El-P & Killer Mike of Run The Jewels are seen here performing at the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.
RBC Bluesfest Press Images, Photo: Mark Horton
First things first: Heartstreets — two talented Montreal women rapping, crooning, and just generally grooving supported by a DJ and a full live band – were first on the docket for me on day 7. A newly (as in: while I watched their set) discovered gem. I was really glad I hit the Flats early to catch them live. “Do any of you know us?” asked the one wearing pink heart-shaped sunglasses. “It’s ok, you will, you will. Heartstreets.” She was right. They clearly had fun and so did I.
De La Soul was disappointingly unable to perform because of a flight delay, prompting one perturbed audience member to yell “suck a dick!” several times in the general direction of the Bluesfest employee who was tasked with giving us the bad news. Bummer, for us and for them. To fill that time slot on the stage was an impromptu second set of the festival from local hip hop act G. Grand, no stranger to Ottawa Showbox bills having performed at Hip Hop Nite at Mugshots (RIP) earlier this year. His performance was energetic and tight as usual, and kudos to him for stepping up to a crowd that had been expecting such a classic of the genre.
Took a breather before Chvrches to hang out on a giant bean bag in the #rbczone with Walter Trout on the Monster stage in one ear and DJ @ the Fort in the other. Felt like my bank was hugging me. Surprisingly relaxing. Chvrches then delivered as expected: an aesthetically pleasing stage, and impeccable sound balancing deliberate pulsing synths and Lauren Mayberry’s lovely crystalline voice. Not exactly my thing, but no doubt a gift for all the Chvrches fans in the vicinity.
From there I made my way back over to the Monster stage to stake out a good spot for Run the Jewels, and caught almost all of Ottawa hip hop act Flight Distance. I’m really glad I did. These guys rule. Their beats are super grooves and their rapid-fire flow is incredible — I’d be tempted to say “effortless” if I couldn’t see them going red in the face from rapping. They work hard and it pays off. You know those rare moments when you’re totally content where you are? Not thinking about the past, not planning for the future or waiting for something else to happen, just feeling the vibe and enjoying yourself? That happened for like a whole half hour with Flight Distance. Perfect opener for what was to come.
Finally, the Bluesfest act I was most excited for — Killer Mike and El-P a.k.a. Run the Jewels. (RTJ! RTJ!) This performance was everything I’d hoped for. Starting out with “Run the Jewels”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” (one of my faves) they had the crowd (me included) freaking out. Halfway through the set, Killer Mike paused and told us all if we had glasses on or phones out, to put them away because our shit was about get fucked up. I complied. We all closed our eyes (and counted to fuck). A hip hop mosh pit happened. Mike gave a shout out to “white Jesus crowdsurfing over here.” ACAB anthem “Early” was dedicated to Mike Brown and Eric Garner, black lives lost to police brutality. Run the Jewels are deeply political, and often angry (for good reason), but also operate with a lot of joy and humour and genuine love for their fans: what they do is wild and incredibly special and I’m so glad I got to see it in person.