The third day of Bluesfest got off to a vibrant mid-afternoon start with Ottawa’s dynamic duo, Riishi Von Rex on the Black Sheep Stage. Their music was a completely unique whirling dervish of styles that ranged from gypsy rock to a sort of punk polka straight from Transylvania. The material was refreshingly original and, by the end of their hour-long set, what started as a trickle of listeners grew into a massive audience.
The pair, made up of guitarist and singer-songwriter Riishi, and her songwriting co-pilot Michel Delage on drums and backing vocals, filled the stage with their larger-than-life instrumentation and laid back comedic exchanges. Riishi, whose blood red mirror shades matched her flaming locks, brandished a beautiful shiny black Gretsch-like guitar that wasn’t much smaller than her petite frame. However, when she opened her mouth, she delivered some serious vocal contrasts from quirky Björk-style cuteness to a more howling fierceness.
Every song brimmed with twists and turns of rhythms, tempos, and moody melodies. The lyrics matched the music’s ominous quality with its gothic, mythical and urban culture folklore stories.
One called “Baba Yaga,” a spooky tale of a witch-type character who eats bad children was another one loaded with quick polka beats and plenty of bending guitar notes that gave this song its deliciously foreboding flavour. Riishi’s complicated series of mainly minor chord progressions, rhythm playing, and picking while she sang were impressive to say the least. “I work alot in a harmonic minor scale,” said Riishi during a post-show interview, “which is associated with Slavic music and world music. I really enjoy the vibe of it – it’s very evocative to me.”
Another entitled “Vultures” possessed a crazy rock madness filled with march beats and a variety of other rhythm changes that were extraordinary and brought a colourful backbone to all the material. “As far as drumming influences,” says Delage, “I always try to bring everything together…really mash it up. Riishi is the best outlet for me right now. I’m in a lot of projects, but this is the most fun.”
Their pièce de resistance came at the end with the strangely titled “Lazy Peasant Sounds” that moved from a slow start into a zany flamenco-meets-wild west groove. The ending was laden with dramatic changes that brought a strong wave of crowd response. The two travelled through the many changes in the songs with precise synchronicity and looked like they were having fun in the liberating movement of the music. “It’s actually easier with Michel than if I was playing without him” says Riishi, “He holds down that backbone. I think the duo is sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, there’s not a lot of freedom because you have to just be on. But there’s also the liberty of doing something more radical with the music. We just lock in together and do it – it doesn’t need to be highly orchestrated. It’s very free.”
For more info on Riishi Von Rex or to purchase their EP, “Shed Your Helmet”, please visit the band’s website.