Written by: Jay McConnery
Photos by: Mike Bouchard
It's difficult to sit down and reflect so quickly on something that is still ringing through my ears and bones like this. I feel like my concert pants are bursting at the seams and my belt leather is groaning against my heaving belly as if I have just devoured the perfect medium rare Sirloin Tip steak with a nice creamy garlic mash, a tasty salad and a frosty stein of the good stuff.. and I don't really want to talk about it. Or maybe it was a Tofu steak, it doesn't matter! I just want to keep this feeling for as long as I can. Should I go back and think about how delicious it was, and how much fun it was to chew and swallow? In a minute, maybe, but not yet. For now, I'm definitely able to return to the beginning and re-evaluate how one of the more sublime weeknights of Bluesfest kicked off. For me, and many others who actually arrived on time for the logistically difficult 6:15pm start time, Trampled by Turtles were the perfect way to start the proceedings with fast, interesting and precise modern bluegrass. They have been making a name for themselves on the American Bluesgrass circuit for some time showing up at prestigious festivals by way of their old school chops and forward thinking song writing and arrangements. They can fiddle with the best of them, but can also bring the house down with perfect songs, like their closing number 'Wait So Long', that could easily slip into the repretoire of a hugely popular band like the Avett Brothers. I cursed myself (Damn you, McConnery!) for missing the first half of the set and definitely hope to catch them again sometime soon.
Once TBT wrapped (to a very impressive crowd for the time slot), we headed up over the hill to the National Bank Stage to check out Imaginary Cities from Winnipeg, who were last through Ottawa in the Spring, opening for the Pixies. I liked the sugary samples I had heard in duo format but was happy to hear they were performing with a full band, half of whom seemed to be celebrating their birthday today. Songwriting duo of Rusty and Marti have written some very lovely songs, folk rock at heart but turned up in energy level live, the songs possess more of a ghost rock vibe, which kept me tuned in for most of their set. Marti Sarbit who preforms in a totally natural and unpretentious way onstage, has a classic voice, but is also unplaceably reminicent of several current front women- the closest comparison I heard was a cross between Amy Winehouse and Kim Deal. I also heard Nina Simone and Jenn Grant... but I heard quite a few, and I'm still not sure- maybe its just her. They played a very cool, even slower, arrangement of Cake's song Mexico, complete with the great horn solo played note for note perfect, on the moog.
There was a bit of a gap for me between Imaginary Cities and the evening's headliner. I visited the Dirtbombs twice- and it wasn't up my alley this evening. You gotta figure Dirtbombs are going to be more effective in closed spaces, and I just felt like the music was moving very slowly in direction and I never really understand the 2 drummers playing the exact same beat thing either. I imagine when it's working, it would help create a full deliberate sound from stage, but tonight it just acentuated my disinterest. Metric was doing their thing over on the Claridge Stage which I decided to skip entirely, 'cause there is always next year, and I even caught a little more Blues from Smoking Joe Kubek and Bnois King. They sounded a little more traditional and wore white, perhaps to stay cool in the evening sun, but again, I can't imagine someone who cares this little about the Blues writing about something called Bluesfest, so I won't pretend. To be fair, at this point I was completely distracted and ready to get a good spot for mainstage headliners, My Morning Jacket.
We popped over to the festival plaza to find Metric had ended their set early, and much to my delight, the evening (and perhaps in the minds of some, the festival's) main event band, My Morning Jacket, were starting early at 9pm. As they emerged to open the show, we easily galloped up to within 50 feet of the stage with beer in hand and felt the tremendous bass vibrations greet our jubilation and shake our insides like baby rattles. I asked my wife if we should retreat further back to get some earplugs, and she wisely said, 'Nah, we'll get used to it!'. We did, and the band played music that truly deserved to be listened to at damaging decible levels, riding that intangiable vibe beam that Rock n Roll music delivered imbeccably can sometimes do, so we soaked in as much of it as we could. I should admit, this was my first MMJ show, and after following the group's releases for the last 8 or so years, I really can't believe it really took me this long to see them live, so with all sincerity, thanks for that Bluesfest! With a stage flanked by two chillin' black bears (one in a poncho, one in a summer dress) and a huge green cycloptic eye backdrop, they played with the heart of a modern Crazy Horse, and only Neil Young would be a fair comparison for a multi-threat multi-beast songwriter/singer/jammin' guitar player as diverse and talented as Jim James. The man can sing just about however he wants, and it always ends up sounding just like him. The band played with endless energy, as one, ebbing and flowing, with groove and feel, through all the tunes you'd hope to hear and some new ones that I look forward to getting to know. Energy levels were off the charts at certain moments, with beautifully crescendo-ing solos and interplay colliding in peak fashion under the watchful eye of drummer Patrick Hallahan who could always bring things home magnificently, or kick off the next number hugely, without missing a beat. Leaning heavily towards 'It Still Moves' and 'Z' tracks- it felt like we were being treated to a greatest hits show, complete with antics- Jim James' towel head vampire, and evidence of their musical proficiency- keeping it together when an offtime loop was stuck at loud volume until a tech figured out the source and turned it off. So yeah, all in all, it was exactly like a big delicious satisfying meal. Yeah.