War On Drugs definitely better "prepared" than Matt "guitar" Murphy at Ottawa Folkfest

Photos: Mike Bouchard

Words: Jay McConnery

Sunday, brought Folk Fest’s deserving fans some blue skies and the warmth of autumn sun, reviving weariness with a lineup spilling over with curiosities, sonic gold and various country flavours. Beginning to slip behind in real world responsibilities, I spent the majority of the day completing school work, but made certain to arrive on site in plenty of good time for Philadelphia band: The War on Drugs. Their latest album ‘Lost in the Dream’ has been getting a lot of play on my stereo, and I was ecstatic to hear the production of the live performance faithfully matched the sonic standard set on the record. Huge! The sound was colossal, with Charlie Hall’s killer Ludwig vistalite kit and deliberate groove playing treating listeners to drum tones immaculate, confidently escorting the psychedelic drone which magically entranced listeners young and old for the brief hour they were on stage.

Offering tracks from their three albums, but focusing mainly on ‘Dream,’ frontman Adam Granduciel channels the desirable elements of Dylan’s vocal within spacey melodic progressions set to punchy driving beats. There are elements of Americana, and Space-rock, and stoner rock, which all sound exactly right in the WOD stew. Sounds pretty perfect to me, really. Often I found their most simple melodies and progressions became the most memorable. I realized part of the depth was derived from some backing tracks- but oddly, I didn’t give a shit. I’m by no means a purest, or consistent in my assertions- are you?  Anyway- to avoid going all Blue Rodeo on them, I’ll admit they aren’t the most diverse act on earth, but they do their thing really really well. 

I took a brief break from the set to check out Blues Brother Matt “Guitar” Murphy on the tiny hillside stage, which proved to be one the most confusing sets I encountered. I arrived to a downtrodden Wesley Willis vibe, with Murphy slumped over in his chair on stage, barely able to hold his guitar: kind of like he had just demo’d a flat of beers backstage. He was sloppily playing through pedestrian blues riffs which the average Blues-Dentist could surely have eagerly provided- while a concerned woman with very little charisma stood watching on stage, concerned yet annoyed. The keeper, we learned, was his wife and she was helping him through the set because he recently has had a stroke. It wasn’t clear how long ago this occurred, but it has robbed his ability to play. Matt broke up the playing with brief question and answer periods which were exceptionally awkward, as people approached him on stage with questions and kudos, which only Matt heard- leaving the audience with a broken response to unknown questions. I felt moved by the impermanence of things as Matt begged the crowd to ‘Please, just remember how I used to play.. as long as you remember that’- clearly these gifts are not ours to keep. As he broke into a downright terrible version of Stormy Monday, I felt like a bit of an a-hole creeping away from the stage, as I spoke with a friend of the incredible power of a successful brand.

More photos on Flickr

 

I left to catch the start of Joss Stone, an incredible talent, and after a few soulful tracks slipped down the hill to enjoy the country stylings of ‘Asleep at the Wheel’. Recommended by many dads, this old school swing country outfit brought a taste of authentic Austin Texas to the Valley stage, against the breathtaking backdrop of Heron Rd. Running into several friends, I spent the remainder of the night catching up, hanging out, and making plans with friends I’ve again come accustomed to see nightly.

Hey Rosetta! closed out the MainStage with a huge performance, and though the cancellation of Gaslight Anthem was a hit for the audience, the Festival closed out a memorable if not a benchmark rendition.