Bluesfest Day 6: Atlas Genius, Solange Knowles, and Passion Pit… and my crappy bike

I like biking. I enjoy telling myself that it’s sufficient cardio to keep me healthy (which it certainly is not) and, furthermore, am a fan of the speed at which one reaches their destination compared to walking. On my way to Bluesfest, my back wheel came off the hinges once again and nearly launched me into a parked car, which would have just been plain embarrassing more than anything. I like biking when my bike isn’t a giant piece of crap that tries to kill me. I’m in the market for a new bike now, and this is the one I’m seriously considering:


So I locked my crap up and walked the rest of the way. It was a beautiful day out, one of those days that you soak up the sun and feel good that it’s summer out. However, in the not-so-far distance there was a cold front coming in that, as per usual, brings with it a massive storm system. Luckily, the storm narrowly missed LeBreton Flats and provided us with a nice breeze that took away some of the humidity.

The first show of the day was a band from Adelaide, Australia, called Atlas Genius. I had heard a few songs by them and enjoyed their style, but had never taken a good listen to their album. They had a good balance going with their instruments, the synth and drums weren’t so prevalent that it overpowered the others. Their set was comprised of lots of danceable tunes, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it but not to the extent that they would actually, you know, move. They played a few songs that I recognized, such as “Symptoms, “If So”, “All The Girls”, and their most popular single, “Trojans”. Lead vocalist Keith Jeffery mentioned that he really felt like he was back home in Australia, as the climate was similar to that of his homeland. Having lived in Australia for a year, it was nice to see a band from there since I know they are a very proud nation when it comes to their artists. It was a nice start to the day, but after that I was craving some action and intensity.

atlas genius, ottawa bluesfest, 2013
Atlas Genius is seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Thursday, July 10,
2013. PHOTO: RBC Bluesfest Press Images

Eric and I out Animal Collective and simply didn’t get it. We didn’t understand. Noise as art? Were we supposed to drop acid before the show? Eat some mush? Sniff heroine Uma Thurman style? We were totally underwhelmed. We looked at each other, gave the official “nod of disapproval” and went on our way. There was a British folk band called The Dunwells over at Blacksheep Stage who had nice harmonies and catchy songs, but that wasn’t what we were in the mood for. Like I said, something to pump us up a bit. There was a bit of a lull before the headliners, a calm before the storm. I caught up with some friends and made a final decision on which acts to check out that night.

The music gods (or the powers that be) really messed with us this day. Four major acts were scheduled to play between 9pm and 11pm, which made deciding which show to see a really arduous task. Here’s the conflict: Dan Deacon vs. A Tribe Called Red vs. Passion Pit vs. Weezer. This is a reality of music festivals though, but I don’t see why Marianas Trench had to take up an earlier slot and force all these acts to compete.

Alas, it was decided that the River Stage would be my new home for the evening. It was a decision that was not made lightly, but I had a good feeling that shit was going to hit the fan there (in a good way). With a beautiful view, some personal friends and friends in the music scene also in attendance, we settled in by the river.

Solange Knowles (yes, she shares sisterly DNA with the one and only Beyoncé) was the next act up. I had briefly checked her out online, just to get an idea of her musical style, and I really enjoyed what I heard. She came on stage wearing a cool dress-skirt thingy and really, really long braids down to the back of her knees. Her band was hipstered-out, blurring the lines between generations by wearing bell-bottoms, having full-on afros, with a few of them also having an 80s-inspired look too. The lead guitarist appeared to be 13 years old, which was interesting because he was actually really talented. I really like the fact that her music is such a departure from anything her sister Beyoncé does, or has done artistically. It was purely R&B, and one can really hear the Motown roots deep within her music. We had our own little dance party in the crowd going as she played some fun music for us. They also played a good cover of “Stillness is the Move” by Dirty Projectors off the album Bitte Orca.

Solange Knowles, Ottawa Bluesfest, 2013
Solange Knowles at RBC Bluesfest. PHOTO: RBC Bluesfest Press Images

Lo and behold, the sound was completely terrible. This has been a recurring theme at Bluesfest this year as it seems that each show is plagued with either botched wiring or a sound guy who prefers to smoke crack instead of man the soundboard properly. I couldn’t believe that it happened again, and after seeing the lead vocalist Terry Hall of The Specials flip out and essentially bail on the set a few days prior because his mics weren’t working properly. This kind of thing is unprofessional, and quite frankly, completely unacceptable for a music festival of this size. It’s embarrassing. Solange handled the track issue with tact and continued the best she could. The set wasn’t bad, but there did seem to be a lack of energy on stage at times. I wasn’t sure whether this was due to frustration with the sound issues or it was just how they performed.

Passion Pit was the band I decided to see over the rest of them. It was a gut instinct, I felt like it was going to be a crazy show. Of course, I would have had an amazing time at any of the other shows too. Passion Pit got on stage 10 minutes later, and they looked pretty nonchalant. Maybe they were tired, or maybe they assumed that Ottawa was just another lame city. Whatever it was, this lax attitude didn’t last long.

They opened with the first single off Manners called “The Reeling”, which elicited an explosive reaction from the crowd. Lead vocalist Michael Angelakos’ voice was right on as they began to feed off the crowd’s excitement and energy. After the first song, Angelakos looked pretty surprised as the crowd was screaming for more. They played other songs such as “I’ll Be Alright”, which utilized heavy synth bass tones and interesting effects which were layered really well. The sound worked well this time too, which was a relief. Maybe they took that extra ten minutes before the set to ensure everything was good to go, who knows? Either way, hearing tracks such as “Take a Walk”, “Little Secrets”, and “Carried Away” made the crowd burst with the enthusiasm and joy. One thing I have to mention is how incredibly talented I thought drummer Nate Donmoyer was. His skill was so apparent he made extremely complex drum parts flow with ease. Donmoyer was the heart of the band’s live appeal, as he viciously attacked the drum kit one song after the other. I knew Passion Pit was a great band, but I have a higher level of respect for them now as I witnessed the complexity and diversity of instrumentation they employ. It’s much more than just synths and computers.

Passion Pit, Ottawa Bluesfest, 2013
Passion Pit performing at RBC Bluesfest 2013. PHOTO: RBC Bluesfest Press Images

I classify Passion Pit’s music as poppy, happy music to dance to, and that is exactly the reaction it received. Throughout the set, Angelakos and the band were also bursting with excitement and interacted with the crowd more frequently. At one point, hundreds glow sticks were being thrown into the crowd and on stage. It was as if people were just there to party and have fun, which is a departure from some of the other sets I’ve seen at Bluesfest this year. The night ended with the band playing a one-song encore, which was “Sleepyhead” from their first Chunk Of Change EP (2008). The crowd had been chanting for it, and they obliged. I can confidently say that I don’t regret staying to see Passion Pit, as they gave us an incredible performance. The rush and exhilaration of a show like this leaves one feeling fulfilled, and will certainly go down as one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen at Bluesfest since the beginning of time.