Styx Conjures Rainbows, QOTSA, Foreigner, and Jake Bugg at Ottawa Bluesfest

Josh Homme, QOTSA - Photo: Mike Bouchard 

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By: Jay McConnery

After the perfect weather of opening weekend, warm summer rain greeted Bluesfest patrons Tuesday evening, and surprisingly didn’t damper attendance or enthusiasm. At times torrential, the downpour delayed show-times and soaked thousands of rockers with often hilarious and/or unfortunate results. A different kind of wet t-shirt contest, you might say. I arrived over-prepared with rain gear, umbrella and gumboots enabling fast convenient positioning in the muddiest sections of the concert bowl, as well as glances of disdain from wet longhairs attempting to spark their damp smokes. Unfortunately missing Jenny Lewis and Brody Dalle, my evening shift began with STYX and their immaculate spectalica of fromage-a nostalgica, forcefully delivered without a sniff of irony, no matter what the liberal use of hairspray or masculine-purposed spandex attire might normally suggest.

Unapologetically, they are STYX. STYX, featuring Gowan, (so ya know!), prove their credibility by delivering their numbers fast and hard, just like STYX likes it. Spread across the stage in well-choreographed interplay, the band deftly blasted through their notable catalogue with precision, highlighting their alarmingly well-maintained chops and seemingly immortal bouffant lids. Their visual production was slick, shiny, and careful to avoid extreme close-ups of the ageing band members. Instead, the sizeable screens focused on blinding, somewhat dated, accompanying imagery, like shifting patterns of digital primary colours, and images of some kind of confusing flag-waving patriotism. Anyway. Predictable highlights included ‘Lady,’ and the solo Gowan medley of hits which riffed on ‘Moonlight Desires,’ ‘Strange Animal,’ and ‘Live and Let Die.’ This sing-along culminated in the end of the rain showers and emergence of a huge rainbow across the festival sky which inspired many bright eyes and poor photographs. The set wrapped with a show-stopping ‘Come Sail Away’ which filled my sails taut with smiles, on course, across the bowl for Queens of the Stone Age.

QOTSA emerged from the shadows of a backlit fizzling countdown to a lively set, opening with one-two punch of ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar’ and ‘No One Knows’, much to the young crowd’s delight. Performing as a 6 piece, the band delivered the best of their catalogue, with all the bells and whistles of the albums maintaining the raw emotive punch stoner rock requires to thrive in the live. Although the set drifted towards the flat-lands at times, the band kept the head-bobbing crowd stationary for their 70 minute set, even adding some new words to fan favourite ‘Feel Good Hit of The Summer’. Homme’s energy and voice started out spotty, but improved in collusion with the imbibition of his wide stiff drink.

He remarked candidly at one point how impressed he was with the diversity of the day’s line up and mused that he thought that this, Bluesfest, is what a music festival should be- in reference to the diverse, if not random inclusivity of the programming. Like all of our uncomfortable cultural representations, I began to wonder if this festival really does tersely symbolize the fragmented artistic landscape and diversity of culture we enjoy/confound here in Canada, and especially Ottawa. Everyone has got something different in mind, and difference becomes homogeneity. As well, the reason some like it less, is often the same reason most like it more?

Oh, Man. I pounded my beer and and shuffled through the war museum to check out the EDM night at the Blacksheep, and was surprised by the scant crowd of tanktops. I decided to go back and check out the opening of Foreigner, whose hits have filled radios for the last thirty years, against my better judgement. Every Foreigner track is immediately recognizable, although the same cannot be said for any single members of the group onstage- who look more like a parody. Ostensibly a cover band which covers material I’ve never really connected with, I hit the River stage to see Jake Bugg.  

Jake Bugg - Photo: Mike Bouchard

Shaggy twenty year old Jake Bugg, is a well hyped Brit singer/songwriter, who again came highly recommended from several people, who had warned me to ‘see him while I can’. I immediately liked his simple black t-shirt style, basic rock trio set up, and the jangly tone of his resonant mahogany folk guitar. His songs were catchy, bearing the influence of Dylan and the Beatles unabashedly, and his voice reminiscent of a young Ray Davies- though without the grit and hardship. Or maybe a better comparison would be Deer Tick’s John McCauley without the perspective, heartache and booze. I enjoyed his set until his lyrics began to annoy- not surprising for a singer who is half my age, I just wasn’t buying it after a while. I left looking forward to a more promising tomorrow.