Saturday evening at Bluesfest had a little something for everyone thanks to bands such as The Paul James Band, Holy Fuck and Wolf Parade.
Having been at the HOPE Volleyball Tournament all day I missed many great acts throughout the afternoon, but it was all for great causes. This meant my evening started off with the infamous Paul James Band. Paul James is a Juno award wining blues guitarist and rock n roller from Toronto who has been entertaining crowds around the world for more than four decades now. His performance in Ottawa might as well of been straight from the 70’s or 80’s, as he has not slowed down or lost a step over the many years since first beginning.
Always an entertainer, James went back and forth from covers and originals as he danced, spun around playing the guitar behind his head, duck walked and having an all-around blast. He dedicated his opening song, a cover of “Last Clean Shirt” by Eric Burdon and the Animals to his friend Willy DeVille, best known as the front man of Mink DeVille who James toured with. The amazing Texas Horns joined the band for several songs including an awesome rendition of his original track “Suzette.” Before playing his song “Joint Outback,” he commented on the particular odour in the air and mentioned that he released this song “when Justin’s father was in power.”
One of the most memorable moments of the set was the closing song as he drank half his beer while playing, pulled off the label from one side and used the bottle as his slide. After all these years, the man can still really entertain and get a crowd dancing and laughing.
For something completely different, I took a seat on the hills facing the Black Sheep Stage to take in the powerful force of organized chaos known as Holy Fuck. It was quite the shift from ol’ time rock and roll to electronic stylings of Holy Fuck. The thing that really impresses me about this group is that they are not just any electronic group, their really cool customized instruments are complemented with non-instruments, including items such as a 35 mm film synchronizer, toy keyboards and toy phaser guns, but they also feature guitar, bass and drums. All of this with only four people on stage.
They create such a powerful soundscape that broadens the mind and really pushes the limits with creativity that is far beyond my realm of understanding. The group had taken a little hiatus before their latest release Congrats and it was great to have them back at it live. They were also quite happy to be back at it, saying “we haven’t played in a long while so you probably haven’t seen us before. We are very happy to be here on a beautiful night.” On top of the mind bending rhythms and beats, two jugglers showed up in the crowd, completely unrelated I believe. They did however have glowing juggling balls and were pretty entertaining as every once in a while their movement would sink with the songs.
It was now time for my most anticipated set of the festival, the return of Wolf Parade. The band returned with a vengeance after a five year hiatus and the Bluesfest crowd was ecstatic and so was the band. The band couldn’t believe the reception they received constantly sporting huge smiles after a song, thanking the crowd and giving thumbs up. The band opened with “Soldier’s Grin” from their 2008 album At Mount Zoomer, followed by “Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts” from Apologies to the Queen Mary. This set the trend for the night where the band bounced back and forth between songs where guitarist Dan Boeckner sang lead to songs where keyboardist Spencer Krug sang lead.
The band recently released EP 4 and they played two songs off of it “C’est La Vie” and “Floating World.” They looked in disbelief at how well their new songs were received. After the songs Spencer said “You’re so kind… I can’t believe you’re here and not watching Duran Duran,” as he chuckled. The bands energy on stage was matched by the crowds raw enthusiasm which saw people jumping, dancing, screaming at the top of their lungs and often saying things like “holy shit this is actually happening” or “I can’t believe I am finally seeing them” in between songs.
The set was full of great moments, moments that quickly became the highlights of my festival. Things like a three song set of “You Are A Runner and I Am My Father’s Son,” then “Fancy Claps” topped off by “This Heart’s on Fire.” I could have walked away happy after that moment and called it a night. But wait, after a few songs more Spencer and Dan hugged! This sent shivers down my spine leading me to believe they are all happy to be back to Wolf Parade after all the side projects and this is no victory lap or cash grab, this is a band that happy to rocking together again.
And just when I thought there couldn’t be anything better after all those amazing songs, great energy, happiness and amazement, they band closed with “Kissing the Beehive” which is one of the most epic finishing songs I have ever seen live. The original is about 10 minutes, but live it clocked in closer to 15 minutes and after the singing stops around the 7:30 minute mark the band launched into an epic jam session which really put each musician on display in their own way without resorting to typical solos. I was absolutely blown away, there wasn’t a single song I wanted to hear that they didn’t play and they performance was everything I wanted it to be and then some.
In the opinion of this humble writer Wolf Parade played the best set of the festival and one of the best Bluesfest sets I have seen in a while. If Saturday night was a taste of what is to come, I cannot wait to see them again at Wayhome and again after Osheaga.