Everyone saw the weather radar map but Tokyo Police Club, who said: “Ottawa, we made it through the storm… Welcome to the other side.” Premature words, which wouldn’t have been uttered if they’d just looked at the cumulonimbus to the west. But instead they started playing and led the early birds to Tuesday’s RBC Bluesfest through songs from their new album Forcefield. Across from the Claridge Homes Stage, Styx fans were waiting blithely at the Bell Stage for the show to start in an hour. Some of them had probably been waiting since gates opened, and a little rain wasn’t going to deter any of them.
Over at the Black Sheep Stage, Made in Heights started their summer month tour that began in Ottawa and ends in Montreal, criss-crossing the US throughout. They’ve been described as “mythical filth” or “beauty slap,” which don’t quite capture their mix, and for that they call themselves genre-less. The duo danced their choreograph out to pre-recorded singing by Bulkin and DJing from Sabzi, on top of ambient live singing. Their setup unfortunately made it almost impossible to know how her voice actually sounded, because of a heaping synthetic layer. It was bold EDM and then ambient lounge music. Any kind of turntablism with mad bass in the light summer rain is good for you.
Until it starts to pour like a monsoon, and that’s when mostly everyone took refuge in the Museum.
Luckily, local lads Chris Love, Damjan Markovic & Josh Scammell were playing their experimental freak folk for a small attendance in the Barney Danson Theatre. Pith and the Parenchymas are not a sound you’ll hear anywhere else at this fest, probably not in Ottawa either, maybe not the country… Big words, I know, but here we have experimental sound coming from hooks and riffs that always seem to verge on catchy and then devolve into insanity. I think that’s part of the mix, a strong dosage of madness, and it’s apparent on their new album: Song of the Neverending Ugly Lizard. Love used all instruments at his disposal with ferocity and dispensed of them with equal zeal. Don’t need this slider anymore, so whip it behind the curtains of the stage! And this mouth organ has now been completely exhausted so I will lob it to my feet from on high! The distortion, the bare feet, and the CANADA shirt edited to read KANATA were loud messages all, but none more than their dedication to getting that sound just the way they wanted it. I envy the catharsis of their tunes.
Upon leaving the Museum I ran into the star of the social media fanfare that day, the double rainbow after the storm! Matched with “Bohemian Rhapsody” led by Styx pianist Lawrence Gowan on his spinning keyboard, the crowd was energized and happy. Just before the melody drop, the song ended abruptly because they decided they needed something for the mood. “We’re all so wet, we should have a sailing song!” And with that “Come Sail Away” from The Grand Illusion began. They certainly are well-versed in the rock agenda — get wet, get set and rock out.
Brody Dalle, once leader of The Distillers, was on at the same time as the locals so much to the horror of Eric Scharf I missed the better half of Josh Homme. However I saw the Queens of the Stone Age rock the Claridge Homes Stage with bright lights and a string of songs spanning a six-album catalogue. The crowd had waited throughout the rain after a small delay in main stage scheduling. “This one goes out to all the ladies out there,” oozed frontman Homme, and blasted into “Little Sister.” “No One Knows” and “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire” both started the show on a powerful pace, much to the glee of a tightly-packed crowd that went all the way to the front gate. Fathers grabbed their daughters and ran from the mosh pit that stayed strong until QOTSA took the time to play some their slower tracks, never without a messianic spotlight on Homme.
For finales, Jake Bugg, just out of his teens and into our hearts, was competing with the blast of nostalgia from the Bell Stage while the dark EDM thump of Gareth Emery worked its way out of the bunker. So much to see but so little chance anyone would miss the arena rockers Foreigner.
You want messianic? Watch Kelly Hansen play with his mic stand under dazzling white spotlights like a spectre of the 70s. “We love playing in Canada!” he screamed. “Because, pardon my French, when it rains you don’t give a fuck!” No stranger to fan intimacy either, he waltzed down the lane and hugged and high-fived anything that was sticking out. Their rendition of “Cold as Ice” was completely supported by the crowd, who ranged from curious teens to well-aged connoisseurs.
Before long, Mick Jones made an appearance. The founding father and forever lead guitarist of the rock stars hasn’t felt 100% of late and keeps a lower profile than Hansen or any other band member. This gentleman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last summer, for his contribution to the world of rock, and he can still kick it. Clad in white, he stole the Messiah of the Night title.
However, an honourable holy mention goes to Don Felder, for his electrifying solo on a double-necked guitar that we all know and love at the end of “Hotel California.” The classics were killing last night!