Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
The first band to rip open the night was Spell Runner, from Albany, New York. Their wild playing bordered power punk and garage punk, teetering from one to the other. The drumrolls, guitar riffs, and throaty screams melded together and created a chaotic unity.
The guitar playing was of higher pitch and let loose. Each stroke came quickly after the last while leaving a resonance that echoed in the background. Deconstructed and split into two parts, the guitars seemed to squabble with one-another whilst adding a spacey sci-fi-esque sound to the songs. It painted the atmosphere with several shades of electric green, and yellow. The solos were rapid and executed with ease. They provided teal splashes and they drew you in.
The vocals dominated with the throaty screams that ripped from the lead singer. They created the illusion of the instrumentals mellowing out around them. Amidst the technical issues, the stage presence and sheer power of the screams were enough to get people moving and thrashing. The wild screams blasted bursts of irritated reds through the soundscape and allowed for rusty oranges to come through in bubbles.
The bass rumbled in the background and incorporated deeper greens due to the heavy weighted tone. It wasn’t quite warm but it droned on, having kept a steady tempo while snapping in an aggressive edge. Buried in the midst of mass amount of noise, it found a way to stand out and rattle your ribcage.
The drumming remained warm and hollow. They didn’t boom and cling to the air. Instead, the sound fell short, one beat after another. The fills and rolls tied the songs together in a grimy fashion. Tainted in raw golden orange, sunset yellow, and yellow-green, the drumming provided something to thrash to while maintaining a welcoming presence.
Next up was Ottawa’s own thrash metal band World War 4. Crossing over to punk and doom metal, the band brings forth something unconventional yet they do it in such a way that it blends together near perfectly. The fusion of chaos and disorder find a mutual unity within this bands music.
The guitar progressed with violent chugs of muted chords that would unleash themselves wildly, deep navy blues and lime greens taking over progressively. The riffs had a sharp tone to them and splashes of celeste would spray across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the bass found a deep rumble in the background and served to stabilize the wild guitar riffs. It too was played without mercy and with brutal ferocity. It was the steel blue backbone to the mess.
The vocals cut in with brutality and rage. Throaty and as rough as the guitars chugging, they showed absolutely no mercy whatsoever. The vocals cut in with rusty oranges and brutal murky yellows. The sounds ripped from the very back of the throat were a deep stark burgundy, contrasting with the tones of the guitar.
The drumming was quick and each beat fell viciously after the next, having melded into a disarray. Vehement, the crash of the cymbals was brutally cold and sprayed trails of teal across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the snare and the toms found a thick, full, warm sound that couldn’t be ignored.
The last band of the night was High Command. Dissonant aggression and tight drumming, slow buildups, and wild basslines, the band did not disappoint.
The vocals came from exhaled screams, and quite literally ripped themselves free from the lead singers body. They were meant to comes out. Matched to the overall intensity, the seasick green that erupted from the vocal stylings was incredible. Backed by the enraged reds of the power chords, there was nothing held back. Every ounce of energy and soul was thrust into each song. The guitar playing was quick in tempo, and there was much tremolo, despite this, the hostility did not waver and only became more prominent.
The bass seemed to follow the guitar but would rip out its own deep solos that couldn’t help but catch my attention. Adding to the thrashing, it provides a depth to the pieces. Brutal, brisk, and murky, the swampy colours it radiated fit perfectly together and created a backbone to the guitar.
The drums were boney and full. Cold and thrashing, they held absolutely nothing back and gave everyone something to headbang to. The sheer frosty feeling they possessed took over the atmosphere and really drove the moshpit home. The brutality was remarkable and there was nothing quite like it.
A crossover show of punk and metal is something that is generally turned down or slightly frowned upon but I must say that these bands absolutely throw those notions out the window. They are must sees that will inevitably change your viewpoint on the genre.
Last weekend was stacked with good shows. No matter what I chose to do there was an equally solid show happening elsewhere. One of the options was Mushy Gushy, No Aloha, and Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel—and there are no regrets.
The night started off with friends hugging and smiles abound. It’s always nice to see a lineup where the bands know each other or have worked together in the past. The weather was warm and soggy, but the sky was clear and folks began to trickle in as local garage-psyche marvels Casa Lagarto took the stage.
Casa Lagarto is a mashup of well-seasoned artists in the community, including Jonny Yuma (formerly of The Yips), Arturo Portocarrero (Lost To The River), Grant McNeil (Tropical Country), Jason Barkhouse (Black Lab Studios), and Jonathan Pearce (Winchester Warm/Mushy Gushy) filling in for Travis Kinnear who just recently celebrated the birth of his first daughter. Their set was tight and their arrangements came through crisply into our ears.
Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Casa Lagarto’s music could be the soundtrack to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I mean that in the best way possible. I feel like their music would fit perfectly into an acid trip on a desert highway in Nevada somewhere. Casa’s sound is clearly influenced by psych and rockabilly, taking elements from various styles and making them their own. Johnny Yuma’s low, brooding vocals enthralled the audience and his exquisite clean guitar tone could give you goosebumps. Jon Pearce filled in perfectly, and somehow knew the songs like the back of his hand. Some key tracks they played were “Lights Out” and “Scarecrow,” and I highly recommend you go dive deep into Casa’s albums on Bandcamp. The group layered their sound well in the live setting, using the intimacy of the bookstore to enhance their individual instruments to create a warm and rich atmosphere for us all to enjoy the show.
Next on deck was No Aloha, a summer-friendly garage rock group from Montreal that has some loving fans here in Ottawa. As an aside, we presented No Aloha at Mugshots back in 2015 along with Bonnie Doon and Nightshades and it still remains one of the funnest shows we’ve ever done to date. They are fresh off the release of their new EP Cigarettes for Optimists and rocked the house at Black Squirrel.
No Aloha at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
This group may seem like a bunch of slacker rock dudes, with their long hair and rarely-groomed faces. However, they’re anything but. This band is well-rehearsed and have a chemistry that is instantly noticeable when they hit the stage and start playing together. With flying guitar riffs, impactful percussion, and Ben Griffiths’ smooth vocals, this group injected some energy into the room. They dug into their impressive catalogue from the past few years throughout the set and pleased the audience and got some bodies moving. Black Squirrel is a versatile venue for all kinds of shows, and the place was perfect for the diverse sounds of this lineup. Lets hope these dudes come back to Ottawa soon, because they’re a party.
Last up was Mushy Gushy, an Ottawa “butt-rock” band that takes a fun spin on rock and roll. While it’s hard to imagine these guys ever not having fun, this night was bittersweet. Kyle Woods, the original drummer and founding member of the band has recently moved to Toronto and got a job there (congrats to him!). But the show must go on. Thus, this show was to be his last as he moves on to new journeys. While this kind of mutual parting is difficult for friends and band mates, it was clear that the sweet outweighed the bitter. Kyle was radiating smiles and hugs, and obviously this was to be a memorable night for him and the band as they decidedly wanted to end his tenure with a bang.
Mushy Gushy consists of more music scene veterans here in Ottawa—bassist Jon Pearce (Winchester Warm), drummer Kyle Woods (fmr. Kalle Mattson), guitarist Cory Lefebvre (fmr. Baberaham Lincoln), and vocalist Dave Gervais (fmr. The Gallop). But more than anything, this group of buds just wants to have fun, and that is evident in their compositions. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s refreshing.
Mushy Gushy at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
The ‘Gush have released two excellent EPs so far since coming together in 2016—Tight Snake and More Butter. I just can’t wait to hear what their third release will be called with titles like that. We presented their tape release party at Bar Robo a few years back, and let me tell you—it was a time. Kyle carried the whole set through, and he played the drums more fervent than ever. His rhythm was flawless and his beard was flying to-and-fro to the uptempo rock and roll his group performs. Cory’s fluttering guitar riffs flew over Jon’s steady bass lines as the tracks kept the crowd energized and engaged. They had the crowd singing the irresistible catchy “Oh Oh Ohs” in “Heartbreak Motel” and had booties shaking during “Summer Lusting.” Closer to the end of their set they played their most well-known jam, “Schemestress,” at which point the night hit its climax. The song is a feel-good summer tune, and the hook will grab you and hold on tight. David Gervais’ songwriting is on point, and his vocals add the finishing touch to their part pop, part-garage rock sound with just enough catchiness and grit to go around. All in all, it was a night of good vibes and good memories were made.
On Bluesfest Day 10, I arrived super early to the “doors” and waited in line, in the non-bag line. There were about 8 people ahead of me, until a security guard came over and made more lanes for the metal detectors so now I was first in line in one lane. I wanted to be up front center for the last day of Bluesfest since Rise Against is a band I use to listen to growing up.
The security finally let us go through the gates at around 3:20 pm, a crowd of about 30 people (15-ish were from the bag line) speed walked or walked casually towards the main stage, or beer tent. As I was going towards the stage I caught a whiff of what smelled like cow manure… The smell stayed in the air the entire day, but lessened throughout thankfully.
Animal Confession rocking Bluesfest 2018 in Ottawa, ON.
The first band that played was called Animal Confession, They are a 3-piece Ottawa hard rock band. I had never heard of them before, but they were pretty damn good! It’s really great that Ottawa Bluesfest supports local bands and doesn’t just try to go for what’s already “popular.” The group seemed very happy to play at Ottawa Bluesfest, even with the small-sized crowd that was there super early. I think the lead singer even mentioned it was their first time playing Bluesfest, so it’s definitely something to be proud of. If you ever get the chance to see Animal Confession I would definitely recommend it—they’re a great sounding local Ottawa band!
The Jerry Cans bringing a northern touch to Bluesfest 2018 in Ottawa, ON.
The Jerry Cans were the second band of the day for the City Stage. The crowd had grown a bit more by now. The Jerry Cans are an Inuktitut rock n’ roll band that combine folk and country music with throat singing. The Jerry Cans—also known as, ᐸᐃ ᒑᓚᖃᐅᑎᒃᑯᑦ (Pai Gaalaqautikkut)—are from Iqaluit, Nunavut. This band was definitely something special and unique. Most of their songs are sung in the beautiful Inuktitut language, combined with traditional throat singing. They talked about how life is different where they are from, up north, where they deal with problems such as high suicide rates and depression. One of the members even mentioned how they lost a loved one about two weeks ago to suicide. The band talked about the meaning of their songs and what each one is about, songs about encouraging young ones to live life and to be happy. It was truly moving. The Jerry Cans also played cheerful and happy songs to dance to, even teaching us some phrases and words in Inuktitut! Traditional throat singing, which I had never really heard before, was actually really interesting and beautiful. If The Jerry Cans are ever playing a show near you, I highly recommend you go check them out—they’re awesome.
Dear Rouge performing at Bluesfest 2018 in Ottawa, ON.
The third band of the day for the big stage was Dear Rouge. Now this was a band I’ve heard of and seen before. The crowd had grown significantly by this point, a large crowd. Last time I saw Dear Rouge was in 2016 at HOPE Volleyball, I didn’t know who they were back then as I was waiting to see Hey Rosetta! but I don’t remember much from that day anymore. Dear Rouge is a pop/rock group from Vancouver. The band started to play the beginning of a song and Danielle, the lead singer, walked onto stage with this flashy large-sequin dress and ready to rock.
The band played three songs and everyone was having a good time, they start the 4th song and about half-way through we hear a pop noise and then silence from the stage, shortly followed by the digital displays turning off. The stage lost power! All the band members looked puzzled with Danielle not knowing what to do, holding out her hands in confusion. Danielle then decides to hop down off stage while tech scramble to try to figure out the problem and solve it. Danielle walked up to the front of the crowd in the media pit and then down the catwalk greeting and thanking people for coming. People were saying things like “I love you” to her and she replied with “I love you too,” I found it funny but also sweet. Since I was at the very front I heard a security guard talking to someone from the crowd saying “I thought it was a weird way to end a song so suddenly, and then I started to see puzzled looks on people’s faces and turned around to see the band just as confused!”
Danielle finally made her way to where I was to give people handshakes and high-fives, instead we gave an awkward hand-grab since I didn’t know which hand she was going to use—I chose poorly. Danielle then left backstage while we waited for the problem to be sorted with the power, the same security guard from before made a joke along the lines of “What a bad time to forget to pay the electricity bill!”. We then see the drummer come onto stage to test the drums and see if the power is back but alas it is not yet, the crowd then starts to chant “drum solo”. The drummer hears and then begins to drum the start of the 20th Century Fox intro theme and then points to the crowd when it comes to the brass instrumental part and the crowd sang the rest of the tune with their mouths and the drummer drumming along.
A couple more minutes passed by and then the bassist came onto the stage and it seemed like they’ve fixed the power now. The bassist starts to play “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes with the drummer joining him, this goes on for about 15 seconds or so until they quit, and Danielle and Drew rejoin them on stage ready to start rocking again. Danielle later takes out a purple smoke bomb with a good amount of smoke blowing into Drews face, while shes dancing and singing on stage. Dear Rouge’s performance was definitely an unforgettable one with so much stuff happening. I would recommend seeing Dear Rouge whenever possible, they are a fun band, and definitely kick ass!
The fourth band of the day hit the stage, and oh boy did the crowd grow in numbers! Three Days Grace is a rock band from Norwood, Ontario. To be honest, I never really listened to any of their music but definitely heard of them before, and of course heard a few songs here and there without knowing who it was. I only found out at the show that the previous lead singer (Adam Gontier) left the band in 2013, and a different guy (Matt Walst) from a band called “My Darkest Days” filled Adam’s position. Knowing this, I wondered how the crowd would receive this new guy, especially for old classics by Adam. Everyone seemed to love the new guy as he was very energetic. The band had roughly 50 guitar picks, most of them white and a small amount were red, on the microphone stands of the 3 guitarists. No they do not shred guitar picks so fast that they constantly need new ones, they throw all of them into the crowd at fans throughout the show.
The members were a bit far away from the crowd due to the large gap created by the big media pit being, so a good number of the picks thrown didn’t make it into into the crowd right away, and security had to pick them up and give them to us or throw them further into the crowd. I managed to get one of the many guitar picks, its white with a very quick and rough doodle of a guitar one one side and “Three Days Grace” in fancy script writing. During the show Matt got two mosh pits going on both sides of the crowd (we were separated in the center by a catwalk). Matt was full of energy and it was to fun watch him running around and singing, I even saw some of the security guards at the front mouthing the words to some of the older songs such as “The Good Life,” which was pretty cool. I would see Three Days Grace again if they came back, but next time I’ll be sure to learn the songs so I can sing along!
Rise Against getting loud to close out Bluesfest 2018 in Ottawa, ON.
Rise Against, rocked the final night for Ottawa Bluesfest 2018 with a 17-song set. Rise Against is a punk rock band from Chicago, the only non-Canadian band to play the main stage on the final day. When I was younger I used to listen to Rise Against a lot as I would listen to whatever music my father liked and had in his collection, but over time I haven’t listened to them as much. I hadn’t listened to their newest album Wolves at all before going to the show, so I was kind of excited to hear some new stuff (to me), they ended up playing three tracks off the album.
My father once told me that he saw Rise Against at Bluesfest before, and when they finished they headed over to the merchandise tent for signing stuff and meeting the fans, according to my father they had a really large line and they didn’t leave until the entire line was gone. They were loyal to their fans and made sure everyone was happy, that’s something that I felt when I saw them. The members of Rise Against seemed like very kind and genuine guys, they were here to share a good time and make memories, and not play just for money and go home. This was my first time ever seeing Rise Against, and hopefully not my last. During the song “Megaphone,” the lead singer Tim McIlrath was singing with a megaphone in his hand. The crowd got crazy whenever they played their classic songs, and crazy again when Tim was in the crowd singing with everyone.
The band played fast songs but also some slow songs, it was a good ratio. Tim played three songs on the acoustic guitar for a little acoustic intermission, and everyone was suddenly more calm and things slowed down, well for a little bit. I think the crowd was most boistrous during the song “Saviour,” which is one of my favourites and one of their most popular ones. During the show I noticed that even more of the security guards at the front were singing along with the words to the songs, I think just about everyone was having an awesome night, an amazing way to end Bluesfest 2018.
When Rise Against finished, they threw more guitar picks, drumsticks, and stuck their taped setlists to water bottles to throw into the crowd. They also threw some of what appeared to be rolled up t-shirts into the crowd! If you ever get the chance to see Rise Against, do it, they’re an awesome punk rock band! 11/10 would see again.
I’ve been in Ottawa for five years and believe it or not, this year’s Bluesfest was my first. Despite it being Friday the 13th, this day was anything but unlucky. The crowd at the City Stage was treated to three amazing shows by artists who have all had considerable success worldwide.
Starting off the night was Juno Nominee J.W Jones. The Ottawa bluesman, who’s played with the likes of Buddy Guy and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, is known for his high energy shows and improvisational skills. He sure did not disappoint the crowd. Up next on the City Stage was Sturgill Simpson, who’s 2016 release “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” earned the Grammy for the Best Country Album and a nomination in the Album of the Year category. He played tracks off his most recent major label release, some classics from his independent days and a surprising amount of covers, including Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy”.
Finishing off the night was the incomparable Beck. I discovered Beck as a child. I was going through my family’s then “state-of-the-art” Windows ME and found the track “Beautiful Way” from 1999’s “Midnite Vultures”. This track was used as a demo track for Windows Media Player at the time. Later in my teenage years, I dove into his extensive and eclectic discography. I became a huge fan of Beck and his way of mastering which ever music genre he touches.
Before the show, I had heard a lot of people say that the Beck show would either be hit or miss. I kind of felt that way too. Having seen a few of his live shows online. I had friends ask me if I was excited to see Beck and I told them “It’s just Beck—I’m just going to the show to say that I saw Beck.” Boy, was I ever wrong.
Beck arrived on stage around 9:35 pm. The crowd was filled with people of all ages. It seems as though people have forgotten the amount of hits this guy has pumped out over the years. He started off with “Devils Haircut” from his 1996 album “Odelay” and then went straight into his breakthrough single “Loser” soon after. I was afraid that tracks from albums like 2002’s “Sea Change” and 2014’s “Morning Phase” wouldn’t exactly fit in with his upbeat repertoire in a live setting, but I was wrong again. In the middle of his Bluesfest show, his band got their acoustic instruments out and they played “Lost Cause,” “Debra” (with a medley into Prince’s “Raspberry Barret”), and “Blue Moon.” The crowd sang along, and it was definitely an intimate moment. One of he best moments of the show.
Beck finished off the night with yet another hit and quite possibly one of his biggest—“Where It’s At”. Mid-way into the track, he introduced his band, which featured studio musician and ex-Jellyfish member Jason Falkner.
Beck was definitely a highlight for me. It was a highlight for a lot of people at Bluesfest this year. I believe it was a highlight for Beck himself, who stated mid-way into the show that it was his first time in Ottawa and that he would love to visit the nation’s capital.
Beck has such a Beautiful Way of showing off his genre-bending discography. One could say I was completely WOW-ed by what happened at the end of the show: I was lucky enough to pick up one of the setlists from the stage. It was then time to Say Goodbye. Setlist in hand, I walked off and told myself that the Beck show—That’s Where it was at… Good one right?
Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
Live on Elgin has a very different vibe from other venues I’ve been to in the past. More interactive while reserved, it held a fresh energy.
The first act to go on was Charlie the Kid – and while he did host, he put on a comedic and upbeat show. While maintaining a Beans on Toast kind of folk sound, Charlie not only told personal anecdotes but created a youthful vibe. He painted the scene with chalky oranges and vivid mustard yellows. His voice, though unclean, created a wash of yellow-green – almost a pear colour. The higher notes painted peachy streaks through the air. His performance was vivacious and lively, not having missed a beat.
The guitar he played was light and airy – an acoustic performance polished but holding an authentic vibe. It held a hollow sound, a little dissonant at times, but bright. At times Charlie the Kid played choked chords that slowly transitioned to ones that hung in the air. His technique added splashes of rusty red to the yellow atmosphere. The occasional blue snuck its way in with the license plates he used as a makeshift drum.
Steph La Rochelle performing at LIVE on Elgin in Ottawa, ON.
Next up was Steph La Rochelle, a pop singer whose music borders on country. Her soft and melodic voice sent waves of serenity through the audience and painted the scene soft pinks and peachy oranges. It carried and had a hard edge despite how mellow it was. The covers she performed were outstanding with the way she controlled her vocals – high notes with a gentle vibrato, and drawn out lyrics. Her originals came directly from the heart and you saw it painted on her face.
Her guitar playing combined alternative picking and strumming of airy chords. It was bright and metallic, the steel strings truly emphasized throughout. Tapping the wooden surface of the guitar for a drum-like sound added earthy reds to the atmosphere that Steph painted with her voice. Beautiful, mellow, and calm, her performance took you away with her.
Headlining the show was Kyle Ivan joined on stage with a band. High energy and loose fun, there wasn’t a moment where he didn’t seem to be having a good time. He immersed the audience in his performance while creating a space where people were free to dance as wildly as Peanuts characters. His voice was smooth and the harmonizations he created with the bassist were riveting. The vocal range Kyle holds is impressive in itself, tainting the atmosphere a wide range of blue-greens and electric orange.
While Kyle played an acoustic guitar and the melodies created started mellow and slowly built up, the bass added a depth that wouldn’t be achievable otherwise. It added bold reds to the otherwise slightly colder atmosphere. To add to the bold colours, the drums came in with warm toms and cold cymbals, taking over the soundscape. The drummer and bassist only added to the performance with their evident enthusiasm.
If you’re ever in need of a good time with performers who will crack you up, you can always rely on these guys. They have a way with the crowd and a knack for humour that you won’t want to miss out on. Not only are they humourous but they woo the crowd with their amazing tunes and unique voices.
Bluesfest has changed a lot for me. And how could it not? Over the last ten years I’ve been psyched to see artists like The Weakerthans, The Tragically Hip, Roger Hodgson (yes I love Supertramp, fight me), Attack In Black, King Khan, The Aggrolites, etc, etc. Naturally the festival has changed a lot, and so have I.
When this year’s lineup announced that people like Foo Fighters and Courtney Barnett were coming, I knew I’d have to go. But I hoped they would play on the same day so I wouldn’t have to endure the massive crowds, overpriced beers and sweltering heat for any more time than absolutely necessary. Also the new “no ins-and-outs” policy is stupid for a number of reasons, but mainly that I couldn’t hop across to Hull and pound a few tall cans on the bike path before going back to the festival (I’m spoiled, I know but whatever let me complain a little). Nonetheless, I was beyond stoked to go see an all-time favourite, and a more recent new favourite artist perform in my hometown.
Since I’ve gotten more involved in the local independent music community in Ottawa in more recent years, I’ve lost a lot of interest in seeing a lot of big stadium-sized concerts and have really prioritized going to “shows” over “concerts” if ya know what I mean. I realize a certain amount of hipster snobbery could be inferred by that, but really I just have more interest in supporting my music community and being part of small, intimate shows where you can actually see the band and meet them and they’re actually real people. That’s become way more appealing than giving more money and attention to massive acts who already have plenty of those things. It’s not a steadfast rule, more of an emerging tendency I guess. Screw the hipster punk purity, I’m allowed to like some stadium rock. Let me have this one.
It had been ten years since my sister and I went to see Foo Fighters play at the Corel Centre (I know it’s not called that, save it for the comment section, ya dingus). Against Me! were opening that tour, and I had recently become a mega fan of that band so it was super rad but a little weird to see them play in that place. Anyway, that was maybe the best rock show I’d ever seen at that point. So part of seeing this show was very sentimental because I went with my sister again, and we loved it — “YASS DAVE” became our phrase of the night. Dave Grohl’s energy is still pretty impressive considering he’s almost 50. I always forget how many hits this band has. You can’t deny the commercial appeal that Foo Fighters have maintained over the 23-ish years of being a band, but hey, some people make the same argument about Nickelback so take that how you will.
The Foos were slotted for a 3-hour set, which seemed like a lot so despite their many hits, I wondered how they’d actually fill the time. Turned out they planned a nearly 40-minute section of introducing the band (all 6 members) and playing a song that each member started, including cheesey ass renditions of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a blues jam that probably sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Sweet Little Baby.” It was so forced, bordering on hack. But hey, big crowds love being pandered to, and I do believe that rule #1 of show business is to give the people what they want.
Thinking about this brings me back to talking about community, and prizing community over industry, and how I don’t like that that kind of pandering and cheesy shit is often part of appealing to larger crowds, which is just part of the business. But the Foo Fighters didn’t get to where they are by saying “fuck business, fuck what you wanna hear.” I don’t hate on the Foos though, I actually have much respect. I think they’re kinda keeping rock & roll alive in the mainstream in a way that very few other bands are these days. Also, the lineup has some serious punk roots in terms of members’ past projects, and I respect that they’ve all become millionaires after beginnings in bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, No Use For A Name, ummm… THE GERMS, and of course, Nirvana.
Anyway, My 18 year-old self was satisfied and I think I still like this band enough to feel ok about the Foo Fighters tattoo I have (sshhh, don’t tell the punx).
When I came back the next day to see Courtney Barnett, the crowds were way more manageable. I’d heard that the only sold-out day of the festival was for Foo Fighters. And it sure felt like it. It took me an hour to get through the lines, and the whole field was like sardines. I can handle that in small clubs and mid-sized venues, but in a wide open field, it was not that pleasant. I had a much easier time finding and keeping a comfortable spot close to the Black Sheep stage for Courtney’s set.
She kicked off her set with a few tracks from her new record Tell Me How You Really Feel, and had a healthy sprinkling of tracks from her debut full-length as well. She carried herself with a very casual energy that still had some urgency, and she didn’t seem to give a shit about really “performing” and hamming it up for the crowd (a refreshing change from Dave’s relentless approval-seeking the night before). And wouldn’t ya know it but introducing her band only took a minute between songs. How about that? But the crowd was eating out of the palm of her hand the whole set (at least my friends and I were). She closed perfectly with the big banger off her first record “Pedestrian At Best,” and it brought the house down. She rules, go listen to her records.
What’s the best way to cure the Monday blues… well a rock show of course. Black Pistol Fireand Thunderpussy took over the Algonquin Commons Theatre a few weeks back with enough guitar and drums to shake the depths of Nepean to its core.
Touting their debut self-titled album, Thunderpussy—an all-female rock band from Seattle—started the night off with a sound that instantly demanded the crowd’s attention. Frontwoman Molly Sides, with her dynamic voice, belted out songs exuding power and pure rock n’ roll. All the while, she commanded the stage with moves that kept the audience glued to her every step, kick, and head bang. Lead guitarist, Whitney Petty, hit the stage decked out in metallic clothing, and played riff after riff, complemented perfectly by Leah Julius on bass, who took her place on the other side of the stage. The drums were no different. Ruby Dunphy, punished her drum kit, and kept the ground shaking as the rock quartet showed that their presence in Ottawa would not soon be forgotten. All in all, Thunderpussy slayed their set and had everyone in the crowd amped up and dreaming of hitting their level of rad.
Shortly after 9pm, Black Pistol Fire took the stage to an audience that was full of anticipation. The Canadian duo, originating from Toronto, are known for their unbelievable high-powered live performances. I knew they would be good, but hell, I didn’t know they would be mind-shattering. The pair, Kevin McKeown, guitar and lead vocals, and drummer Eric Owen, played harder, louder, and with more intensity than could ever be imagined from a two-piece rock band, on a Monday night. With influence from bands like the Black Keys and The White Strips, Black Pistol Fire has made their mark on rock n’ roll. Their hit song, Lost Cause, from their 2017 album called Deadbeat Graffiti dominated, having secured the number one spot on Billboard’s Canada Rock National Airplay for several weeks running.
That Monday night McKeown surpassed all the hype that surrounds his stage presence. He tore through guitar solos that had the crowd mesmerized and jumping along with him. His stomps of sheer energy bled off the stage as he climbed over the security gates and joined the crowd, never once missing a chord. Every solo brought more intensity and ignited roaring cheers.
Owens, who of course went shirtless, was no different. He pounded his drum kit and kept us focused on his larger than life beats. Playing off each other’s energy, Owens triumphantly led a full-blown attack throughout every song, leaving no survivors. Owens left it all on the stage and brought moments that will be impossible to forget, such as jamming out with a maraca in one hand, while still pounding his drum kit with the other, hitting every beat with impeccable precision.
Black Pistol Fire struck a perfect balance between blues, soul, and rock n’ roll, with songs like “Speak of the Devil,” that satisfied your craving for their unique sound, while dishing out flawless guitar riffs. Playing “Bully” as their pre-encore set, the duo victoriously tore through guitar solos paired with drum beats that reverberated through your spine. Owens tossed his drum stick to eager fans and exited, with McKeown by his side, only to be summoned back by a chant of “BPF.” As the guys played one last song, I could still feel the blood pulsing through my temples—looking around the room, I knew I wasn’t alone. Dazed and confused, in a moment of haze and amazement, my ears ringing and heart pumping, I could tell the crowd was awestruck. If you appreciate raw unearthed talent paired with an energy that will keep you on the edge, begging for one more song, BPF is the band for you.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest wrapped up the first weekend’s programming with sets by The Strumbellas, Larkin Poe, Amos the Transparent, Keys N Krates, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford caught the action, have a look at her gallery below.
BROCKHAMPTON, hereafter styled “Brockhampton,” were in Ottawa on Friday night, with a diverse and complex boy band show. They even call themselves a boy band, something that hasn’t been attempted in a while, and the relatively new Brockhampton out of Texas appears to be pulling it off quite well.
Emerging to screams wearing matching white t-shirts, the group was in fine form on one of the more tolerable days of Bluesfest, weather-wise. They definitely pull off the boy band aesthetic. Each of their personalities is on full display at all times, whether they’re making goofy faces or hyping up the crowd, each one of them is working the entire time. This is no pace-around-the-stage-slowly-and-spit-the-occasional-verse affair. No. These guys work out.
Another way their personalities played a central role was in the audio-visual department, centred on a screen behind the band that featured a looping, long video of the band playing with a camera phone in a dressing room. It’s possible they understand the power of their very salient personalities, but it’s also possible they just like messing with people. Perhaps that’s the beauty of Brockhampton.
Brockhampton dropped a brand new song, likely from their new LP, in Ottawa on the banks of the river. The song was called “1999 WILDFIRE,” and features an example of the cell phone dressing room footage I was talking about earlier.
Incidentally that song is now number #30 on YouTube’s trending ladder. That’s kind of a big deal for anyone, let alone a bunch of kids from Texas who decided to do something a little bit different with the hip hop thing.
These guys have only been active since 2015 and already, perhaps through the big deal that is Kevin Abstract, one of the group’s most prominent members, Brockhampton has obtained international fame through the release of a bunch of albums that have been critically praised and welcomed by fans.
Their songs are full of excellent beats and catchy hooks, clever lyrics and interesting production. They also put on a very good show. The crowd was a mix of generations: some in their 20s, some 30s, many in their teens. They had a fairly committed moshpit and had no trouble working the crowd.
“Hands up!” shouted Abstract, gesturing. The crowd definitely obeyed. And when they dropped “1999 WILDFIRE,” the crowd was so into it, I swear I saw some lighters.
Every year brings a very different Ottawa Jazz Festival than the last, and this year was no exception. With the festival no longer happening in the heart of Confederation Park, the main stage had been moved to City Hall (much like to the early Bluesfest days). The Late Night Tent was initially put behind City Hall, which seemed like a great idea, but after a few days the noise complaints from local residents caused the Late Night shows to be moved to a small stage on the edge of Confederation Park. My apologies to the Jazz Fest for all that they had to put up with this year, and I hope that it goes more smoothly to you folks next year.
As always, I was able to see a lot of amazing groups this year. Here they are in order of date:
Friday, June 21st
Joe Sullivan Big Band It was a treat to start the festival off with the Joe Sullivan Big Band. This is a serious contender for the tightest swing band in Canada. Everyone was firing on all cylinders, with great swinging leads, ripping solos from every player, and disgustingly sly harmonies speckled throughout every solo section. Always great to hear Al McLean take a tenor solo and this show was no exception.
Boz Scaggs I didn’t catch the entire Boz Scaggs show, but what I did see was in good form. It’s always a treat seeing an act that you forget has such an extensive catalogue. He played it all- tracks from the Boz Scaggs record (with Duane Allman) to the famous Silk Degrees. The band was fairly tight and Boz himself still has some strong crooning left in him. Now I did miss a couple tunes, so he could have snuck it in—but I spent most of the set hoping he would play “Look What You’ve Done To Me.” Next time!
I had missed Moon Hooch last time they came through Jazz Fest in 2015, so I was really excited to see this group. I was fortunate enough to catch Too Many ZooZ in Ottawa earlier this year- a band who often is compared to Moon Hooch due to their saxophone-house sounds and NYC busking habits. While MH weren’t as nonstop sweaty dance party as ZooZ, I was really impressed with their variety. Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen hopped consistently between synthesizer and saxophone (tenor, bari and soprano), highlighting their strengths the entire show and hyping up the crowd. Occasionally McGowen would play his signature “giant construction pylon in a bari sax” which just has a monster sound. By far, though, the highlight of the show was when drummer James Muschler broke out a soprano sax and joined the other two during a long delay-ridden solo section. Awesome!
Monday, June 25th
Now let’s be clear about something: Chaka Khan is 65 years old. I heard a lot of people talking about pitchiness and low stage energy afterwards, but seriously—she’s 65 and she’s earned her keep.
Moreover, her very few pitchy moments were not a deal-breaker because she simply did not phone-in the show. I was wildly impressed how many times many times she went for the high notes and really owned her trademark wails. With that said, I think that she was wise to bring the group that she did. Her three background singers did an incredible job nailing her classic lines while she ad-libbed over top. Ronald Bruner Jr. had no trouble reminding us all how much of a beast he is behind the drummers—and it was awesome to hear his trademark “hats on the toms” sound as he shredded 80’s fills all night.
KNOWER did what everyone expected—they put on a gigantic sweaty dance party in the late night tent, sparkly jumpsuits and all. They play such an interesting combination of electronic music and funky jams that it’s hard to tell where each groove ends and the next begins. If anything I would say it was a bit too chaotic for me at times, with not a lot of silence between instruments, but it definitely amped up the crowd. They knew their crowd well as they wrapped up the night by medleying “The Government Knows” into “Overtime,” both tunes off their new album that were sure to get people fired up.
Tuesday June 26th
This was potentially the show I was most excited about at Jazz Fest this year. Ghost-Note is a small percussion-fueled instrumental group operated by two members of Snarky Puppy: Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth. Like Snarky, the group features a who’s who of Dallas players.
I had been listening to their 2015 debut Fortified for a few years when they were announced, and was immediately disappointed to hear that they wouldn’t be touring with Snarky keyboardist Shaun Martin with them on this tour. However, after hearing the growth on their Swagism record, and hearing the arrival of MonoNeon on bass, I knew this was going to be something special. The show started off with a half-full tent, but they weren’t concerned as they dove right into it. They played songs off both of their releases with extended jams, synthy breakdowns and great solos by all. It’s always great to see a group where percussion gets the spotlight, as it meant for a lot of dirty percussion breakdowns that meant business. Also, it was really cool to see MonoNeon in this kind of environment, as he knew exactly when to keep it in the pocket and when to unleash the percussive slap fury. His array of filters and fuzzes was super tasteful. Check out Ghost-Note.
Thursday, June 28th
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Man! What a show.
First of all, I remember the last time The Flecktones played Ottawa, and it was in 2005 when Bluesfest was still at City Hall. That actually meant that this year they returned after 13 years to the exact same spot, which is pretty cool. Secondly, if you haven’t been following the Flecktones closely the past few years, you probably reacted like I did: “where’s Jeff Coffin?” I had no idea that going full-time with Dave Matthews Band had meant he no longer played with Bela.
After a little research, I learned that his replacement was actually his predecessor—Howard Levy—originally played harmonica and piano for the Flecktones’ early years. Howard was far from a disappointment. His technique to play beyond the diatonic scale on a blues harp is stupendous—every time I heard a Stevie Wonder-esque line I immediately went searching for the chromatic harmonica. His ability to play beautiful melodies and harmonies alike was incredible. Bela and Victor were in usual great form, rifling through their classics with a general ease. It’s always great to hear both play. Bela mentioned that they “never quite know where these songs are going to go each night,” and I can concur. Most songs eventually graduated into a lengthy jam that was always interesting and never meandering. Lastly, Futureman’s Drumitar just keeps getting more and more legitimate as time goes on. It looks and sounds a lot different since they last came through in 2005, but the concept of playing full beats and fills with his hands hasn’t changed. Truly a group of musical inventors and philosophers, this show hit home more than I expected, and I for one couldn’t wait to get home and play (isn’t that the point of jazz music?)
Afterwards, I slipped over to Tanya Tagaq, who I’d yet to have seen. On this tour, she was accompanied by a drummer and a soundscaping violinist.
Unfortunately, I was on a bit of a time crunch and she was the opposite. After coming out a little late, Tanya expressed to the audience that she was feeling a bit nervous and anxious, and told stories and anecdotes for ten minutes or so. When she did start, we were all blown away by how theatrical her performance was. I remember reading that she refers to herself as a “sound sculptor” instead of a musician, and I totally can agree. Even the musicians she brought spent most of the time creating strange sounds while she offered a combination of throatsinging and art singing. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for long and had to duck out after the first couple songs.
Friday, June 29th
I was eager to see The Commotions on Friday as they just released a new record that has been doing exceptionally well. Brian Asselin did a great job assembling the group, featuring a who’s who of Ottawa musicians. I am always impressed by Jeff Rogers and Rebecca Noelle as performers, so I knew I would enjoy a band in which they trade off front-person duties. This show was no exception, even in a heatwave. Their calm and collective banter and vocal trade-offs were a nice touch to their stellar individual performances. Rebecca’s knack to start strutting before the count is even finished is truly amicable. Mackenzie Di Millo stood by to add extra harmonies, and keyboardist Clayton Connell really shone on the organ. All in all, a great big original soul group.
Saturday June 30th
Mack & Ben
This couldn’t have been a better night to finish off the festival. I was able to catch the second half of Mack & Ben’s set at the Confederation Park stage. They played to a full tent and put on a great performance despite the incredible heat and a seated audience. The three-point harmonies between siblings Mackenzie & Ben DiMillo and local songerwriter extraordinaire Sarah Bradley were dead on. This was their second show and the audience didn’t seem to believe it.
Their final tune was a cover of Rich Girl by Hall and Oates. I snuck out halfway to head to the Herbie show, and found myself smiling the entire way as I watched every passerby singing along.
I specifically didn’t read up on Herbie’s band for this show to keep it a surprise, but to say I was surprised when a four-piece walked out (including Herbie) was an understatement. It was really elating to see one of my legends playing with such a small group, and their chemistry really made it sound like we were sitting in on a practise rather than a giant concert.
Bassist James Genus (the bassist from the Saturday Night Live Band) definitely takes the cake for the most in the pocket player of the festival. His calm and groovy playing really made the show, as it allowed Herbie and guitarist Lionel Loueke to really work their magic. A combination of banter and variety taught us a lot about Loueke throughout the show. A guitarist originally from Benin, sections of songs were often intersperse with amazing vocals in various languages, sometimes with Herbie singing along. His guitar work was very interesting, often with a Niles Rodgers-esque percussive palm-muting approach to his grooves. Herbie was on his A-game, with extended solos on piano and synth, and a few vocoder breakdowns. It was great to see him in such a small and calm group as he hopped between songs and stories all night. We all got a good chuckle when he quoted the hook from Chameleon twice in the middle of a long jam.The pre-encore tune was a really great medley of Canteloupe Island and other extended jams. I did have to calm the grump in me as they came back out to play Chameleon (I thought it was more sly to reference it earlier and drop it), but it was harmless fun.
Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles
**Important Precursor: It may have taken the entire festival, but Jazz Fest were extremely smart about this show. While Herbie was playing, they moved all of the tables and chairs to the outskirts of the Confederation Park tent. This allowed people to remain seated and still see the band, while the rest of us slammed into the middle ready to dance.
The second Snarky Puppy link to the festival- many festival goers were excited to see Snarky’s most admirable soloist play with his own group, myself included. However, I’m not sure we expected what we got.. which was an insanely good variety act of epic sweaty-dance-party proportions
One of the best ideas Cory had with this group was to hire a second synth player. With the chords being comped throughout, it allowed him to really shine as a performer. He seamlessly ran around the stage, ripped organ solos, played tambourines, and sang his heart out, all while hyping the crowd nonstop. After a couple songs, he brought out two female singers who helped him ramp up the party with an amazing cover of the Beegees’s Stayin’ Alive (I too, before this night, though that was impossible). But it was really the variety of Cory’s set that made the night. His ability to weave between Al Green-esque slow jams into hardhitting R&B funk fusion was highly impressive, and left the crowd hanging off of his every action. Rather than explain it any more, I recommend that you watch this clip of a very similar set in Frankfurt—a great way to end a festival!
Last But Not Least: The Lawn Chair Conundrum I would like to mention the issue of lawn chairs at the main stage. While there was a large area specifically designated for lawn chairs, many people continued to set up lawn chairs hours in advance in a section clearly labelled for standing. This meant that upon entering the standing section, you often felt like you were blocking sitters, and they often expressed it. This was further bothersome because there simply was no longer a way to stand at the back and still see the stage and screen as in previous years. Many young people expressed that, despite paying a hefty ticket price, they felt there was no real spot for them to enjoy the show.
I’m confident that this issue will continue to get solved as Jazz Fest and its patrons get used to the new area.