Ottawa Bluesfest Review - 7-14-2011

Written by: Jay McConnery

LA-33 at Ottawa Bluesfest - Photo by: Andrew CarverLineup wise, Thursday night at Bluesfest rolled in like a parched tumbleweed after the glorious rock show wetness of the night before had all but dried up, giving many regulars a good excuse to take a night off. Scanning the program earlier in the day, I was admittedly close to bailing as well, but knowing these dark horse days at Bluesfest can often be the talk of the festival, with an unknown act delivering a break-out performance that people discuss for eternity, we gobbled some hastily rolled burritos and hit the Parkway on our bikes with no express expectations, except for the expectation that I would eventually be right that it was a good idea to head down. Well, I wouldn't say it was the dark horse night, but on that confusing scale it was at the very least a well-tanned donkey. Maybe with some sunburnt pale spots.

It was with indifference that I learned Theory of a Deadman would not be preforming due to illness- but I was happy to hear Hamilton's Arkells were given their time slot, and could see they were ready for the opportunity. They played to a great crowd and sounded like they've found the sweet spot in reeling in their enthusiasm but still hitting the energy levels they are known for. I really like their sound, but craved the sparse atmosphere of the periphery, so we continued on to check out the smaller stages and began by spending a few minutes checking out Girls with Guitars on the Hard Rock Stage, playing some pretty simple blues with dexterity and a lot of potential. They looked great on stage, which is obviously the first rule of girl-rock, and displayed some impressive chops as well. Hopefully they can keep at it and maybe choose a better name, because there were some moments that sounded pretty big. Over to National Bank, where we enjoyed the last portion of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, jamming some very vampy and borderline sloppy zydeco blues with that great accordion and washboard sound. The guitar playing swamp-master kept things together, and over the course of a few tunes, I came to like their jangly style. When this wrapped up, there was nothing playing on any stage for about 15 minutes, which was kind of weird, so we committed to the first few songs of Billy Talent by waiting around at the MBNA stage.

With a name lifted from one of Canada's finest rock'n'roll movies, Hard Core Logo; Mississauga's Billy Talent took the stage and busted into one of their riff driven heavy-ish anthems that had fists pumping and the kids screaming. These guys have been on the scene for over a decade and a half, and have developed a huge following across Canada- so I thought I should give them a chance. First off, I think singer Ben Kowalewicz sounds and acts a lot like Johnny Rotten on stage. He doesn't have the same range, but does the higher range stuff quite well and even uses some similar expressions in his delivery.. Maybe they were watching 'Rock'n'Roll Swindle' before the show in the tour bus, who knows. Also, the guitarist with incredibly high hair, steps very adeptly between the busy lead riffs and singing backup. I can say for sure, that their music is not for me, and it doesn't have any elements of intrigue for me at this stage in my life- but I respect their very tight playing and the maximum output delivery they were dishing out. The Tea Party were also underway, so we drifted through conflicting sound bleed over to the Subway stage greeted by well known tune 'The Bazaar' which sums up their style quite well- modern psychedelic riff rock heavily influenced by classic rock. You can tell that Jeff Martin likes Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page a lot, and who doesn't right!? We watched a few tunes, noting one of the biggest Subway stage audiences we'd seen yet, and skipped over to Hard Rock to check out Tim Robbins and his band. He was obviously not happy about the tremendous sound bleed coming his way from the Tea Party, and not only mentioned it, but also did a headband of contempt which seemed to take the audience off guard. Tim broke into his song (reading lyrics from a music stand) and although the band was quite good, his singing voice was only okay- on par with the other Hollywood Stars who have decided to be rock stars too. Using his thespian training, he did manage to command some attention and in retrospect actually delivered some pretty interesting lyrics in his songs; but it felt more like people were there to celebrity-watch rather than enjoy music. Did you hear he and Susan Saran don broke up? OMG! Seriously, I didn't know. I actually had a lot of fun screaming "Bloodsucker Proxy" ! "Bull Durham" ! "ANDY DUFRENSE"!!!

The highlight of the night was 'LA-33' on the National Bank Stage- giving it the long lost feeling like the Black sheep Stage of years past. This Colombian Salsa group is considered the best in their country and often tour the jazzfest summer circuit, skipping Ottawa. Their fans seized the opportunity to see them in town and were out tonight, thankful with chants of 'Co-lom-bia!' and ready to dance! Straight out of Bogota, this may have been the tightest Salsa music I've seen in my life- a 14 piece band complete with a World class Salsa duo spinning and stepping on stage had this enthusiastic portion of Ottawa's Latino community out dancing to the Salsa, Mambo and funky Boogaloo grooves. I am enjoying Salsa and Latin Jazz more and more through further exposure, and one day I will be able to dance salsa steps- perhaps the lazy man version, but I will get those steps down. Trying tonight was a whole lot of fun, and I'm always impressed by a well practised Salsa duo on the dance floor, and there were many smiling faces having the time of their lives showing off their stuff.