RBC Ottawa Bluesfest – Day 7 executive summary

Day 7. The day the heat broke. Tragically Hip Night.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Don’t be fooled by their name. The Blues Explosion is ‘blues’ like The Jesus Lizard is ‘rock’. You’re not going to hear these guys play ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, unless it was re-arranged to include screaming feedback and a theremin.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

In hindsight – Jon Spencer looked pretty rough.
RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton

I don’t mean that as a complaint though. This threesome (2 guitars and a drummer) are quite a brilliant band. I was trying to think of a band who could change gears like this one – and couldn’t come up with anyone. Seemingly mid-song, Jon Spencer would unleash a gutteral howl and the band would tear into some completely different gear.

But don’t let me lead you to believe that this band is tight. Jon Spencer plays through what looks like a garage sale bass amp, their guitars are just out of tune enough to provide constant dissonance, and the only lyrics I deciphered in the entire set were “Blues Explosion” and “Ooooh!”

With more song structure, this band is The White Stripes. And I’m sure that at some point in this band’s 22 year career, they were told by someone to tighten it all up and nail it all down. The Blues Explosion clearly said, “fuck that” and did the opposite – and you’ve gotta respect that.

Larry McCray & Kenny Wayne Shepherd: I would trade almost anything to be able to play the guitar as well as Robert McCray or Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Their style isn’t really music I’d recommend as mind-blowing new music, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mention and appreciate these guys and revere their talent.

There are guitar players like these 2, there is an enormous gulf of space, and then there’s every other guitar player we write about on this blog. Respect.

The Funk Hunters: Really impressed by this Vancouver duo. Bouncing and bobbing behind a crazy setup of audio and video mixers and gear, The Funk Hunters touched on just about every style of dance and house music between 110 and 175 BPM. This was a big departure from the monster bassline sound that all the Toronto producers have been bringing to town this week. Also much more to their live show than most of the other producers we’ve seen this week – in that this is a full-on audio-video presentation of their music.

Picture a video dance party that is being run by quite polished DJs, where they made most of the video and audio themselves. Impressive? Yes.

I would highly recommend sifting through all the free music on their website… it’s chalk full of mashups, remixes and originals that are worth listening to.

The Tragically Hip: The following conversation was overheard as I waited in line for a beer:

Girlfriend: Listen to them – they’re terrible!
Boyfriend: Noooo…. you gotta know them. They’re from Kingston!

The Tragically Hip

Lead singer Gord Downie pointing at ME!
RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton

If you spent any time in Canada int he last 20 years listening to rock music, there is a 99% likelihood that at least one Tragically Hip song can bring you to either a) hug one of your buddies; or b) tears. If you’re between the ages of 30 and 50, there is almost no possibility that you could have avoided The Tragically Hip becoming associated with some memory of an event that occurred  between 1992 and 2000.

This is The Tragically Hip: their days of producing relevant progressive rock music have long since passed, but they can still fill a giant field and sell a shitload of beer, and there’s something to be said for that.

Personally, I want to see this band on the night where the legendarily quirky frontman/poet laureate Gord Downie decides to sing all of their songs on the beat. As it is, the beat-poetry-esque delivery of his singing makes Canada’s most accomplished sing-along band a bit frustrating to actually sing along with.

All that being said, all the baggage that comes along with being such a monster piece of Canadian culture, the dozens of times everyone in that crowd has seen this band: “The Hip” always make it feel like a festival.


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