A stellar line-up of evening acts on both the Claridge and City Stages Friday night were interrupted sporadically due to the threat of approaching thunderstorms. By 7:30pm, a light rainy mist had begun, but it wasn’t enough to deter the crowd or to stop the performance of Canadian rock greats the Headstones who gave a loud and proud dose of their past and present material. Hugh Dillon flaunted his badass persona, dressed in militant-style black, and sporting a pair of mirrored Raybans. He took full ownership of the stage, stepping out onto the front bass bins, circulating down into the crowd, and even snatching the video cam from the onstage videographer to shoot the audience himself.
The band fed the hungry listeners with their brand of bombastic, Ramones-inspired rock, a sound they made entirely their own since their beginnings 30 years ago. It’s a sound they’ve been maintaining ever since, evident in their new album, “Devil’s On Fire”, released earlier this year. “Settle”, laden in its signature brash and audacious lyrics, cleverly made its way into a few bars of The Tragically Hip’s, “Blow At High Dough”, giving a tip of the hat to their fellow Canadian musicians. They delivered a few of their rock radio saturated hits, including the energetic “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, and the metronome drone of “Smile and Wave”, which delved into a segment of P.F. Sloan’s protest song, “Eve of Destruction”. Dillan gave a respectful mention of Ottawa venues Zaphod’s and Barrymore’s, where the band cut their teeth during their early rise to fame, and fittingly ended with “Cemetery”, a song from their debut 1993 album, “Picture of Health”.
Immediately following the Headstones performance, the music began again this time on the Claridge Stage, with Los Angeles-based artist, Anderson .Paak, backed by his band, The Free Nationals. I was lured by the infectious and sophisticated groove, which encompassed flavours of hip hop, soul, and jazz. As dynamic as the vibe of the music, so was Anderson Paak in his zealously sensual stage presence, and had the audience in the throes of his charm. His blend of singing, rap, and sometimes a cross between the two, added to the cool rhythmic flow, which sent the crowd into a gentle gyrating mode. The man’s natural born rhythm didn’t stop there, as he jumped onto the drum kit to showcase some impressive syncopations while he sang. Unfortunately, as the crowd began to heat up, the performance was stopped temporarily due to the uncooperative weather, but resumed again for one last song before Live’s headlining show began on the City Stage.
Hailing from York, Pennsylvania, the band Live has been enjoying their new-found reunion with lead singer and songwriter and guitarist, Ed Kowalczyk. After an 8-year departure from the band, Kowalczyk sounded in top form and the band played with an increased energy and musicianship that was immediately evident. They began with the exuberant, “All Over You”, from their biggest, platinum selling album to date, “Throwing Copper” (1994), as the rain came pouring down like cats and dogs. The song’s spirited tone displayed their signature dramatic rushes this powerhouse rock band has always been known for. Kowalczyk instantly walked across the stage to put his arm around his long-time guitarist and childhood friend Chad Taylor in a touching display of sentiment, and what looked like a vibe of pure joy in playing together again.
The band have tended to follow the same set list for most of their tour since their kick off show at the Valencia Ballroom this past New Year‘s Eve, with the band’s biggest hit, “Lightning Crashes”, saved for the end. The hometown location was a fitting start, since it virtually brought the band back full circle from when they gigged there just after graduating from high school nearly 30 years ago. However, the journey through the rest of their repertoire ceased abruptly midway through their third song, “Pain Lies on the Riverside”, from their first album “Mental Jewellery” (1991). A huge crack of thunder prompted the stage lights and sound to be cut and the band disappeared from view, replaced with emergency signage to leave the grounds. It appeared that the “lightning crashed”… but we never got the chance to hear it.
RBC Bluesfest runs from July 6–16, 2017 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.