Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SLASH AND THE CONSPIRATORS JULY 11TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Pure, unadulterated adulation greeted Saul Hudson and his mates as they appeared to dispense good will and face-melting solos to the thousands that had gathered around the Bell Stage last Friday evening.

Saul Hudson?

Slash!

With ever-present Les Paul slung low and leather "topper" balanced perfectly on his head, the fret-burning legend ripped an ultra-tight, 11 song set, abetted by his Conspirators. Leading off with "Ghost" from his 2010 solo disc, the band burned with the intensity of a blast furnace, though it was vocalist Myles Kennedy who was most impressive throughout. His operatic vox were nothing less than a masterclass in jaw dropping technique, especially as he tackled several Guns and Roses classics and didn't seem to break a sweat in doing so.

Highlights? Pretty much every tune, though "Anastasia" was noteworthy for some very tasty flamenco style runs that the star of the show played on a custom double neck. Throwing "Slither" into the mix (from Velvet Revolver) was an inspired choice, too.

Predictably, the opening salvo of "Sweet Child of Mine" elicited the most frantic response from the crowd. One guy's head actually exploded within seconds of hearing the intro.

But that's how it goes at these rock'n'roll shows...

Slash's fluid playing remains very fine and he seemed to gain energy from Kennedy's note perfect delivery. "Paradise City" closed out the proceedings, complete with flaming telepaths, apocalyptic riffing (courtesy of Sabbath's "Zero the Hero"), ten thousand killer bees performing the Minute Waltz channeled through the stacks and one hell of a finish.

Brevity being the soul of wit, the lads disappeared leaving everyone with a taste for more.

You are well advised to catch Slash and his devastating guitar tone in the act if he's in your neighbourhood this summer.

BLONDIE JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Blondie always conjures up odd memories for me. When "Heart of Glass" was issued as a single back in 1979, my sister secured a copy of the 45, which was played endlessly. The B-side was a tune called "11:59". This is only significant because my main recollection of that song is hearing it drifting in from our living room while deathly ill in bed with a fever and hallucinating. The cast of The Beverly Hillbillies were all dancing wildly to the tune in the corner of my room. Granny played that cool keyboard solo and Ellie May sang lead...

Who needs TV when your brain is frying inside of your skull?

Celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2014, Blondie graced the Claridge Stage of Ottawa Bluesfest on Thursday night and played a spirited set, featuring music that spanned several eras with some surprise covers tossed in to keep things interesting. Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke are the only members left from their initial rise to prominence in the late 70's. Burke gets special mention here for his amazing energy behind the kit, with sticks twirling, launched high into the air and his devastating attack on the skins. He propelled the band in style, giving an added spark to the overall performance. Chris Stein virtually hid behind perpetual shades, taking his place close to the drum riser and holding down rhythm guitar. I would not have been shocked if he had unfurled a newspaper and taken the opportunity to get some light reading in as his bandmates carried on with the business of playing the gig.

At the centre of it all was Ms. Harry, still in great voice and capable of delivering the goods.

Opening with "One Way or Another", they quickly engaged the crowd who immediately responded euphorically. Wanting to avoid coming across as simply a nostalgia act, the focus turned to new material from their most recent disc, Ghosts of Download. Released in May, it didn't seem as if many in the audience were familiar with these tunes. Kudos to the group for sticking to the plan, though it seemed that those assembled started to disengage, despite a fantastic version of "Call Me" that was strategically placed amongst the contemporary fare. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed "Rave" and "Mile High" and will further investigate the new album.

Long before No Doubt and similar aggregations synthesized reggae/pop/hiphop/dance with rock, Blondie was exploring all of these avenues. "Rapture" is a classic example of this and when they played it, people started to become animated once again. They managed a minor coup by running it into the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right (to Party)". This and "Heart of Glass" won back the faithful and they were called back for an encore. "Dreaming" was well chosen and had everyone dancing and pumping their collective fists in the air.

Great show by an iconic band.

No "11:59", though.

Monday, July 14, 2014

COLLECTIVE SOUL JULY 13TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Anthemic radio staples (and smoke from many left-handed ciggies) filled the air around the Bell Stage tonight as Collective Soul brought the 2014 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest to a rousing close.

People went absolutely nuts for these guys...

Atlanta's favorite purveyors of heavy pop took the stage with Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" as their soundtrack. In what was a very astute move, they tore into two brand new tunes from their yet to be released, See What You Started by Continuing album (due out in 2015). Frontman Ed Roland addressed the crowd after they peeled off "This" and "Are You the Answer" (both solid, by the way) joking that, "we wanted a captive audience for the new stuff and wouldn't want to see you guys to run off and take a piss after we played the hits..."

On that score, they did not disappoint, following through with the crunching stomp of "Heavy". Pacing the set with all of the monsters that have garnered consistent airtime on rock stations over their twenty years as a recording entity, the volume of the crowd grew in proportion to that produced by the five musicians.

Highlights included "December", "Gel", "Better Now" and an intense reading of "The World I Know" which featured a huge sing-a-long section. Roland made special mention of the fact that "Gel" was the first one that they recorded "as a band" as opposed to the building of songs through arduous tracking in the studio. One big factor that really came across was how much fun the lads were having onstage. That translated to instant rapport with everyone in attendance and some fun detours like the brief drum interlude ("We hate drum solos, but we love our drummer, Johnny Rabb") and a snippet of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" that gave everyone a chance to exercise their vocal chords.

Ultra-tight, melodic rock and pop, great harmonies and giant hooks kept the love flowing right up to the encores.

Then it became outright obsession

"Shine" featured a decorative piano intro (nice touch) before the band landed like a ton of bricks on a box of cupcakes on the riff. From my spot, close to the front/center stage, the screaming from the fans was unbelievable. It was pretty exciting to be absorbed in the electric current that ran through the masses. "Run" was the closer, with each member of the group abandoning their instruments, one by one, coming out front with Ed to say goodbye, leaving their singer to strum his acoustic and let everyone serenade him into the wings.

It was a fitting end to ten days of excellent music and showmanship.

For me, it was an absolute pleasure to be asked to document some fine and memorable sets over the last week.

In turn, I have to thank two very talented, professional photographers who diligently framed the festival through their own special lenses: Marc DesRosiers, whose work you may check out at frontpagenews.ca and Mark Horton at ehlistimages.ca

Huge thanks to all of you who actually take the time to stop in here and read my scribblings. I have some backlogged Bluesfest reviews to post. Stay tuned for Blondie, Slash, Third Eye Blind and more in the next day or so.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

PROCOL HARUM WITH THE NAC ORCHESTRA JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Everyone should be reminded on a regular basis that they are exactly where they should be in their current position in the cosmos. This writer experienced that very sensation in glorious technicolor on Thursday night. Having mixed up the start times of the acts for the evening, I rushed to the festival grounds, only to arrive well ahead of schedule, though just in time for Procol Harum.

Quickly securing a spot up front, the next hour brought an almost indescribable joy that I am still drawing upon days after the event.

Lee Hayes' Vox Choir and the NAC orchestra flanked the group as they strode onto the Bell stage. Gary Brooker looked the proper English gent/elder statesman as he took his seat at the piano. Acknowledging the applause with a polite wave, he led his mates into "Homburg".

Before the superlatives flow, it's worth pointing out that the orchestral accompaniment was designed to provide the exact feel of their uniformly excellent album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which was originally released in 1972. Having spun my vinyl copy at top volume many times, I could not believe my luck in being parked directly in front of the real thing.

Brooker is still possessed of a soulfully powerful voice, which soared over the collected instruments with great ease. Complimented by a perfect sound mix, the lovely melody of the opener was akin to crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds. "Simple Sister" came next, with strings and choir pushing it to another level. In a moment of self-depreciation, the singer/keyboardist talked of a time when his group, "rode in style to gigs, dined on the finest food and drank expensive wine. Now it's McDonalds and the bus." With that, the opening strains of "Grand Hotel" filled the air. Far from having a soporific effect on the adoring crowd, the beauty of the augmentation to the five piece band band was actually uplifting.

All hands on deck, we've run a float,
I heard the Captain cry.
Explore the ship, replace the cook,
Let no one leave alive...


Almost on cue, a pair of gulls floated above the stage as a note perfect rendering of "A Salty Dog" began to take shape. Majestic in execution, the epic tale from the pen of wordsmith Keith Reid came across quite literally as the music of vast horizons. Nothing short of a convoy of arriving UFOs could have prepared the audience for what followed. In place of the familiar Hammond organ intro to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the orchestra, faithfully reproducing this classic piece. When Brooker stepped in to sing the opening lines, the crowd erupted. This treatment was a masterstroke in arrangement, brought home forcefully when the quintet joined and steered the song back to more familiar territory.

As exhilarating as this was, Procol Harum saved the best for last.

With heartfelt thanks to all who had given their time and attention, Mr. Brooker raised his head, nodding toward the NAC conductor to strike up the startling wall of sound that heralded the closer, "Conquistador". Rounding out an impeccably timed set with an unbridled explosion of energy, the concert grounds were held in the grip of something magical that a more stripped down group of players would not have been able to match. Simply put, this was nothing less than the aural equivalent of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", specially crafted by a very ambitious rock group and delivered with class to astonished group of Bluesfest attendees. Despite witnessing some very fine talent through the past week, this was far and away the most memorable show for me.

Grand in scale and substance, Procol Harum's presentation was by far the most ambitious undertaking of all.

Important to note that picture used here is the work of talented photographer, Mark Horton. His eye for detail is astounding and his photos have been featured in top publications around the world. Check out ehlistimages for more examples of his work.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-JULY 8TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Torrential rain did not deter fans of Queens of the Stone Age, who waited patiently in front of the Claridge Stage for skies to clear. Following a short delay, the band counted off "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like A Millionaire" under the friendly arc of a double rainbow. This natural phenomenon was the perfect "feel good" complement to a spectacular performance. Leaving no dead air, they next dove headlong into "No One Knows", which pumped crowd adrenaline exponentially. This was a wise selection early on, being one of their most recognized tunes. Josh Homme had a mandate to initiate the faithful with selections from last year's Like Clockwork disc, though they smoked and burned in familiar territory first.

"My God Is The Sun" was the first of five songs from the latest album to be unleashed in their 15 song set. This sentiment was doubtlessly shared by those patient souls who had braved the rain. Noteworthy here is the genius of the writing, as their material comfortably welds strong melody with scorching heaviness. The group harmonies in support of Homme's lead vocals were tightly deployed amidst the maelstrom of sonic power that the quintet delivered. These guys spread a highly contagious case of head-banging that resonated out from the stage, across Le Breton Flats and into the living areas of nearby residents. I wouldn't be surprised if these people downed tools, started kicking over furniture and playing air guitar in their living rooms.

This one goes out to all the ladies

By the time that "Make It With Chu" was rolled out, there was a mass of vertical movement all around. It was also announced that bassist Michael Shuman was celebrating his birthday which garnered an ovation and a raucous, shambolic rendition of Happy Birthday from the audience. Homme had very kind words to offer to the organizers of Bluesfest, advised the crowd to keep their day jobs and mused that, "now it was time to just go with the flow..."

Only a comatose individual would have failed to pump their fist into the air as "Go With the Flow" and "A Song For the Dead" destroyed everyone in attendance, the latter featuring a huge drum crescendo. This is the soundtrack for apocalyptic invasion. Still vital, creative and one of the highlights of the live, 2014, Jimi Hendrix Ottawa Bluesfest Experience, this was a most stellar show.

If Queens of the Stone Age happen to be in your area code this summer, steal the money for tickets and get out and see them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FOREIGNER- JULY 8TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

I see a lot of love out there tonight!!!!

Indeed there was, with every ounce of it directed toward the Bell Stage on Tuesday night.

You see, gentle reader, way back in the midst of late 70s excess, a little band called Foreigner appeared on the scene. Eschewing interminable solos and multi-part epics that were an integral part of the rock blueprint at the time, these lads simply went into the kitchen and cooked up three minute hits.

Lots of hits...

Their contemporaries (Journey, Styx, Boston, Toto) also took this no-frills approach to making records. As a result, all were lumped into the category of "Corporate Rock". Dismissed offhand by music critics of that era as insubstantial and soulless, these groups were deemed to be guilty of trivial audience pandering. Despite the thumbs down from hip rock scribes, Foreigner grabbed a large piece of the market and won millions of fans in the bargain.

Judging by the large, enthusiastic crowd that greeted them at Bluesfest, the only thing that mattered was the delivery of those iconic tunes.

As for the set list, remember their "Records" compilation?



"Dirty White Boy" and "Long, Long Way from Home" were omitted, though all of the other monsters were present and played at top volume.

The upshot? Zero filler, no drum solos and not a trace of "We're gonna play y'all something from the new record now!". It was a slick, well paced, greatest hits production with everyone firing on all cylinders throughout.

Time for a joke!

"Knock, knock

Who's there?

Lou Gramm

Lou Gramm who?"

Exactly, because the guy who stood in his place (Kelly Hansen) is an absolute ringer for the former front man and was note perfect on everything he touched. Considering the vocal range required to cover the material, his execution was flawless. The lone remaining founding member (Mick Jones) , curiously, did not appear on stage until after the fourth song. He was given a huge ovation as he peeled off the signature riff for "Feels Like the First Time". Uncle Mick addressed the throng briefly, casually talking of how his family nearly emigrated to Canada when he was a child and confirmed how much love our nation-state had given to Foreigner over the years. Switching from his Les Paul to an acoustic, he then introduced “Star Rider” from the first album and took over lead vocals, though he was woefully “under-miked” on what was otherwise a very pleasant surprise inclusion in the set.

Jones let his guitar chops speak for the rest of the evening.

The high water mark in the show was a stone heavy version of “Juke Box Hero”, which saw all musicians deviate from the main script and improvise madly in the middle section of the song. The choir from hometown Brookfield High School came out to kick off the encore. Jansen encouraged everyone to grab the person closest to them, feel the love and “get back to the eighties”. “I Want to Know What Love Is” provided a cathartic release,with everyone swaying/singing along in unison. By far their most successful song when released back in 1985, the emotional reaction that it garnered on Tuesday night was overwhelming. Always interesting to see what grabs the masses by the lapels and demands their attention.

"Hot Blooded" closed out the evening, though it was telling to witness thousands of people filing out of the confines of LeBreton Flats, loudly singing, "I want to know what love issssssssssssssss, I want you to show meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"

As for the trappings of corporate rock, there was no mention nor care.

Monday, July 07, 2014

LADY GAGA JULY 5th OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Ottawa Bluesfest marked the 21st gig of Lady Gaga's artRAVE tour. Nine tour buses, truckloads of equipment, a personal entourage of 120 and a truly mesmerizing array of costume changes were all part of the spectacle that unfolded in front of 27,000 people who showed up to the party on Saturday night.

From where I stood, after two hours of high energy hits, no one was disappointed.

Giving credit to her supporters here in Canada at many points during her set, the former Stefani Germanotta blasted out of the gate with a full compliment of backup dancers/singers (two of whom carried her out on stage), a hot band and immediately sent the crowd into a mental state with the title track from 2013's Artpop.

Can you fucking hear me?!?!

All in attendance acknowledged that they could.

Continuing on with new material, she made requisite wardrobe changes that were executed at the speed of a dentist's drill and the entire setting in front of the Bell stage seemed to be positively lysergic. Continuing on with this theme, Ms. Gaga appeared for "Venus" in a mile-high brown wig with makeup that bore more than a passing resemblance to Madonna (circa late 80's) as imagined by Salvador Dali. The visual aspect of the show was stunning, with sound quality that was impeccable. While the electro-pop kept the faithful on their feet and dancing, Gaga took a detour away from her ostentatious persona with a solo turn at the keyboards.

Here is where she leaves other contemporary pop-tarts in the dust, as underneath the flash/sheer sonic attack beats the heart of a torch singer. No pitch correction software, no entourage of choreographed, dancing Muppets on LSD...just an exceptionally talented musician. It was this iteration of the artist that mightily impressed all who witnessed the seamless move from "I've Got a Crush on You" to "Born This Way", performed without a net.

Hits? Sure, they were sprayed out effortlessly ("Poker Face", Paparazzi", "Judas") though "Applause" was a definite highlight, as was the encore which featured a solo take on "Gypsy". Several costumed fans were ushered on stage to share the spotlight and the ringleader took a few unscripted moments to read notes that were tossed up to her. Much of her patter between songs was dotted with positive vibes that seemed channelled directly from the late sixties. Wrapping up all of her influences in a druggy, good-time, positive package, Gaga finished off the two hour extravaganza in style, without dragging out the patience of those who got all that they bargained for.

As for your humble scribe, I committed my estimations of the evening to paper over a pint at the nearby Mill Street Pub, wondering if those last two hours were just part of an elaborate dream orchestrated by Bob Mackie and Timothy Leary.

Stef is the real deal...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

JULY 5TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST - MATT ANDERSEN AND THE MELLOTONES



Matt Andersen's voice is an absolute force of nature.

The pride of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick walked out on the Claridge Homes Stage at 6pm on Saturday and owned the crowd from the first note. Backed by the Mellotones, Andersen casually mentioned between songs that this was just the fourth gig with the nine-man wrecking crew from Halifax. Boasting four horns, drums , bass, guitars and keys, the band was solid as they tore through a mix of originals and well chosen covers.

Playing acoustic guitar for the first half of the set, the hirsute star of the show steered the group through soulful renditions of his tunes. One of the many highlights was a song from his latest release, Weightless. Co-wriiten with Joel Plaskett, "My Last Day" muses upon what we would do with ourselves if we knew our time here on earth was limited to one more day. He introducd this one by noting that "we have lost a couple of very talented coast musicians this past year" and dedicated this one accordingly. No doubt referencing the passing of Jay Smith, it was a stellar performance from all involved. One very pleasant surprise was the inclusion of The Band's "Ophelia", which kept the audience dancing throughout and was punctuated by a note perfect trumpet solo. The punchy horn section was deployed for maximum impact as they also provided incredible backing vocals when not occupied with their instruments.

Andersen ramped up the energy when he turned and picked up his blue hollow-body electric, treating those assembled to searing, jaw-dropping solos. During the gut-bucket blues of "The Devil's Bride", he joked about needing "a perfectly greasy trombone solo" and that's just what was delivered. Despite a blistering run through soul, blues and R & B all filtered through the lens of his peerless voice, the magician saved his best trick for the closer.

There was no disguising the signature, frenetic guitar intro to Joe Cocker's arrangement of the Beatle classic, "With a Little Help From My Friends". Every single person assembled was swaying in rhythm, though when the man stepped up to the mic to deliver the opening lines, it was spine tingling. Aided and abetted by the intensity of the Mellotones, Mr. Andersen made you forget that anyone else ever touched this tune. He completely nailed it and, arguably, took it to another level. The crowd went out of their minds as the last notes rang out.

Simply put, it was a masterful set by a prodigiously gifted artist. Do yourself a favor and take the opportunity to catch Matt with the Mellotones on one of their upcoming live dates. Definitely one of the hottest sets from day 3 of Ottawa Bluesfest.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

THE BEATLE WHO VANISHED



June 1964: You receive a phone call with news that is almost too good to be true. The Beatles are set to embark on their first world tour, though drummer Ringo Starr has been hospitalized and needs to have his tonsils removed. You have been called upon to take his seat behind the drums until he recovers.







Jimmy Nicol was the man who accepted the offer and flew into the veritable hurricane of screams that greeted the band at every turn. For two weeks, he was thrust into a blinding spotlight. When the dust settled, he was thanked and provided with a generous sum for his efforts.



And in a blink, he was gone...

Author Jim Berkenstadt has taken up the monumental task of tracing the path of the man who seemingly disappeared after his brief stint as a Beatle. Impeccably researched and very well written, you may purchase The Beatle Who Vanished here

This book is a must read for music historians and Beatle fans.