The music schedule on Saturday night at Ottawa Jazzfest was one of those nights stacked with performances. Evenings like this can pull in alot of music lovers, and it was very obvious that it would be a busy night, while it was extremely difficult to find parking as early as 7pm within a 20 minute walk to confederation park. This was most definitely due to the fact that Bruce Cockburn was scheduled to play in the Laurier St. Music Tent at 7:30, which brought it one of the largest crowds that's been squeezed in to that stage area.
The line to get in was shockingly long, and many people realized that watching from outside the boundary of the fences around the tent would be just as satisfying as being inside, where anyone who wasn't seated in a chair underneath the tent were standing in a crowd struggling to see who was actually playing on the stage. There are those moments where the taller people inhibiting the view would move their head just enough so one could see what kind of guitar Bruce Cockburn was playing.
He was backed by a percussionist playing some delicate snare with his soft sticks or brushes and an acoustic double-bass to fill in the lows. Bruce was on a resonator guitar, and producing music that is so specialized by his own sound that it is timeless. It was hard to get that intimate show feeling while not having a spot within the tent.
There is an odd change this year to the atmosphere of that stage. The north side of the tent used to be wide open to allow people to spread outside of the tent perimeter on both sides, however this year, one side is closed shut which creates a very unbalanced overflow on the city hall side. Perhaps the sound of the cars on laurier are too distracting and affect the sound in some way, but it never appeared to be an issue in the past.
With 20 minutes left in Bruce's set, the crowd was thinning out as many were heading over to the Main Stage to catch The Roots. The last time The Roots were here, they had put on a high-energy party at the Ottawa Bluesfest. From the moment Black Thought, ?uestlove, Captain Kirk, Tuba Gooding Jr. and the rest of the band picked up their instruments, sticks and mics, they didn't stop pushing the energy limit until their set ended at around 10:30.
Their performance spanned quite a few musical styles. Offering up Hip hop, reggae, jazz, rock, and funk, they promoted alot of dancing, and it was great to see the lawn chairs abandoned throughout the set as everyone capable took to their feet.
The energy wasn't just in their playing, but is was highly physical. Members shifting positions nearly non-stop around the stage or synchronized bouncing (no trampolines!) which showed off tuba gooding jr's physical conditioning. He must be skipping rope on his off days.
Following this heavy dose of energetic music, a pretty large crowd was forming in line outside of the Laurier stage while Reuben and the Dark were still working on their soundcheck. For some reason, this show was behind by about a half-hour. By the time they started their set, it was 11pm and they had a full tent, the crowd divided with chairs on one side and fans standing on the other. When people setup chairs in that tent at night, and pull them RIGHT up to the stage, it can really affect the vibe. The previous night, the Soul Rebels slightly shamed those sitting down and challenged everyone to get up. Reuben didn't really play the kind of grooves where sitting feels out of place, so the integration of both camps seemed fine.
While Reuben and the Dark have some very well written songs, it was hard not to lock in on Indie band musical clichés. Their songs have many of the ingredients found in other acts. The pulsing rhythm, reverby supporting vocals, the guitarist/synth/banjo guy, and that "mumford and sons"-esque singing voice kept them from feeling unique and new. Rolling Stone was played early in the set, and as an example of this working formula, it's hook is very memorable and will get stuck in one's head for hours after hearing it. Reuben Bullock (aka Christian Bale) is also a very good front man, and displays lots of charisma.
They put on a wonderful well-rehearsed performance. and are certainly worth checking out live.