The National headlined the Ottawa Folk Festival friday night

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

The Folk festival's oddest main stage programming unfolded this frigid evening, as soul, and hip hop were sandwiched between kid-pop Gods, the Wiggles and Indie-rock demi-gods, the National. Earlier on though, it was a treat to catch a few numbers from Lee Fields and his deft band the Expressions, as they wowed with old school funk and soul that represents the contemporary pinnacle of that genre (to say - the quickly dwindling genre of hotshot soul bands fronted by authentic/ still living soul legends).

J. Cole followed with an intense hip-hop set, backed by a live drummer, two dancers and an arsenal of expletives, which captivated an enthusiastic audience and sent myself, and several unimpressed Grannies running for the hills. Cole's audience participation and lyrical delivery were on point- but I felt like the aggressive sexual tone didn't really suit the post-Wiggles scene. However, It worked out- as I got to take in a couple of local bands, who I haven't yet had the opportunity to check out. Pony Girl was an impressive 7 piece band with wispy folk tendencies and some smooth Rhodes- driven grooves, which kept me interested. The inclusion of clarinet bolstered the boy-girl harmonies, and the enthusiastic group collectively delivered in a heart-felt manner- I'll definitely check them out again.

Soon after a visit to the Celtic tent, and an informative chat with the Instruments for Africa initiative, I checked out a few tunes from the Peptides- a stylish pop-noir, vocal driven band which was high on talent, choreography and innuendo. I haven't heard harmonies delivered with that kind of lady-balls before! I was exceptionally impressed by the powerhouse vocals of Becky Noelle. Though the over-the-top theatrical nature of their work isn't really up my alley, I can certainly understand why they are renowned performers, locally.

Then, after a long wait at security, I was back in and psyched to see the National. I'm not sure where I went wrong tonight, but I didn't really enjoy their set. I felt the sound was an issue top to bottom- at times it was awkwardly feed-backing, a wash of confusion, or sheepishly and unsuccessfully flirting in attempt to achieve a happy balance. This possibly occurred as a result of previous noise complaints, but in the end, for my un-initiated ear, the band's delivery suffered and lacked presence. By the end, the sound improved somewhat, and the last few songs of the show were allowed proper treatment. I do appreciate the band's recorded music, as hope to catch them again in a setting which compliments their thick sonic prowess. The highlight of the set (for me) was the acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.