Featured photo: RBC Bluesfest Press Images. PHOTO/Danyca MacDonald
I got to Bluesfest later than I’d planned (because some things never change), and while I missed Bonnie Doon’s set, I got it on good authority that it was killer and complete with inflatable pizza slices. I kinda blew it, but it was too early in the day to be bummed so I hit the City Stage to catch The Peptides.
I’ve always heard this group puts on a fun show and, from the neon hair and plastic shirts to the choreographed dances and 5-part vocal harmonies, I’d say you can believe that hype. Shit was pure entertainment.
We split a bit early to hop across the bridge to the closest dép (because one can only budget for so many $8.50 beers in a day). Brown-baggin it, we honoured the traditions of teenage Bluesfests of yore, and hustled back to catch Bombino.
This band goes by the nickname of band leader Omara “Bombino” Moctar, who grew up in a Tuareg encampment in North Niger. They blend traditional modes and rhythms of the region with rock’n’roll, and Moctar himself (birthname Goumour Almoctar), has a hell of a personal history. He has lived through multiple Tuareg rebellions, lost friends and family, lived in exile in Burkina Faso, and also recorded in California with The Rolling Stones and was Angelina Jolie’s personal tour guide to his home region. That last bit about Angelina is kinda kitschy by comparison but the point is this dude’s getting around, and his music is reaching people around the world. A few years ago I was in New York and found a Bombino record produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a record which apparently won them a Grammy), and I knew I’d have to see this band live someday. So I did. And they’re amazing. Check it out.
Next we took a welcome break from the sun, to chill inside with Merganzer. The air conditioning only enhanced the relaxing experience of the ebbs and flows of Mika Posen’s dreamy layers of violin and keys. A drummer, bassist and another singer/pianist accompanied most of the set, and it fleshed things out beautifully. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone dedicate a song to a classical composer, but I guess shouts out to Dvorjak are kinda par for the course at a Merganzer show.
I popped back outside to watch leMeow,whose singer was described to me Ottawa’s Amy Winehouse, which was apt as the band rolled a slick cover of Amy’s song “Valerie.” They sailed through some smooth soul jams, with a rare minimalism in soul/r&b music (only piano, bass and drums accompanying the voclas). The singer also took the backseat on keys as the ivory mainstay took centre stage for an impressive flute solo on the Van Morrison classic, Moondance. Step aside, Ron Burgundy, this is some real jazz flute.
The air conditioning was calling my name and I was anxious to get back to the Wi-Fi (for no good reason at all, I’m not even playing Pokémon Go), so it was back to a packed Barney Danson Theatre for Monday I Retire.
This is a really cool band, inventive jazzy jams with some atmospheric pop and soul for good measure, their style spanned from reminders of Snarky Puppy to Explosions In The Sky. Super fun to watch with loads of clear chemistry, with the rhythm section watching one another and laughing at complex passages, not to mention the fact that lead singer Mackenzie and guitarist/keyboradist Ben are siblings as well as the main songrwiters in the band. It was challenging to follow at times, given some odd time signatures and that thing that jazz musicians do that’s kinda showing off, but not in a douchey way. I think that’s what the kids call “killin it”. I definitely recommend catching their EP release show August 27th at the Rainbow Bistro.
One last local for the day: Scary Bear Soundtrack, also in the lovely air conditioned Barney Danson Theatre. Dedicating songs to their parents, and sharing stories of living in Nunavut, they charmed a receptive crowd with their sweet, dreamy synth-pop tunes. Not to mention their back-to-back covers of the Sailor Moon theme song, and Dancing In The Dark. Now that’s how to reach everyone in the room. Consider this crowd pleased. Be sure to catch them at Bar Robo on August 25, presented by Ottawa Showbox.
And it’s then it was time for the feels trip of the evening. I have long since given up trying to figure out who hurt Dallas Green, in a way that left him perpetually writing songs that simultaneously warm and break your heart. The last time I saw City and Colour was in 2010 when Bluesfest set up a free stage in the Byward market, and he played a solo show to a sardined York Street. Things have really grown since then – his 5-piece band sounded huge, with new arrangements of older tunes and a much more sophisticated sound of post-rock, country and even some R&B.
Opening the set with the newest album’s opening track, the slow-burning atmospheric Woman pulled us in while he held us there with a few more cuts from the new record, If I Should Go Before You. I was hooked, but I couldn’t get over the blazer he was wearing… this cheesy plaid thing, with lapels that looked like a patch quilt, as if he was running late coming from his cottage and just cut up some blankets and threw a jacket together. I wouldn’t even forgive Don Cherry for wearing this thing.
He threw us more bones as the set progressed, playing songs like “The Girl” and “Sleeping Sickness.” For the latter, I’m sure everyone was hoping that Gord Downie might miraculously join him on stage, to no avail. But Dallas covered some classic Hip with “Bobcaygeon” as a closer. I left early to beat the crowds, and his voice reverberated off the Library and Archives building, keeping the vibe going as he cooed Ottawa Bluesfest to sleep for another year.