RBC Ottawa Bluesfest – Day 9 executive summary

Day 9 – Bjork day.

Austra: A band we’ve seen and loved before – they didn’t disappoint on a hot Saturday afternoon. Equal parts Vangelis and Florence Welch, Austra is haunting, yet catchy as hell. This wasn’t the tightest set of all the synth-based pop bands this week, but with singer Katie Stelmanis in front, they are certainly one of the most striking and memorable.

Death Grips: I was disappointed to see that Zach Hill – one of the craziest drummers out there – was not with the band on this day. That would have taken this set to an unbelievable level of bad-assery.

As it stood, even without Hill’s frantic pounding, this was an eye-opening show. Frontman MC Ride and producer Flatliner came out on stage and stared down an already excited audience while metallic screeching announced the show was about to begin. An intimidating and exhilarating stage presence – these guys didn’t let up or break character all show… they just walked on stage and started to go.

Death Grips - 2013 RBC Ottawa Bluesfest

Death Grips mean business on stage.
RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton

Their music, I feel, is what aggressive hip hop will sound like in 10 years. They’re way ahead of their time, and I found myself thinking either, “this is absolutely brilliant aggressive hip hop” or “this is comically terrible” several times during their show.

Respect though. Nobody is doing anything even close to what death grips are doing.

Stars: There are sooo many ‘indie’ band in Canada that are doing what Stars are doing… poppy, 2 singers, synths, guitars… but none are as good as Stars.

Poppy, charismatic and catchy always – Stars were able to change gears and go from big sing-along pop to some tender songs and moments of real vulnerability. The band also threw out some extremely kind and reverent words for the upcoming set from Bjork – calling her “brave, inspirational, and exceptionally beautiful” (paraphrasing).

Ra Ra Riot: From just down the road in Syracuse NY, I was really impressed by Ra Ra Riot yesterday. The first thing that struck me was how excellent their drummer – Kenny Bernard is. They brought lots of energy to a small crowd on the River Stage (if you’re an indie band scheduled against Bjork – you’re screwed for an audience).

We’ve seen Ra Ra Riot several times now, and they keep getting good reviews for being a really tight band with lots of energy. They’ve got great songs, lots of energy – 2014 could be a monster year for this band.

Bjork: This show was absolutely brilliant. That is really all of the Bjork review you need to read.

Take a listen to some of Bjork’s material and think about it… really listen and consider it. If you were a love musician, how on earth would you possibly pull it off? How could you take this audio art and make it actually playable on stage? It’s nearly impossible. But Bjork did it perfectly and brilliantly.

Bjork - 2013 RBC Ottawa Bluesfest

Bjork is in there.
RBC Bluesfest Press Images PHOTO Mark Horton

A gear nerd, the first thing I thought when the stage crew started to lift the plastic off the gear was, ‘what the hell is all that?’ The center of the stage was fitted with 2 risers, an upright organ, a pipe organ, and some sort of (making presumption here) Icelandic wooden pipe organ, and a Tesla coil! (or something like it). There was also a black green-lit synth setup and a giant station of pads and drums and 3 big video screens.

Her ‘band’ used it all – from giant spacey 909 beats, to only-Bjork-could-have-written-this keys and chord progressions – it was all performed live on the stage, and the choir brought an element of power that we haven’t seen all week.

I have never appreciated what an incredible vocal talent Bjork is until yesterday – she showed remarkable dynamic range, and backed by her choir performed some truly mind-blowing harmonies.

This show was a work of genius.

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