Tedeschi, Trucks, Zeus and more - Ottawa Bluesfest - Review - 07-10-2012

Review: Jay McConnery
Photos: Mike Bouchard (see more Bluesfest on Flickr)

Carlin Nicholson with Zeus - Ottawa Bluesfest

The Ottawa Bluesfest is fantastic for illustrating cliches of everyday folly through it's microcosmic experience. Murphy's Law will drop it's hammer on you at some point, you can be sure. Last beer of the night? You will spill it. The truth won't be told by those in the know, monkey see- monkey do, and either there is nothing going on anywhere or everything is happening all at once. It sort of felt like everything was happening all at once tonight. This Bluesfest's Tuesday line-up was, imo, the only unmissable day of the entire festival, which predictably resulted in a dilemma of where and how to split time, and in what sized portions.

One piece of the proverbial pie that was not getting split up, or even shared with my invisible friend, was the 6:00-7:00pm slot where Toronto's mighty Zeus held dinner hour court at the sun-shiney Electro stage. Making the best of their confusing stage and time slot (ahead of two hip hop groups), Zeus delivered a strong set which ebbed and flowed between some of their big riff tunes and their equally awesome moody lilting songs- showing the range of their catalogue, and that they can make it all work magically in a live setting. Looking quite comfortable on an already busy stage crammed with gear, the mustached Zeus gentlemen exchanged instruments and vocal duties as casually as handing off the wheel to a trusted road buddy halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh. The three vocalists each provide their own distinct flair to their songs, but somehow they all sound exactly like Zeus songs- and not to be forgotten, the drummer Robbie Drake keeps the tempo big and deliberate, occasionally flaring when the opportunity arises in more open sections. I think he may be one of my favourite current touring drummers. Closing the show with their new single, the catchy and perfectly-written 'Are you Gonna Waste My Time', Zeus left the stage to giddy cheers (from me), surely to return to a much larger crowd. 

Then, nothing happened, except A$AP Rocky on the mainstage. This was confusingly bad. As I popped on my phone to see what was polluting the airwaves, I checked out the bio on the Bluesfest site, and learned that he not only has recently moved to New Jersey- but also got his GED! Good for him, I guess. We took in a few tracks from Chali 2na and concluded that he definitley has one of those voices that works perfectly for hip hop or public announcing.  

After a bit of a wait, we went over to wait for Lauryn Hill. Then we waited some more... 

Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas - Ottawa BluesfestWe relaxed, cautiously, and as my insides begged me to move on to another stage, I calmed myself with thoughts of how great Lauryn was in Sister Act. Man, she surprised everyone with that voice, even that old stogey Mother Superior, Remember!? Remember the Fugees? They were good too. Then we waited some more and her colleague "DJ Distracto" as he might be called, came out to keep us busy for a while, occupying time while Lauryn cried and smashed furniture, or snorted heroin off of a midget's forehead, or performed mime routines for school children, or whatever happens backstage. I'm sure on paper, it's a pretty high profile gig for him. Essentially, he is Lauryn Hill's Hype man, but after about 30 minutes of pre-show, he seemed to me like the most unlucky man in show business. As the time ticked away, and DJ appeared increasingly apologetic, and as the crowd began to turn, the drummer reluctantly joined him on stage, giving the impression that a show was actually going to be taking place at some point, but after a few drawn out drum breaks and probably the 14th 'Ah-Taa-Whaa!!! Make some nooooize!' - it was clear the crowd was finally sick of the diva bullshit and started to move into position for Snoop who was scheduled to begin on the mainstage 35 minutes later, and that was when she finally emerged. How dramatic! Looking a little jumpy and confused, and singing rather disjointedly, it only took a dissapointing rendition of 'Everything is Everything' (I think that's what it was) to make me wish I'd caught more of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas... A fucking Zydeco band! (Of which I should admit, I only caught 30 seconds of as I fled the mainstage area, but I'm sure they are great, in fact, they sounded as good or better than any zydeco band, ever.) 

Derek Trucks - Ottawa BluesfestThen it was pie splitting time. Tedeschi Trucks Band kicked things off at 9pm on the River stage with some great modern Southern Rock Soul, double drummer wide fat-ness, featuring the best parts of the Allman Brothers band- Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge. Susan Tedeschi's is throaty with incredible range, as in she manages to Kim Carnes it without getting all Bette Davis. In short, a superb voice to lead this spectacular band through much of their new release 'Revelator' all the way through to an energetic rendition of Sly and the Family Stone's 'Higher' to close things out; as well as provide Derek Trucks a vehicle to blow minds with his unreal abilities on the slide/lead guitar. Trucks is no longer just a wonderkid, he is a super tasty, mature soloist elegantly leading the group through the instrumental passages of the show spinning melodies out of thin air. It was hard to leave this fantastic scene at the River Stage, but I had to check out two more stages.

Oliver Mtukudzi and his band was a favourite at several of the earlier downtown editions of Bluesfest- often getting the crowd out of their shoes and dancing to his Zimbabwean World beat jazz at the green grassy confines of the origianl Black Sheep Stage. It felt a little bit thin compared to those carefree days, perhaps he had some new musicians with him that didn't fill out the music as well as his previous group, perhaps he was as tired as he looked. Regardless, as charming and impressive as he was on his guitar, he didn't manage to hold my attention more than a couple of happy upbeat head-bobbers. 

Susan Tedeschi - Ottawa BluesfestI did return to catch more of Tedeschi Trucks, but admittedly, I spent the majority of my time checking out Deltron 3030- Dan the Automator, Del tha Funky Homosapian and Kid Koala, joined by a full band, a youth orchestra and choir on the Electro Stage which felt to be some of the most musically interesting hip hop I've ever seen- with some great projected imagery giving the performance a truly moody and futuristic vibe. I am a fan of Kid Koala's early records as well as Lovage and some other collaborations featuring some of these artists- but I am not familiar with Deltron 3030, so I checked this show out reccommendation, and I am now looking forward to also checking the releases out. The musical arrangements were phenomenal, big and undeniable. Kid Koala is still cool as hell to watch after all these years, and a great overhead camera afforded us the luxury to really see his hands fly. Also really enjoyed the vocal delivery, and actually feel interested enough to check out some hip hop for the first time in a long time.