold Steady's 90+ minute Ottawa Bluesfest set- I had to quickly dry off, change my sweaty clothers and get it together a bit to head backstage. Prior to the show I had been asked if I would like the unique and exciting opportunity to chat with Craig Finn on their tour bus. While this only lasted for a few fleeting minutes- to get to chat with Craig on a personal level was an experience I will not soon forget. As a nice icebreaker he asked me about the "What Would Judas Do?" tee I had been sporting (its a lyric from a rarity in the Hold Steady canon- 'Milkcrate Mosh')- noting that he had seen a couple before, but those were in Minnesota and had a different font. Alright this is going to go fine, hes a rock geek just like me! Since this had all come up not long before the band took the stage, my preparation of some really knockout interview questions was not possible — but I digress: The Hold Steady by the numbers: Sean Taylor: Band Members? Craig Finn: 5 ST: Guitars on the Road This Tour? CF: 24 (including basses) ST: Wives on the Road This Tour? CF: 0- but not because we wouldn't mind wives.... ST: Preference 10,000 Lakes or 1,000 Islands? CF: 10,000 Lakes- its just more.... ST: You've got a couple of songs about gambling, so how about you give me some odds. What is the over under on the number of friends you will tell that you shared a bill with Keith Urban today? CF: Oh ha ha ha shit I hadn't even thought about that. Hmmmm 9? ST: Craig if you've ever laid some money down, you know I can't accept a 9. CF: Ok then how about a 9.5? ST: And would the odds get juiced if I had said Kevin Costner? CF: Oh yeah, um, for sure- like maybe an 11.5?! (chuckles as he realizes I may be more drunk than he) Thanks for not bringing me big-long-answer-watch-your-mouth-questions; its the end of the tour. This is good. ST: Covering for jambands our readers have noted over the years that you occasionally bring out a blue telecaster that sported a yellow dancing bear - are you a fan of the Grateful Dead? CF: Well I did see them, let me see maybe three times, but I wouldn't call myself a huge fan. I do like what they did and stood for though. ST: Why the recent change with the 7 Seconds sticker (he covered up at the tail end of last years Stay Positive tour)? CF: Oh, ha ha you noticed? Well I actually had misgivings about that. I wanted to go back to the bear, but the hardcores are harder to deal with than hippies- so I guess 7 Seconds stays. If it helps with your readers, they'll probably be happy to know that I named that blue tele in honor of Jerry- its called ' '. ST: You wrote a song called "Nassau Coliseum" with your old band Lifter Puller that references a particularly harsh scene at a Dead show (the lyrics reference a long hair selling domestics in the lot getting beat by the cops). Was that an actual experience you had? CF: Oh yeah man. That was like my sophomore year so like spring 91 maybe. It went down all around us. ST: One more just for kicks for our readers..... Having lived in hotbeds for the band near Alpine Valley, and the NYC area since 2004- and travelled the country extensively before that have you ever ventured to a Phish concert? CF: None. No particular reason why I haven't- but I guess it just hasn't come my way. ST: Thanks Craig!
  3. Craig Finn and Tad Kubler - The Hold Steady The Hold Steady- Ottawa Bluesfest, Subway Stage. Sat. July 17, 2010 By: Sean Taylor Photos: Mike Bouchard (more photos) Its no secret that I am a fan of The Hold Steady. A huge fan even. I think its fair to say that they are probably my favorite band, and although my level of devotion to the band wanes between releases, with each new album I get a fresh jolt of energy and enthusiasm and once again immerse myself in their tales of rock n roll redemption. I get reacquainted with Gideon and Charlegmagne, learn new things about those old favorite songs and have little voids in the hole of the storyline filled in -- getting my ass kicked a little bit more by the best bar band in America. I suppose in a way a new Hold Steady release and tour for me are nothing short of a rebirth. With the release of the newest effort, Heaven Is Whenever (May 10, 2010 on Vagrant Records), all of these feelings were conjured up; but with a new found trepidation. You see, HiW is the first Hold Steady album since Seperation Sunday without lauded multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay. Franz's recent departure meant that not only would his signature additions on keyboards be absent, but also a huge hole at the front of the stage would likely be hard to fill without the most raging 'non singer- front man' in history. In April I did get to see a show in Syracuse featuring the new lineup, but it was mere 5 or 6 shows into their time with new additions Steve Selvidge (formerly of Lucero) and Dan Neustadt. I don't really think the band had gelled at that point- or had enough time to practice well into the back catalog. Despite this they still put on a fantastic show that night at the Westcott Theater, unveiling no less than 5 new songs for us. Recently, I found out I would once again be seeing a 'new' Hold Steady lineup as Neustadt was unavailable and another key player was put in place for the Toronto and Ottawa tour wrap up shows. All of this said, The Hold Steady don't play music requiring hours of studying charts to get a grasp, so the transition to THS 3.0 was rather seemless. Craig Finn - The Hold Steady The first thing that should be noted in any Hold Steady discussion is there comes a time when it generally comes down to a single point- and most of the time it starts with this one: that Craig's vocal style isn't "singing". I have never liked any music that has elicited more love/hate reactions than Craigs vocals. Obviously, being a fan I love it, but I think it stems more from my attention to the content of the lyrics than the actual delivery. Never before have I loved rock n roll lyrics more than Mr. Finns, not from Bruce or Bob or Robert. If you don't like the delivery- at least do yourself the favor of looking up the words, they'll likely draw you in. While esposing the Hold Steady to anyone who might listen and hearing this same retort again and again- I should say that I have found that in the live setting that this particular complaint is softened a great deal when the music is not coming through your home stereo. Live they are a bombastic unit of power, energy and postivity and Finns vocals/lyrics seem to just be there and enhance the sound rather than punctuate it. Craig Finn and Bobby Drake - The Hold Steady Sadly for readers of jambands.ca THS are not at all a jamband in the typical sense of the word. I don't think I have ever heard a particular version of any song that was standout because of musical improvisation, or seen anything stretched out beyond say a second go round for a Tad solo. What they do in the vein of the jamband culture is bring together the crowd for an evening of music and revelry; they change up their setlists on a nightly basis; have a whole host of aces up their sleeve when it comes to the vaunted bust out; and even have a dedicated fan base called The Unified Scene that is very similar in many ways to my early experiences with the Phish community. As the sun blazed down and no big stage announcement came it was easy to miss The Hold Steady taking the stage. Catching the crowd slightly off guard with this inauspicious entrance, The Hold Steady took the stage no less than 10 minutes before their scheduled start time and got straight down to business. The hot and blustery conditions of a mid-July early evening ate up the delicate guitar intro to the set opener Sweet Part of the City- but the song slowly built to power at the first kick drum/bass note and rolled along warming up the ever attentive crowd. This song has certainly become the opener of choice on this tour- appearing first at over half of the shows- but I think it fits well here and should remain an opener. It's got all the elements of a Black Crowes song (IMO) but with Craig’s fantastic lyrics sung/spoken over top. The crowd was clearly impressed as Craig belted out "We like to play for you" in the final measure and the crowd let out the first big cheer. At this point I'd say the crowd numbered near 500ish, most of whom were crowded up in front and the far reaches of the filled area were about halfway back to the sound tent. In typical Hold Steady fashion, as they finished the final licks of SPOTC, immediately Tad came wailing in with the guitar intro to Rock n Roll Problems. This is the way the band does it; not much stage banter between tunes just four on the floor rock n roll with no let up on the accelerator. The ubiquitous Constructive Summer followed and then the band slowed it down for a bit of a breather in the form of a slow burning and welcomed fav: 'Multitude of Casualties' (this song contains the line "at least in dying you don't have to deal with new wave for a second time" line referenced in Thursdays review). After two more songs I more than expected to get in the festival setting (the band definitely has a short list of songs it selects when playing to new audiences)- another little oldie: Barfruit Blues. A fantastic number and this one featured some extra fiery guitar work from 'the new guy' Steve. Craig Finn - The Hold Steady As the band continuted to blow through a set filled with high energy songs, I managed to have one of the best times I've ever had at a Steady show. Usually I am crammed in at the front with all of the other crazies, where we spill beer on each other and scream as loudly as possible back at Craig. But here in Ottawa at Bluesfest, I was outside with as much space as I needed, while being simultaneously able to walk to within 50 feet of the band. The whole event that is a Hold Steady show reached a whole new level for me as I gazed across the ever increasing crowd. What I witnessed were smiling faces, fists pumping and looks of amazement. Adding to this revelry- I was watching MY band about 10 minutes from home, with my best friends- I truly thought I was in heaven. The theme of heaven as concept of longing, idealism etc. is a mainstay on the new album and of course the next song that followed was We Can Get Together. The chorus "heaven is whenever, we can get together- lock your bedroom door and listen to your records" is a teenage fantasy described with such vagueness and beauty that in that moment I think every audience remembered such a long burning memory of past loves (perhaps a woman- perhaps a favorite record). As I noticed people singing along, high fiving and raising their cups- I knew this was not a typical Hold Steady crowd- this was not my Unified Scene, those same faces at every show so when I turned around to realize that the crowd had swelled to about double the size as when it had started I felt a strange sense of pride for the boys from Brooklyn. The skins, the punks and the greaser guys were all singing along together the way Craig sang about on "Joke about Jamaica" and I saw that other people were getting this thing, that for better or for worse I just wish more people would understand. Another run of songs that would have been picked all over PT's Daily Dose (if a Phantasy Hold Steady board existed- bouche?!) and we were at Your Little Hoodrat Friend. This is one of my favs, and this version certainly did not disappoint. Despite a fill in guy on keys, one member who has played less than 50 shows with them, a short 90 minute time slot to use and the hot as hades sun beating in their faces- The Hold Steady were easily winning over an entire field of people who were well into their 11th day of live music. Before the show I had asked a friend about the line "she said: City Center used to be the center of the scene. Now city center's over. No one really goes there. Then we used to drink beneath this railroad bridge. Some nites the bus wouldn't even stop. There were just way too many kids." Well when they plaeyed that a small group on the front hand side at the right utterly exploded. Obviously they had discussed it before, that THS were playing in the shadow of a concrete dinosaur described in one of their songs to a tee. Coincidence or not, it was another moment where I just couldn't believe I was seeing this, here in Ottawa. There were more than a few moments when Craig clearly had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand with his swagger and meth freak antics- but during Massive Nights he stepped forward in front of the monitors for a little more intensity. It was as it always is- a rager culminating with the Woo Ooo Ooh sing along chorus that had many an audience member singing along presumably for the first time ever to a Hold Steady song. The finale of How A Ressurection Really Feels (this is my absolute HS fave) could not have sent me into a further reach of the atmosphere. While Tad really killed the solo and the whole thing wound down to the line "Don't turn me on again, you know I'll probably just get myself all turned all turned on again Don't turn me on again Cause I know I'll probably just go and get all gone again" I thought a little bit to myself about what I'd seen that night, this tour and from this band in general (standing at about a dozen shows over 4 years- and 3 new album releases). I arrived at this during the final stanza: that every time my devotion has waned and I've gone away for a bit- the band comes back with something new and I get a little taste and suddenly I'm on the street corner trying to get money for a new 7"'s and some tickets. Can't wait for the next album- at least this high is legal ? Setlist: Sweet Part of the City Rock n Roll Problems Constructive Summer Multitude of Casualties Sequestered in Memphis Hurricane J Barfruit Blues Magazines Barely Breathing We Can Get Together You Can Make Him Like You Southtown Girls The Weekenders Chips Ahoy! Stuck Between Stations Your Little Hoodrat Friend Massive Nights How a Resurrection Really Feels
  4. (Disclaimer- as I sit and write this I am at work, extremely hungover and with a full plate of work today- I have not hung on every word, referred to google, a thesaurus or anything other than my chicken scratch from last night for reference materials. I apologize in advance for any misreporting and for the use of many mono syllabic adjectives……) Susan Tedeschi photo by Dave Barrett By Sean Taylor (more photos) Thanks to an early press time at my day job- I was able to hit Lebreton Flats just after 6 pm with a few cold beers already in my stomach- eager and excited to finally hear and see what all of the "Islands" fuss is all about. Over the past year it seems that I’ve heard this act hyped and mentioned from the furthest reaches of my social scene - from lawyers to lackies- they all seem to love it. Well, I am not sure if it was the confusing schedule listing for Island/ Woodhands, the 6:30 PM start, or the new wave attire (as Craig Finn says “At least in dying, you don’t have to deal with new wave for a second time.”)- but this set just didn’t seem to be what I was expecting, wanted or needed. The white and turquoise get ups that took the stage should have given me the hint I needed that this was going to be more poppy than I can take. The light airy music wasn’t bad- it was just background music for a cruise ship afternoon of shuffleboard. Skip. Feeling a bit disenchanted about the flop that was Islands, I took a stroll over to the Claridge Homes stage to see The Gories. While Bluesfest may be one of the biggest and best festivals in North America, it baffles me that the occasional act like this manages to snake their way amongst the mostly quality lineup. I was only able to listen to two songs- both of which were basically rip offs of BAD Canadian blues (the first was David Wilcox’s “The Bearcat” with different lyrics, the second was a BTO knock off that would have made those Oakley vendors in NYC proud). Skip. Oh well, 0 for 2 Knowing that Old Crow and Derek Trucks were still to come was more than enough to keep me moving through the crowd, finding friends and of course emptying a plastic cup or two. It was almost 7pm to the second when Old Crow Medicine Show took to the cavernous MBNA stage. It was quite a contrast to Tuesdays Arcade Fire performance to see this group of bluegrass musicians huddled together at center stage, instead of the huge area being utilized by instruments, band members and lighting rigs. In true bluegrass style OCMS play with no percussion, instead relying on their incredible finger picking and vocal harmonies to fill the air. And fill the air they did! From the opener of “Hard to Love” the crowd and Old Crow kicked it up hoedown style. Old Crow Medicine show photo by Ming Wu While the crowd wasn’t huge, they were very attentive- and thunderous applause followed every number, especially after the 4th song, an instrumental number that gave each member of the band a little solo time, letting the crowd in on just how great these guys are at what they do. I was lucky enough to watch the next two songs from the side of the stage- but found myself actually watching the crowd’s reaction to his band more than the band actually playing. The set was strong as hell, and by the time they hit the final couple of numbers the whole crowd was hootin and hollerin for more. What followed was pretty special IMO- they played a pretty impressive version of Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds”- followed up by a double speed bluegrass instrumental, then a great rendition of CC Rider. Wrapping up with the Wagon Wheel that we all know and love- the crowd went nuts and it felt like a giant kitchen party for a stretch. Having recently seen a two set extravaganza from The Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band at Mountain Jam in Hunter, NY- I was stoked to head directly to the Hard Rock Stage and get some prime real estate- but I detoured to see what Woodhands was sounding like over at the Subway Stage. I’ve seen Woodhands before and this was nothing different- kind of melding of the sounds of Beck and The New Deal is what I heard. This is an act that kills in small clubs but it seemed to also translate well to the open air enviro of Bluesfest. When I arrived at the Hard Rock Stage- New Brunswick’s Matt Anderson was wrapping up his set of standard grizzly blues on his acoustic. Matt is a very talented blues guitarist, who I have seen in a variety of venues and he always puts on a good show- although I don’t know if I have ever seen him engage the audience much. This would be a welcomed addition to his performances as I do find they tend to feel a bit longer than they actually are. Obviously the crowd last night could have cared less, as he walked off the stage to a standing ovation (I even some lawnchair nation members stand up!). Derek Trucks photo by Dave Barrett After all of the hors d’ouvres it was time for the main course- as I found myself down front on Derek’s side as the DTSTB was warmly welcomed by the audience. It was less than 3 weeks ago that many of us had the good fortune to see Oteil perform at the Jazz Festival- and here was that big smile once again gracing a stage in the nations capital. From the start the band highlighted Susan’s strong vocals on the opener of “Love Has Something to Say” while the rhythm section pounded like Muscle Shoals behind her. When I saw this band at Mountain Jam, I thought several times that it seemed like Derek was intentionally taking a back seat and allowing the band to do what it does best- and he didn’t over play anything, infact I was caught longing for more fiery solos from our young slide guitar hero. Derek’s playing is all about feel and groove rather than flash, but when he does take the spotlight- it is nothing short of mesmerizing. Derek has a very unique ability to make the extraordinary seem so simple and effortless- and I know that others felt the same way as I glanced around at the huge smiles and shaking heads during one of his moments about 4 songs in (a Derek Trucks Band original). There was a slight mist starting to fall and the music was really perfect as Kofi and Derek had a total musical conversation for us all to witness. I am not sure if they dove into pure improv here, but from the smile that busted across the faces of Derek, Kofi and Oteil all at once- it surely seemed as though they had really impressed each other. Oteil Burbridge photo by Dave Barrett The fairly frequent appearance of Joe Cockers “Space Captain” in their set list meant I wasn’t surprised by the choice, but it certainly didn’t mean I wasn’t excited. Having seen Herbie Hancock play this at Jazz Fest recently and a whole host of artists over the years (Black Crowes, Cornmeal)- it did occur to me that I don’t think I’ve seen a version that deviates at all from the original. Whatever- that’s what classics are for- woooh! By the time Space Captain wrapped, Mill Street was starting to win the battle with my choice of East Side Mario’s Chicken Parm sandwich and I was forced to take off for the back. The final two songs I watched from the hill were again highlighting Susan’s husky blues vocals and the band just blew everyone away with their choice solos (especially a couple of knockouts from bass master Oteil). I know I am leaving out a lot about Derek but I think he would have wanted it this way- last night I witnessed a man at the height of his abilities- taking a back seat to highlight the amazing abilities of the woman he loves. This was never more evident than during To The City (?) the final number I caught where Susan tore into a solo spot and Derek just beamed the way love will make you do……
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