Photo: Mark Horton, RBC Bluesfest Press Images
The magical and whimsical St. Vincent headlined another amazing night at Bluesfest.
I have seen St. Vincent twice before, once as part of a cover show where she covered Black Star (minds melted) and another time with David Byrne, so I was rather excited to watch her be herself. Let me tell you, my excitement was well deserved. St. Vincent can do no wrong, nothing. A perfect example was how she could play “Cheerleader,” up on what appeared like lit up steps putting her on a pedestal. Her angelic voice winning over the hearts of everyone there, but if for some reason that was not enough, she then later got down and approached the crowd. This is when Annie Clark displayed that she is much more than a pretty face and a pretty voice, but a rocker. She began to shred on her guitar as she leaned on the crowd and bouncers a like. From song to song you never know what you will get as she bends genres and amazes vocally and musically.
Before I fell into a trance at St. Vincent, I nearly lost my voice singing with the Violent Femmes. The only time I saw the Violent Femmes, and maybe the last time they played Ottawa was at The Ex in 1998… I was 11 and my little brother was six. My brother Philip hated the show back then and wanted to leave the entire time. Now 16 years later, my brother and I teamed up to see them again to see the Violent Femmes except this time we sang (screamed) every single word. Much to the delight of everyone, the band played their debut self-titled album from start to finish, a dream come true to be honest. There was something just so amazing of knowing what the next song would be and being so excited every time. Lead singer Gordon Gano did very little talking between songs, but supplied us with a few gems. After “To the Kill” he asked, “does anyone think that sounds like a Gordon Lightfoot song? After all these years of playing it just kind of hit me that it might.” Once the self-tilted tracks were complete, the bands played the song I wanted most, their country horror story, “Country Deathsong.” I would have been completely OK with them walking off then. They had blown me away with a perfect set list, had horns join for some songs, Brian Ritchie absolutely killed it on bass as per usual and the new drummer Brian Viglione often looked like an interpretive dance during the set as he plays the drums standing up. But what is a reunion show without taking it to the next level? The Violent Femmes concluded with “I Dig The Black Girls,” during which Vigilione had everyone in awe with his drum solo, and “American Music.”
One of the few scheduling conflicts for me on this day was Mac DeMarco starting at 7:30 with Violent Femmes hitting the stage at 8. Thus I could only watch the first little bit of this 24-year-old rising star. We got there early and I am glad we did as I got to see a very DeMarco moment. As they finalized their sound check, Mac put a smoke in his mouth and then asked the people in the front row for a lighter. He is such a people person, less a performer and more of a friend you just want to have around your campfire over a couple of beers. I feel like he befriends everyone in his crowd, every show. But I would never discredit how entertaining he is. In the first song of the evening, “Salad Days,” a rock n roll song as he put it, he couldn’t help himself but work his way down from The River stage and onto the barrier to get closer to the crowd. The few songs I caught were great and I must make time to see a full Mac DeMarco set sooner than later, and so should you.
The day was full of pop-country acts that are really not my cup of tea. One country act I did catch was Drive-By Truckers. They are a refreshing band with some pretty solid talent and good storytelling in a genre that is sadly lacking these days. They also have the happiest bass player in the entire industry. Sporting a bob cut like 60s British pop stars and smiling from ear to ear the entire set, his happiness was contagious. The band put on a pretty good show around supper time and I really like the contrast between the two singers’ voices. The songs that really caught my attention were “Shit Shots Count” and “Mercy Buckets.”
With a little lull in the action and not knowing any bands playing at the time I picked the one with the most intriguing name, Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar. I certainly picked very well as the band’s gypsy rock styling from Germany had me dancing and cheering. The rest of the crowd took a little convincing, “I think you might need to do drugs or drink more or something,” said Shantel. “We expected dancing, not camping (referring to people in camping chairs)… We wanted to see hyperactive people but we only see people.” Equipped with two trombones, guitar, bass, keys, drums and a whole lot of energy the band slowly won everyone over. The turning point was their ultra-dancy jump in the air song “Disko Partizani.” After that every time they asked people to sing along or jump, they got what they asked for from at least 10 to 12 rows of people. This crowd participation spawned a really cool moment later on when the drummer left his kit and got everyone in the crowd to get real low and had them all stay there until the slow song picked up and everyone leaped into action. It was a beautiful moment for a band playing in front of mostly all new fans, including this guy. I am so excited for Gogol Bordello on Thursday now.
The other conflict in my day was between local talent Tindervox and out-of-town pop-punkers Joyce Manor. I split it in half, starting with Tindervox. When preparing my local preview piece I checked out Tindervox kind of liked their sound. But after seeing them live, they won me over. From the opening track “Be My Baby,” it was clear that I was not attending a typical show that the Barney Danson Theatre hosts. Tindervox were the most boisterous and distortion heavy act I have ever seen in the theater. Watching the lead singer/guitarist going back and forth to her amp shaking it for that little extra distortion was great. Hopefully next time I will be able to catch more than 15-20 minutes. With three songs done I scooted back outside to the Blacksheep Stage for Joyce Manor. The four-piece from California look like a bunch of teenagers or in their early 20s, but don’t let that stop you. They are about to release their third album and make amazingly catchy songs. The songs that really had me going were “Constant Headache,” “Leather Jacket” and “Heart Tattoo.” Joyce Manor may take home the crown of most songs per minute as they blasted through a ton of quick short songs. Check these guys out for sure and convince an Ottawa promoter to bring them back for a real full set.
Getting my day started was local act Boyhood. It was very strange for me to see this often eerie-sounding band I normally see in dark and dimly-it bars play under the blistering 2pm sun, and I was not alone. After a few songs lead singer Caylie Runciman said “There is something wrong about playing at two in the afternoon when it’s not during Ottawa Explosion.” Watching Boyhood was a great way to start the day as there were so many friends also in attendance to support them. Also nice to see was the amount of younger people dancing and up at the barrier. I think Boyhood also made some new fans, the free t-shirt toss probably didn’t hurt.