Bill Burr Crushes it at Ottawa Bluesfest and Weird Al yankovic celebrates weird al

The final night of the Ottawa Bluesfest delivered a comedy sandwich offering one slice of Weird Al Yankovic the guitar mastery and nostalgic rock meat of Randy Bachman, and a superior slice of Bill Burr who's comedic set would have satisfied on it's own.  It wasn't entirely expected that Weird Al would provide so many entertaining moments that spawned homogenous laughter throughout the fairly dense crowd that was beyond soundboard deep. This turned out to be a well scheduled warm-up for Bill Burr who could have appeared immediately aftewards to roll with the humourous vibe but the stage needed to be completely cleared for Bill's minimalist setup of a mic stand, stool, water and pack of gum.

Weird Al's set was both a handy reminder and bootcamp for those that knew him since the 80's, or others that only slightly know him.  Using projection running behind the band, the crowd was offered an ADD laced onslaught of images and super short clips of Weird Al's deep integration in pop culture since the late 70's.  While many might not have recalled a short bit from one of the 3 Naked Gun films, references from the Family Guy, or clips from Al TV were certainly more recent references.  

Most of the multimedia on display was used to help seque from one song to another since nearly every song required a massive costume change.  When the official 80's video for Fat launched, it was used as setup and background visuals for Al to return to the stage in a fatsuit to peform the song.

The number of parodies that came out, including costume changes, one after another with many including original videos in-sync on the background screen, spanning 3 decades was impressive including Tacky (Happy - Pharrell Williams), Word Crimes (Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke), Smells Like Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana), and Gump (Lump - The Presidents of the United States of America).  Most notably, his meta-parody of his parody of MJ's "Beat It" was performed in the style of Eric Clapton's selfie-remix of "Layla".  The band were dressed more formally, seated and performed a swinging acoustic version of "Eat It".  

Smash cut to the opposite stage where Randy Bachman and his current band ran through a load of classics from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and the Guess Who.  It's quite amazing to see Bachman play these classic guitar riffs and even more so to recognize nearly every single tune.

After Bachman's set, Bill Burr was greeted with a very large, cheering crowd.  He clearly has alot of fans in Ottawa, likely due to his Monday Morning Podcast, in which he most recently recollected his Bluesfest experience in the episode dropped this week (Ottawa wrap-up starts at 10 minutes in) which he of course recorded in an Ottawa hotel room over a depressing plate of carrots later that night.

Bill congratulated the crowd for "skating" their way to a "parking lot" to see him perform under the hot sun (his last visit here was in the winter and he commented in his podcast on how cool it was that the people of Ottawa go to work wearing skates along the canal).  Of course he had to throw some hockey jabs out there and his disdain for the Habs overshadowed any cracks against the Senators.  Around the 10 minute mark, Burr realized that he hadn't even started any of his material yet after just freeflowing up to this point, using inspiration from some of the audience.  

Bill politely reminded one guy who was capturing video with is phone from the front that he might like to put out another comedy special with material that isn't already all over youtube, while also surgically shaming him to bits. Another guy brought a homemade sign that read "Just Checking In On YAAAAA!!!" which is basically his podcast catchphrase at the top of each episode.   While the sign was a funny lone prop in the crowd, Ol' Billy boy didn't hold back the jabs, while he was at least a little humoured over the fan effort.

After entering into his material, he ran through current topical targets like Caitlyn Jenner, or his own personal life as a married guy, what he thinks of feminists and his take on racism.  Anyone who might walk in on each of those bits, out of context, might walk away offended.  Burr's material needs to be heard from start to finish.  His views are usually a reflection of common ignorance, or general media perceptions on stereotypical behaviors.  He makes fun of himself more than anyone else.  It's really hard to describe, and it's much easier to direct attention towards one of his specials on Netflix, or even his podcast.

Weekend Wrap-up at Ottawa Jazzfest

Written by: Jay McConnery

Friday evening brought fresh temperatures and electric nerves to the Ottawa Jazz Festival at Confederation Park. The (almost) iconic Joel Plaskett took the stage with a slightly newer version of the Emergency, and wrestled with inconsistencies between his brand of punchy Can-Rock and the intangible expectations of Jazz Festival performance.  

It was an abnormally quiet outing. The smaller than expected turnout may have added to the feeling of deflation, but regardless, Joel treated the audience to some acoustic renditions of Thursh Hermit classics, and a cherry-picked a set of hits from his vast catalogue. 

Saturday brought excitement in the form of Peregrine Falls- an eclectic duo that brought comparisons to several Ottawa bands, and returning main stage heroes. Headliners Snarky Puppy offered the most impressive set I’ve seen this year, with the 8 piece collective from Brooklyn pleasantly bending minds and winning hearts un-phased.

The set was playful, and masterfully programmed, bounding between complex and dynamic group movements and virtuosic solos and interplay. The set was the best sounding performance I’ve seen this year, with a crispiness usually reserved for smaller venues.  

The Laurier stage welcomed Groenland who offered some prototype orchestral indie folk rock, in a dimly let engaging setting. The instrumentation was an nice break from the terse intensity of the Puppy. The audience appreciated the deliberate interplay and dense vocal climaxes.

The weekend concluded with the eccentric compositions of Beirut on a rainy evening, with Southern troubadours The Wood Bros. killing it on the Laurier stage.

Steve Miller Band and Ikebe Shakedown at Ottawa Jazzfest

Steve Miller Band at Ottawa Jazzfest

Steve Miller Band - Ottawa Jazzfest Jun. 25, 2015

Written by: Jay McConnery

Flanked by psychedelic Pegasus, the Steve Miller Band galloped through their vast catalogue of classic rock and blues hits Thursday night at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, while spectators shuffled and vaped contentedly. Scraggly haired uncles from around the region gathered instinctively, like so many coastal salmon, tattered and patch-covered jean jackets hauled out of mothballs, and secret one-hitters tucked in neatly.

Security kept things under control, but each small rebellion was cherished. The vibe was happy and celebratory across the park. Every number Miller presented transported the audience back to damp wood paneled basements, or trips in the family station wagon or camp fire sing-alongs.

These songs are truly engrained in the fabric of 70s and 80s mainstream, and it was clearly a real treat for this impressive audience to hear Miller’s trademark rasp with a great young band. Abracadabra represented the group’s most contemporary success, released in 1982, though the group also included a few T-Bone Walker covers being a Jazz Fest and all.  

After the memories finished washing over, many headed over to catch Brooklyn’s Ikebe Shakedown at the Laurier Stage which offered some punchy soul, both danceable and original. The group built and maintained a connection with the audience by relentlessly churning out irresistible grooves which flirted with Afro and Midwest Funk styles but maintained a vibe of its own. I was again reminded that the best moments of Jazz-Fest occur when you’re cashing in your sleep tickets and invest in something new.

Huey Lewis and the News at Ottawa Jazzfest

By: Jay McConnery

Wednesday night at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival welcomed 80's stalwarts Huey Lewis and the News to the Main stage.. The performance opened with rising, pulsing throb of 'Heart of Rock and Roll' as members of the 'News' took the stage with dramatic accent. Appearing unweathered, both in attire and performance, hot-shot Huey swung across the stage pendulously, rising in unison with the show's choreographed energy.

Predictable highlights included Huey's 'Power of Love' and Forefavourite 'If This Is It'. A new guitarist filled the Chris Hayes role competently, massaging Huey's thrusts while adding some textured groans and swells during the Bruce Hornsby penned 'Jacob's Ladder'.

The crowd was somewhat sedate, cheering loudly when a few front row dancers were asked to sit by volunteer security, improving their entitled unencumbered view. They were, however, quick to rise up shortly thereafter, when cocky Huey called them hither. Who could resist such a beckon?

Overall a fun set, with a breakout performance from the lighting director who was almost Farley-esque in his enthusiastic toe-tapping knob-twiddling behind the board. Some might question the integrity of a 80s hit-machine on this bill, but a legend belongs on any stage.   

Blind Boys of Alabama w/ Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Ottawa Jazzfest

Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Blind Boys of Alabama at Ottawa Jazzfest

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It seemed like a recipe for a perfectly combined set of music, a mashup of a New Orleans jazz brass band backing a southern gospel vocal group would be a no brainer but the production was a little unexpected.  The show was split up like a showcase for bands, which placed the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the start of the show on half of the stage, with 4 vacant chairs on the other half.  It appeared like they would be joined by the Blind Boys after a couple of numbers, but this half of the bill were solo for around 40 minutes.

They were warming up the audience, calling them to their feet and engaging them to sing along in numbers like "When the Saints Go Marching in".  There was plenty of participation from the less than packed audience, and it still felt a little small mostly because the stage was only half occupied.   A short break was announced as the Blind Boys would be arriving to the stage soon.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Blind Boys of Alabama at Ottawa Jazzfest

When the Blind Boys from Alabama appeared on the stage to the welcoming audience, they also began to perform a set alone on their half of the stage.  It seemed like all that warming up from the Dirty Dozen had dissipated and the Blind Boys would need to work the audience back up onto their feet.

Eventually, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band exited the stage leaving the Blind Boys to finish the show.  There was one of those predetermined encore fake-outs that is always part of the live music formula.  Band leaves the stage, crowd screams out for more, band returns acting like the crowd willed them back for more.  In this case, the Blind Boys were led through the curtain opening behind the drums and hid for about 20 seconds before reappearing, along with the Dirty Dozen Brass to play one more.

This was a fun show loaded with great performances, and it could have hit a larger peak had both bands dominated the stage together for the majority of it.