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  1. Written by: Jay McConnery LA-33 at Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by: Andrew Carver Lineup wise, Thursday night at Bluesfest rolled in like a parched tumbleweed after the glorious rock show wetness of the night before had all but dried up, giving many regulars a good excuse to take a night off. Scanning the program earlier in the day, I was admittedly close to bailing as well, but knowing these dark horse days at Bluesfest can often be the talk of the festival, with an unknown act delivering a break-out performance that people discuss for eternity, we gobbled some hastily rolled burritos and hit the Parkway on our bikes with no express expectations, except for the expectation that I would eventually be right that it was a good idea to head down. Well, I wouldn't say it was the dark horse night, but on that confusing scale it was at the very least a well-tanned donkey. Maybe with some sunburnt pale spots. It was with indifference that I learned Theory of a Deadman would not be preforming due to illness- but I was happy to hear Hamilton's Arkells were given their time slot, and could see they were ready for the opportunity. They played to a great crowd and sounded like they've found the sweet spot in reeling in their enthusiasm but still hitting the energy levels they are known for. I really like their sound, but craved the sparse atmosphere of the periphery, so we continued on to check out the smaller stages and began by spending a few minutes checking out Girls with Guitars on the Hard Rock Stage, playing some pretty simple blues with dexterity and a lot of potential. They looked great on stage, which is obviously the first rule of girl-rock, and displayed some impressive chops as well. Hopefully they can keep at it and maybe choose a better name, because there were some moments that sounded pretty big. Over to National Bank, where we enjoyed the last portion of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, jamming some very vampy and borderline sloppy zydeco blues with that great accordion and washboard sound. The guitar playing swamp-master kept things together, and over the course of a few tunes, I came to like their jangly style. When this wrapped up, there was nothing playing on any stage for about 15 minutes, which was kind of weird, so we committed to the first few songs of Billy Talent by waiting around at the MBNA stage. With a name lifted from one of Canada's finest rock'n'roll movies, Hard Core Logo; Mississauga's Billy Talent took the stage and busted into one of their riff driven heavy-ish anthems that had fists pumping and the kids screaming. These guys have been on the scene for over a decade and a half, and have developed a huge following across Canada- so I thought I should give them a chance. First off, I think singer Ben Kowalewicz sounds and acts a lot like Johnny Rotten on stage. He doesn't have the same range, but does the higher range stuff quite well and even uses some similar expressions in his delivery.. Maybe they were watching 'Rock'n'Roll Swindle' before the show in the tour bus, who knows. Also, the guitarist with incredibly high hair, steps very adeptly between the busy lead riffs and singing backup. I can say for sure, that their music is not for me, and it doesn't have any elements of intrigue for me at this stage in my life- but I respect their very tight playing and the maximum output delivery they were dishing out. The Tea Party were also underway, so we drifted through conflicting sound bleed over to the Subway stage greeted by well known tune 'The Bazaar' which sums up their style quite well- modern psychedelic riff rock heavily influenced by classic rock. You can tell that Jeff Martin likes Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page a lot, and who doesn't right!? We watched a few tunes, noting one of the biggest Subway stage audiences we'd seen yet, and skipped over to Hard Rock to check out Tim Robbins and his band. He was obviously not happy about the tremendous sound bleed coming his way from the Tea Party, and not only mentioned it, but also did a headband of contempt which seemed to take the audience off guard. Tim broke into his song (reading lyrics from a music stand) and although the band was quite good, his singing voice was only okay- on par with the other Hollywood Stars who have decided to be rock stars too. Using his thespian training, he did manage to command some attention and in retrospect actually delivered some pretty interesting lyrics in his songs; but it felt more like people were there to celebrity-watch rather than enjoy music. Did you hear he and Susan Saran don broke up? OMG! Seriously, I didn't know. I actually had a lot of fun screaming "Bloodsucker Proxy" ! "Bull Durham" ! "ANDY DUFRENSE"!!! The highlight of the night was 'LA-33' on the National Bank Stage- giving it the long lost feeling like the Black sheep Stage of years past. This Colombian Salsa group is considered the best in their country and often tour the jazzfest summer circuit, skipping Ottawa. Their fans seized the opportunity to see them in town and were out tonight, thankful with chants of 'Co-lom-bia!' and ready to dance! Straight out of Bogota, this may have been the tightest Salsa music I've seen in my life- a 14 piece band complete with a World class Salsa duo spinning and stepping on stage had this enthusiastic portion of Ottawa's Latino community out dancing to the Salsa, Mambo and funky Boogaloo grooves. I am enjoying Salsa and Latin Jazz more and more through further exposure, and one day I will be able to dance salsa steps- perhaps the lazy man version, but I will get those steps down. Trying tonight was a whole lot of fun, and I'm always impressed by a well practised Salsa duo on the dance floor, and there were many smiling faces having the time of their lives showing off their stuff.
  2. Written by: Jay McConnery Photos by: Mike Bouchard It's difficult to sit down and reflect so quickly on something that is still ringing through my ears and bones like this. I feel like my concert pants are bursting at the seams and my belt leather is groaning against my heaving belly as if I have just devoured the perfect medium rare Sirloin Tip steak with a nice creamy garlic mash, a tasty salad and a frosty stein of the good stuff.. and I don't really want to talk about it. Or maybe it was a Tofu steak, it doesn't matter! I just want to keep this feeling for as long as I can. Should I go back and think about how delicious it was, and how much fun it was to chew and swallow? In a minute, maybe, but not yet. For now, I'm definitely able to return to the beginning and re-evaluate how one of the more sublime weeknights of Bluesfest kicked off. For me, and many others who actually arrived on time for the logistically difficult 6:15pm start time, Trampled by Turtles were the perfect way to start the proceedings with fast, interesting and precise modern bluegrass. They have been making a name for themselves on the American Bluesgrass circuit for some time showing up at prestigious festivals by way of their old school chops and forward thinking song writing and arrangements. They can fiddle with the best of them, but can also bring the house down with perfect songs, like their closing number 'Wait So Long', that could easily slip into the repretoire of a hugely popular band like the Avett Brothers. I cursed myself (Damn you, McConnery!) for missing the first half of the set and definitely hope to catch them again sometime soon. Once TBT wrapped (to a very impressive crowd for the time slot), we headed up over the hill to the National Bank Stage to check out Imaginary Cities from Winnipeg, who were last through Ottawa in the Spring, opening for the Pixies. I liked the sugary samples I had heard in duo format but was happy to hear they were performing with a full band, half of whom seemed to be celebrating their birthday today. Songwriting duo of Rusty and Marti have written some very lovely songs, folk rock at heart but turned up in energy level live, the songs possess more of a ghost rock vibe, which kept me tuned in for most of their set. Marti Sarbit who preforms in a totally natural and unpretentious way onstage, has a classic voice, but is also unplaceably reminicent of several current front women- the closest comparison I heard was a cross between Amy Winehouse and Kim Deal. I also heard Nina Simone and Jenn Grant... but I heard quite a few, and I'm still not sure- maybe its just her. They played a very cool, even slower, arrangement of Cake's song Mexico, complete with the great horn solo played note for note perfect, on the moog. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 There was a bit of a gap for me between Imaginary Cities and the evening's headliner. I visited the Dirtbombs twice- and it wasn't up my alley this evening. You gotta figure Dirtbombs are going to be more effective in closed spaces, and I just felt like the music was moving very slowly in direction and I never really understand the 2 drummers playing the exact same beat thing either. I imagine when it's working, it would help create a full deliberate sound from stage, but tonight it just acentuated my disinterest. Metric was doing their thing over on the Claridge Stage which I decided to skip entirely, 'cause there is always next year, and I even caught a little more Blues from Smoking Joe Kubek and Bnois King. They sounded a little more traditional and wore white, perhaps to stay cool in the evening sun, but again, I can't imagine someone who cares this little about the Blues writing about something called Bluesfest, so I won't pretend. To be fair, at this point I was completely distracted and ready to get a good spot for mainstage headliners, My Morning Jacket. My Morning Jacket - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-13-2011 We popped over to the festival plaza to find Metric had ended their set early, and much to my delight, the evening (and perhaps in the minds of some, the festival's) main event band, My Morning Jacket, were starting early at 9pm. As they emerged to open the show, we easily galloped up to within 50 feet of the stage with beer in hand and felt the tremendous bass vibrations greet our jubilation and shake our insides like baby rattles. I asked my wife if we should retreat further back to get some earplugs, and she wisely said, 'Nah, we'll get used to it!'. We did, and the band played music that truly deserved to be listened to at damaging decible levels, riding that intangiable vibe beam that Rock n Roll music delivered imbeccably can sometimes do, so we soaked in as much of it as we could. I should admit, this was my first MMJ show, and after following the group's releases for the last 8 or so years, I really can't believe it really took me this long to see them live, so with all sincerity, thanks for that Bluesfest! With a stage flanked by two chillin' black bears (one in a poncho, one in a summer dress) and a huge green cycloptic eye backdrop, they played with the heart of a modern Crazy Horse, and only Neil Young would be a fair comparison for a multi-threat multi-beast songwriter/singer/jammin' guitar player as diverse and talented as Jim James. The man can sing just about however he wants, and it always ends up sounding just like him. The band played with endless energy, as one, ebbing and flowing, with groove and feel, through all the tunes you'd hope to hear and some new ones that I look forward to getting to know. Energy levels were off the charts at certain moments, with beautifully crescendo-ing solos and interplay colliding in peak fashion under the watchful eye of drummer Patrick Hallahan who could always bring things home magnificently, or kick off the next number hugely, without missing a beat. Leaning heavily towards 'It Still Moves' and 'Z' tracks- it felt like we were being treated to a greatest hits show, complete with antics- Jim James' towel head vampire, and evidence of their musical proficiency- keeping it together when an offtime loop was stuck at loud volume until a tech figured out the source and turned it off. So yeah, all in all, it was exactly like a big delicious satisfying meal. Yeah.
  3. Written By: Jay McConnery Photos By: Dave Barrett John Fogarty - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Booking a festival like Bluesfest must be a lot like loading a shot-gun, taking a hundred paces back, pulling the trigger and trudging forward nervously with fluttering heart as excitement builds to see what has hit the target. Invites and offers must blast off from the Bluesfest offices on Catherine Street like endless roman candles destined for the hottest touring acts, with the highest of hopes. It's almost impossible to imagine it... over 250 acts. On average, as we all know with shotguns, most of the pellets aren't going to hit the bulls-eye, but thankfully some will- and it's hard to imagine any more of a bulls-eye booking for organizers than John Fogerty and his band, who rocked an enthusiastic Ottawa crowd on this Tuesday night like it was New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. Delivering the gamut of CCR classics and Fogerty solo hits, the easy going crowd this evening was very much focused in one place and it was easy to see why, when you are literally bombarded with hit, after hit, after hit of timeless rock'n'roll magic. Some might say the same could be achieved by spinning a Greatest Hits disc with some headphones, but the real difference is; that the Fogerty Band was relentlessly rocking. No two second pauses, man! Fogerty really took the reigns on lead guitar while engaging the audience continually through his obvious appreciation of our excitement and love of his songs and music. I literally tried to leave three times, but was stopped in my tracks by songs like 'Fortunate Son' and 'Bad Moon Rising'. Backed by a great band of musicians, most notably Joe Satriani clone Kenny Aronoff on the drums- the show had a very rocking vibe accentuated by Kenny's double kick fills and harder rock tendencies. The show was also visually fun to watch, sounded great and felt like a true main-stage performance. The only drawback of this set was I could only manage to catch three tracks from Baloji's set on the National Bank Stage, that featured musicians from Konono no.1, who kept a deep pocket rhythm of African Grooves for Baloji's French language rhymes. There were only a handful of people there and from what I heard, it may have been the best set no one saw. Baloji - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 We arrived a few hours earlier to a different scene. Canadian rockers Three Days Grace were holding court on the Claridge Stage, and confidently rocking socks. I had been warned previously that they were a Nickelback clone, and until hearing them, I thought this band was actually going to be Theory of a Deadman. Turns out Three Days Grace doesn't sound like Nickelback as much as they could, but they do have a slick polished sound, fiery pyrotechnics and maybe one poodle haircut which are similarities to the Canadian supergroup as well as their obvious popularity, evidenced by a rapt audience. I wasn't interested however, and made my way to meander between the side stages in search of KettleKorn guy. Kettle-Korn! Here is where we drift into the intact papery perimeter of the original bulls-eye target, that feels like its got substantially fewer pellet holes, with maybe a couple poked in at the last minute with a pencil. Dana Fuchs - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Dana Fuchs had the largest crowd at the Subway stage and was definitely 'throwing down' heavy blues rock in the spirit of Janis Joplin. Her voice at times felt like a clone of the tragic songstress, including her inflections and improvisational scat stylings. Thankfully, the tight-jeaned squats, bosom thrusts and crotch flair work kept things light for those afraid of ghosts. Her band delivered heartfelt originals and a tight rendition of 'Helter Skelter' with patience and precision, while Dana writhed on the stage monitors, seemingly placing the previously enthusiastic gentlemen in the front row under her spell. I'm sure the good people at Southern Comfort will be following her career closely. Andrew Jr. Boy Jones - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-12-2011 Ian Kelly, meanwhile, on the Hard Rock stage had one of the more polished sounding groups I'd heard so far this festival. Even though the talent is certainly there, the songs were inconceivably poppy for most, and especially me, who lasted only a few minutes before trudging over the hill and planting myself at the National Bank Stage for some...*gasp*... blues!! Andrew Jr Boy Jones had a tight blues combo ripping through solos and riffs, keeping the audience moving or at least shuffling. Sharing the stage with horns, and a fantastic female lead, Andrew Jr. led his group through some of the only blues I'm likely to see all festival, and I'm okay admitting that. I had full intention of spending some time with Buck 65, but I only caught a few moments between Fogerty hits. All in all, an amazing way to spend a Tuesday night. As soon as the festival starts to feel like it's going on forever, you take a look at things and notice you are closing in on the end way quicker than you thought, so remember: we still have 5 days of music to enjoy before detox begins! .......And My Morning Jacket is playing tonight!!
  4. Written By: Jay McConnery Photos By: Mike Bouchard The Black Keys - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-8-2011 The week-end days bring out the best in the Bluesfest experience, as you can feel the machine firing on all cylinders and revellers can fully submit without thoughts of the next morning. Instead of wrestling with transportation logistics, keeping an eye on the dreaded clock, or mulling details of an early morning meeting, there is only the here and now on which to focus all your leisure attention, which really makes all the difference in live music. Friday night blew in a huge crowd and proportionally out of control beer lines; legions of younger fans checked out 'Rise Against' and fans of the heavy blues duo 'The Black Keys' anticipated their headlining set keeping the festival plaza rippling with electricity. I looked forward to a peak at Wanda Jackson, but I felt 'Hey Rosetta!' was the place to be as the group's samples were among the most intriguing I'd heard, and I felt they were poised to deliver something amazing. Unfortunately, Friday also blew in a freak storm with a very high winds and sideways rain, that had all stages shut down for a good portion of the night. Thankfully there was no shortage of cover in the War Museum, or in some of the various tents onsite, and folks were able to safely wait out the weather. It was a lengthy break though, and volunteers became the festival's front-line as the wet throngs inquired if there was any word as to whether the night had been called off, or if hope remained. As the clock approached the final hour of the evening there was still no information to share, however they had been instructed to stop scanning tickets, which led them to assume the night was over. By this point, half the crowd had left anyway, so I admittedly hopped on my bike towards home- and it was just about the half way mark where I heard enthusiastic cheering, and the raunchy blues riffs of the Black Keys emerging. It would've been a great opportunity for them to come out and own the night, and from all reports the duo stepped up and delivered a great, but short set. Oh well, can't win em all I suppose. The Peter Elkas Band - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-9-2011 In contrast, Saturday was one of those perfect weather days that felt a bit like a dream. Hazy clouds, or some very artistic and hopefully not poisonous chem-trails painted the sky, adding to the vibe as we enjoyed a mid-afternoon arrival and stroll among the stages. We ducked into a busy Barney Danson theatre to check out the Peter Elkas Band. Backed by 3/4 of the locally legendary Burt Neilson Band, as well as a saxophone player, Elkas shared some tracks from his new record 'Repeat Offender' which felt in step with his soulful Motown tendencies. There was also a healthy helping of E-Street vibe and knowing of Elkas' love of the Boss, it made sense hearing the straight rock beats and rhythmic piano stylings fit into his original sound. The theatre certainly has it's pros and cons from the perspective of both the performer or the audience, but the band kept us engaged with their tasteful playing and spot on harmonies. Another highlight was a great version of Otis Redding's 'I Can't Turn You Loose'. Hopefully one day we'll see them playing on a big stage, out in the sun while enjoying beer. From the confines of the theatre, we walked back outdoors and over to the Subway stage to check out 5x BMA nominee MICHAEL POWERS. Now, I've never been nominated for a Blues Music Award- but I bet if I had been, or ever am, I wouldn't demand that that information appear along side my name every time it is written, uttered or pondered. He definitely played the blues, but I actually can't remember one interesting thing about his music, because I spent all my time imagining the decision making process that led to his multiple nominations becoming his title, if not his name. Also, why in CAPS, MICHAEL? Is this how you get attention in the world of the Blues? Enough about 5x BMA nominee MICHEAL POWERS, but hopefully next year 1x JAMMY AWARDS nominee NERO will be invited to re-unite for a high paid set at the festival. Erykah Badhu's delayed start led to setting up semi-permanent camp at the Subway stage, which resulted in being treated to the electro Latino vibes of the Spam Allstars. Keeping things rolling through the late afternoon warmth, the grooves were danceable and highlighted by some fantastic percussive work. DJ le Spam's base tracks are heavy and he is as energetic as they come behind his decks. Saturday was a big night of music as far as headliners go, with M. Ward, the Tragically Hip and Shpongle all going head to head. I started out at the Hip, and couldn't help but be impressed with their musical tightness and iconic stage presence. This is really one of Canada's best-ever bands, and by the size of the crowd, the people know this. The band played with virtuous-tic purpose and was totally on point for everything I witnessed. Gord Downie started with his antics early, offering as he typically does, an entirely improvised one-man mime show featuring hundreds of characters in interpretational scenarios, while simultaneously singing the hits. I think his method of engagement is superbly original, and still draws me in after twenty years seeing them live. However, I miss the days when you could actually count on him to sing a few songs with that unique tambre, instead of scream everything, off-kilter of the original vocal patterns. M. Ward was a quick stop, as I was quite keen to spend some time with Shpongle.. and Simon Posford did not dissappoint. With a long set of psci-trance delivered from atop a white pyramid with face melting projections, visual effects and enough smoke'n'mirrors to entertain even the most sober of witnesses there was no leaving. The scene was also very sparse and friendly, and I find as I get a little older, atmostphere can sometimes be equally as important as the music. Saturday ended dancing among friends and making plans for go for a few drinks and keep the festival magic alive. Peter Frampton - Ottawa Bluesfest 7-10-2011 Sunday was one of the festival's big programming days, and the only way to approach these conflict ridden days is to submit to the flow. We arrived to Peter Frampton rocking the mainstage with an outstanding group of players. Dancing through the classics of 'Frampton Comes Alive' was never more fun, but his acoustic portion was a little on the sleepy side, so after filling up on the hits, we zipped over to the National Bank stage to check out 'Neon Indian'. Sadly, this set was re-scheduled to an earlier start and we missed it entirely. That's okay- the Funky Meters are playing just over the hill! Amazing to watch these legends playing music that has been so influential for so many. George Porter Jr. is a monster of a bass player, and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. plays with such groove, that it appered the entire drum riser was in danger of collapsing-- in fact, cymbals were falling off, microphones were toppling, and the whole kit was quivering like a jellow salad. It was actually making me a little anxious to see- but he never missed a beat and the band kept the whole crowd transfixed and grooving. I would've taken in the whole thing, but one of my childhood favourites, Huey Lewis and the News, were about to kick off at the Claridge stage. Connected with friends and dug into a set peppered with hits, but made up mostly of new 'Soulsville' material. There were a few glaring emissions, (Hip to be square? Stuck with you?) but it was a real nice time.. although things got a little uncomfortable when Huey sang about being a '60 minute man', and gesturing suggestively, igniting further discussion of his rumoured prowess. Committing to this set was tough, because it meant missing Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Yukon Blonde entirely, both whom I was excited to see on the roster. One more point for nostalgia, I suppose. Huey Lewis and the News - Ottawa Bluesfest 5-10-2011 The last slot of the night was split between Leon Russell, lighting up the stage with his huge white beard and attire like the ghost of country Christmas past, A Perfect Circle and Dumpstaphunk. Leon Russell has played with everyone and seemed to be sampling all their catalogues for this performance. Soaring pedal steel and mandolin complimented his piano work and Willy Nelson-like vocals, through awesome arrangements of tunes like 'Wild Horses' and 'I've Just Seen a Face'. Definitely a personality that I'd like to learn a little more about. Took a quick visit to see 'A Perfect Circle', and although I didn't stay long, the tight crispness of the music intrigued me to explore their catalogue as well. They played a dark version of 'Imagine' as I jogged over to Dumpstaphunk to check out some great funk. I stopped along the way at the western porta-potties and took 'A Perfect Dump'. Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk is a perfect festival set experience- funky to the core and loaded with talent. Also a great way to end the weekend, dancing amongst great friends. A short bike-ride home and I'm ready for a day off. Sleep well.
  5. Written by: Jay McConnery David Clayton Thomas - Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by Peter Waiser Smelling like the odour of RibFest, impregnated Tim's mini-donut shack, and gave birth to something delicious with stale draught beer oozing from its pores, big fat Bluesfest, bloated with everyone we know, greeted us for a third night in a row. After zig-zaging through the infuriating mousetrap that awaits ticket holders at the Main Gate, were able to walk around, catch our breathe and get down to some music-loving! A little late off the mark, we arrived in time to catch the beginning of Girl Talk- a very popular mash-up DJ, who had a bouncing gang of very enthusiastic kids onstage encouraging him as he swayed shirtless between his two laptops. There were some flashing screens, as well as some well timed confetti cannons erupting dramatically in time with samples from songs of yesteryear that can't help but get you moving, or at least tug your soul strings a bit. The cynic in me is quick to think that he is simply talented at beat matching, using lots of great music very effectively- and although that is a big part of why it works- there is also a well designed show and obvious passion behind the performance. I just hope one day all wedding DJs are this good and these songs can be enjoyed with the whole family, in a poorly decorated gym, while creepy old Uncle Mookie watches from the shadows, motionless. Next up for us was the Sheep Dogs, who were one of my more anticipated acts of the weekend. I thought their new record 'Learn and Burn' and video clips on their site sounded great and I really like their brand of California (via Saskatchewan) Classic rock, but it felt like things weren't clicking on stage. The mix was definitely off, most notably during several of the guitar solos through their set-closing cover of Neil Young's 'Down By the River' and then confusion bubbled up again when singer Ewan Currie attempted to engage the audience in some misplaced call and response, which obviously wasn't tried tested and true.. luckily they brought it back and rocked to finish. There were definitley some good moments of playing and Currie's voice sounds undoubtabley like a young David Crosby with vibrato to match, I hope to catch them in the future, perhaps in a sweaty tavern. After catching up with with friends, we walked over by the Hard Rock stage and caught the opening track of David Clayton-Thomas' show, which thankfully was 'Painted Pony'. What a kick-ass tune. Definitely an old school Sinatra performance vibe from the former front man, with a huge talented band to match. I will use this as an opportunity to remind myself watch the Yonge Street Rock'n'Roll documentary as soon as I have a chance. The headliners of the night were and Stephen Marley (yes- he is related!). I first saw Steve Miller back at Lansdowne Park in the early 90s, on a bill with Extreme, Brian Adams, Sass Jordan and Furnaceface, and was just recently reminded of the painfully tight white bicyclye shorts he wore for that set accented by a baggy black t-shirt. Maybe sharing the stage with such edgy contemporaries drove him to out-extreme Extreme? Thankfully, we've both grown a little older and Steve (wearing pants) stepped onto the stage to run through all the songs that everyone knows and loves. There is something comforting turning around and seeing a police officer mouthing the words to 'Take the Money and Run' or having a drunken 50 year old woman notice me singing along, and ask if my dad played this for me when I was a kid (he did) and that my dad must be cool (up for debate). Nostalgia can be fun, and it's a big part of the Bluesfest experience on a lot of levels. Steve's band may not be the best he's had on the road, but it doesn't matter and everyone there had a great time enjoying a rock'n'roll icon with friends. Over to , we were treated to some great renditions of Bob Marley classics and some not too shabby originals either. I was tempted to pick up a 6-pack of 'Marley's Mellow Mood" (juice?) and do it right, but I was already feeling pretty mellow and thankful.
  6. 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.
  7. Marco Benevento Photo by: Mike Bouchard Review by: Todd Snelgrove Photos by: Mike Bouchard Live recording by Bradm Get the full show here Last night Marco Benevento and his trio presented an evening of riveting blissed-out sonic onslaughts to a positively raging Ottawa crowd. A hundred best friends wallowed in one anthemic exploration after another during a night that felt more like a reunion than anything else. I jumped out of a cab to find dozens of great people milling about outside the Elmdale Tavern around 10:30. Previous commitments prevented me from catching Dave Lauzon open the show with an Envelope 3 set, but all reports were glowing. Set break had just begun and as the place emptied I was greeted with a myriad of familiar faces from a thousand shows gone by. Hugs and high-fives kept me busy for the next twenty minutes; it seems this show had pulled out most of the old Ottawa crowd all on the same night, a seemingly rare feat as of late. And every hippy handshake reminded me that we used to do this a lot more often. Even the out-of-towners were out in a show of strength, with several of southern Ontario's usual suspects and even a new pair of regulars who made the drive up from a snowy Vermont for the show. The Elmdale is a great choice for a new musical movement. A great staff presides over a room with good vibes and solid sight lines, plus there's pool. The place retains just enough of a dive feel to add authenticity to their admirable musical motif. The fantastic murals featuring icons such as Chuck Berry and Keith Richards (painted by a member of Big Jeezus Truck) surround a quaint little stage while the big red block letters spelling out NREVAT in the front window remind one that this is the kind of place our dad's used to spend hazy afternoons drinking out of stubbies and where Molson Ex is still available by the quart. Pickled eggs and salty, salty cheese sit on the bar like antique biology experiments and now, for a limited time only, the strangely attractive and utterly deplorable Double Down is available just next door at Scott's Chicken Villa. Recognizing bassist Dave Dreiwitz from many a Ween experience I notice the band milling about on the sidewalk with the rest of us, waiting for the set to start. I love the homey non-pretension that comes with a band mingling with it's audience. Perhaps it indicates the band considers themselves and the audience equal players in the musical melange, one feeding the other in some sort of chicken and egg relationship, or maybe it just means the Elmdale has no band room. Either way, it's homey. Joints puffed and smokes smoked, when the time came around both band and audience were ready out of the chute. As the players stepped onstage they already seemed warmed up, as did the crowd. Loosely precise from the get-go, from the opening notes it felt like a warm and fuzzy psychedelic barroom, the full sound lathering up a well-juiced group of hungry music aficionados. Andrew Borger and Dave Dreiwitz Photo by: Mike Bouchard Heads were bobbing and beer was flowing while Benevento pounded out a barrel-house on his abbreviated upright Wurlitzer, accompanied by the aforementioned Dreiwitz and drummer Andrew Borger. The crowd got sucked in completely and immediately and quickly filled the vortex in front of the stage. The band took a big bite out of the energy they were given and spit it right back at the appreciative audience, and thus began a couple of sets of sonic symbiosis that reminded me of why I bother to get out of my house and see live music once in a while. The great thing about a power trio is the players have so much space to fill they are free to overplay their asses off without stepping on toes, and in the right hands one can get doused in a sound that can get downright beautiful in it's manic intensity (for further study see: Led Zeppelin). By the third number all interested parties were in agreement that the levels were finally just right and the three musicians were free to overplay to perfection. Every piece of solid material available to them was utilised. Andrew beat every inch of his enormous Gretsch drumkit; skins, rims and stands alike while Dave stepped up Allen Woody-style to provide a frantically meandering low-end foundation on the bass that proved unrelenting. Marco Benevento's custom piano Photo by: Mike Bouchard Marco has his piano pimped out with pickups and effects pedals and he wrenches some ungodly tones from every toenail of his Frankenstein monster. The keys are black and red, a peculiar setup that seems to give the piano some sort of super-power, akin to the car in the Blues Brothers movie, or when fire lights up a Flaming Homer. Together the three musicians are an unstoppable beast, especially when fueled by drunken love on par with what they were receiving last night. Hovering mere inches over the band helped the crowd feel like they were in the drivers seat, maybe some a little more than others (too much?), but it looked like the band could really feel it; the night was one big long moment to cherish, and nobody wanted to spoil it. A show of this caliber is a real treat for the Ottawa scene and our appreciation was blatantly clear. Such a packed, intimate venue created some serious energy, and the band was obviously ecstatic to play for such a raging crowd. Indeed, I heard that Dreiwitz commented how he regularly plays in NYC for some pretty modest crowds, and having a chance to rage was as much a treat for him as anyone. Drinking out of quarts makes me feel tiny, and drunk, and it looked like I wasn't the only one. Squeezing through the crowd to the cramped washroom was one of the comical highlights of the evening. After stepping over one wook that was too messed to know he was on the floor and past two more that were stuck somewhere between nodding and sleeping I burst into a bathroom replete with a NO2 tank and about a dozen freaky partakers. Every gender was represented and there was absolutely no room to actually use the toilet, so I sucked back a balloon and headed outside to pee like everybody else. Marco Benevent0 Photo by: Mike Bouchard Back inside, the band was nearing the end of the first set. More accessible than MMW with a more honest and real groove than most of what passes for jam rock, acid jazz, call it what you will, Supertramp on LSD, these guys can play the sh!t out of one chord and even keep the jazz snobs happy, the next minute pumping out jazz chords while still managing to keep the hippy asses shaking. Nobody, and I mean nobody went home at set break, and primed and ready we all reclaimed our sweaty spots when set two finally rolled around. Dave Dreiwitz Photo by Mike BouchardA few songs in the band made a well-appreciated tip of the hat to Dreiwitz's higher-profile gig, with an instrumental homage to Ween's Baby Bitch that began a classic-rock journey that morphed in and out of Pink Floyd's Fearless, touching on Elton John's Benny & The Jets along the way. Every subsequent number was an anthem, every musical reference so perfectly placed and wonderfully executed they seemed nothing short of majestic. The crowd kept buying it so the band kept selling it, in bulk. To look around and hear music of this quality in a room this small was a shock to the senses. We all hung on every timbre, even (especially?) those that don't know what timbre means. If there is a downside to seeing such consummate professionals in such a small setting it's the slightly demeaning chores they must endure like announcing last call, which last night launched into a delicious cover of Sloop John B from the great Pet Sounds before finding it's way into a Zeppelin medley that twisted Black Dog into a fist-pumping Moby Dick. The energy in the room got so thick even the soundman was standing on his chair singing along with Good Times, Bad Times, his arms raised in the air, eyes shut tight. Thank god for “The fuÇking encore.” Perhaps inspired by the giant picture of Dylan on the wall, perhaps influenced by the unmistakable smell of reefer on, well, everybody, Marco et al kept the sing-along singing along with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 [editor's note: The “fact” that 12 multiplied by 35 results in 420 has been deemed an utter coincidence and is likely not even based on true mathematics has been firmly and thoughtfully established beyond most reasonably consideration]. At the musical height of the evening, Marco Benevento Photo by: Mike Bouchard Benevento raced Bathtub Gin-esque quartal harmony lines up and down his music box and somehow got us to a divine cover of Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better, from The Spy Who Loved Me. The three of them (and I suppose the hundred and forty of us) bled it for all it could be bled, and after that there was really nothing else that could be done. Quenched, band and audience stepped away from the god of sound and called it a night. The promoter was pleased, the musicians were sated, the crowd and the bar staff appeared giddy with the night. Hell, even the grumpy lady who kept shooing the joint smokers away from the doorway outside was smiling by the end of the night (likely a contact high). Success. The night was a sweet, musical success. Out on the sidewalk it seemed people were clamoring to have as many after-parties as possible and I myself managed to make an appearance at two. Absolutely refreshed in the nostalgic feeling of laying my tired drunken head down at 5am, I and the rest of my Ottawa brethren can't wait to find an excuse to do this again, real soon. Just like we used to.
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