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Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #9 Belle and Sebastian – Saturday, July 6th, 2013

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Belle and Sebastian live at Bluesfest 2013

Artist: Belle and Sebastian
When: Saturday, July 6th, 2013
Where: Claridge Homes stage at 8:00pm
Context: Where do I even begin? I mean Belle and Sebastian has been one of my favourite bands for a very long time. I’ve been following this Scottish indie pop band since some point around 1997 or 1998. One of my favourite ever albums is 1998’s “The boy with the arab strap” but I know each one of their albums intimately and have a bunch of them in my vinyl collection. But this set was my first and still only time seeing the band to date.

When Belle and Sebastian took the stage, they were an impressive sight. They are already a large band, sitting at seven full-time members, but then when you add in the string quartet, a cellist, additional keyboards and horn players, they had up to 13 musicians on stage at different points in their performance. Again, it was a pretty impressive sight and the sound was just incredible.

The biggest surprise for me of their whole set, though, was Stuart Murdoch. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I thought he was excellent and I’m not just talking about his singing and guitar playing. He was a delight with the audience from the beginning, telling stories and jokes between every song. He started off by mentioning that because this was their first time in Ottawa, they fully intended to play music from their entire catalogue. As Murdoch himself put it, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” He also called Ottawa the friendliest city in Canada and went on to the tell the story of how he went for a walk downtown and didn’t think he’d make it back to the festival on time so he jumped on a bus without correct change and the driver let him ride for free, “just this once”.

As promised, Murdoch and company performed tracks from all over their career. A couple of times during the set he introduced older tracks with the preface that they were for those in crowd that were older, like him, but that if the youngsters in the crowd knew the songs too, even better. There was so much from which to choose that they could have played but didn’t. Still, I was not disappointed in the least at the songs that made the set. In fact, I think I would have been happy with whatever they played but there was one song in particular that I really wanted to hear, that is, of course, the title track off “The boy with the arab strap”. And wouldn’t you know? They played it, along with another of my favourite tracks, “Legal man”, during a part of the set where Murdoch was feeling like dancing. He invited a few members from the audience to come up on stage while the band performed these two songs. It was brilliant.

The band finished off their proper set with “Judy and the dream of horses” and left the stage. But the crowd was not letting them off that easily, insisting on one more song. They returned, almost embarrassed, and Murdoch wondered aloud whether it was “bad protocol” to perform an encore at a music festival. We weren’t complaining at all, especially when he dove into another classic track, “Get me away from here I’m dying”.

The setlist
The backdrop
Stuart Murdoch and Chris Geddes of Belle and Sebastian
Stevie Jackson and Bobby Kildea of Belle and Sebastian
Dave McGowan and Sarah Martin of Belle and Sebastian
Richard Colburn of Belle and Sebastian
Stevie Jackson and Stuart Murdoch
Sarah Martin and Stuart Murdoch
Dancing to ‘The boy with the arab strap’

Setlist:
Judy Is a Dick Slap
I’m a Cuckoo
Expectations
I Want the World to Stop
To Be Myself Completely
Piazza, New York Catcher
If She Wants Me
Funny Little Frog / Seeing Other People
Like Dylan in the Movies
I Didn’t See It Coming
The Boy With the Arab Strap
Legal Man
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Encore:
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

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Live music galleries

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #8 The Waterboys – Friday, July 12th, 2013

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

The Waterboys live at Bluesfest 2013

Artist: The Waterboys
When: Friday, July 12th, 2013
Where: Claridge Homes stage at 8:00pm
Context: This Waterboys set on a Friday night seven years ago allowed me to cross a band off my list of bands that I needed to see, of which I never thought I would see, and they did not disappoint. Mike Scott came out on stage in a town in which he had never before performed, took off his sunglasses, and said, “Okay, Ottawa, let’s take a look at you.” Then, he led his band right into “Strange boat” from the classic album, “Fisherman’s blues”.

Indeed, having been at this for a long time, Mike Scott had a lot of material to pull from and played a set of tunes from all different parts of his career under The Waterboys moniker. Their sound has changed quite a bit over the years but what has never changed is Scott’s incredible talent for lyrics and storytelling. The band membership also has been quite fluid over the years. The band touring North America with Scott that year was one that he had put together himself just for this purpose and considering that most of the material was likely new to them, played it like it was second nature. The standout member, of course, was fiddler Steve Wickham, who was an honest-to-goodness member of the band in the late 80s, when “Fisherman’s blues” was written and recorded. You can just feel the chemistry and history between Wickham and Scott as you watch them perform together. Yes, Wickham is just as much the performer as Scott himself.

The Waterboys played for just over an hour, squeezing in most of their more popular tracks, certainly all of my favourites, save one (“Glastonbury song” from 1993’s “Dream harder”), but I was only half expecting that one. They even played a couple of new tracks, both of which had a bit of blues rock feel, and as Scott said, “It is a blues festival, right?”

My wife Victoria at one point turned to me and said, “They’ve waited too long to come to Ottawa.” And I’m pretty sure the crowd, which was for the most part of the older persuasion, would have agreed and most seemed pleased with the set. When it ended, one would almost say abruptly, the crowd managed to drag the band out for an encore, for which Scott and company covered an old traditional gospel tune, “Will the circle be unbroken”. And this was a perfect ending for me.

Mike Scott and Malcolm Gold
Steve WIckham of The Waterboys
Mike Scott
Malcolm Gold and Jay Barclay of The Waterboys
Steve Wickham duelling with Jay Barclay and Malcolm Gold
Steve Wickham duelling with Mike Scott
Mike Scott getting theatrical in a two-faced mask

Setlist:
Strange boat
Fisherman’s blues
A girl called Johnny
I’m still a freak
The girl in the swing
We will not be lovers
Raggle taggle gypsy
Mad as the mist and snow
The whole of the moon
I can see Elvis
Medicine bow
Don’t bang the drum
Encore:
Will the circle be unbroken

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Live music galleries

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #7 The Reverb Syndicate – Saturday, July 11th, 2015

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

The Reverb Syndicate live at Bluesfest 2015

Artist: The Reverb Syndicate
When: Saturday, July 11th, 2015
Where: Canadian Stage at 3:15pm
Context: One of the great things about Ottawa Bluesfest is the focus that organizers place on promoting local talent. It’s a great gig for the bands and artists because they get exposure to crowds that they normally wouldn’t draw and they are able to attend the festival for every day after their own performance. And it’s also great for the audiences who take the time to be treated to inspired performances by local acts. Every year that I have gone to the festival, I have seen some excellent local acts and there are a great many that I could’ve chosen to include in this series. In the end, I went with an afternoon set by surf-rock outfit, The Reverb Syndicate, not just because I work with the drummer of the group and it was super fun seeing someone I knew up on that stage but also because it was like the end of an era for the band.

Over the course of the year leading up to that set, I had seen them live for the first and second time and had purchased their latest album, The Odyssey, on vinyl. The Reverb Syndicate was at that point becoming one of my favourite local bands. As it would turn out, that set at Bluesfest was their last show as a four piece, since guitarist James Rossiter departed for England shortly afterward. I seem to remember that the band acknowledged the occasion at the outset and called for a drink in his honour.

Hours afterwards, I ran into Michael, the aforementioned drummer, milling about in the crowds and he complained about how many errors he had made but from where I was standing in the audience, it was a flawless performance. The Reverb Syndicate were joined on stage by a pair of “go-go dancers”, a nice touch given the genre, and whom, if I remember correctly, were partners of a couple of the band members. These two dancers had their work cut out for them because the one hour set was a lively one, electric, and with barely room for rest.

On top of playing both sides of their newest record, “Odyssey”, which in themselves work out to almost twenty minutes a-piece of tiring madness, the quartet played a handful of upbeat tracks from older albums, plus a cover of a classic Ventures number. There was plenty of sweet guitar work and impressive, spot-on drumming, all accompanied by some incidental bleeps and bloops by an honest to goodness Commodore 64, “not a prop”, but an instrument used frequently on the aforementioned “Odyssey”.

Good times indeed.

Mike Bradford of The Reverb Syndicate
James Rossiter of The Reverb Syndicate
A fuzzy Michael Sheridan with glasses
Lauren Hart and Jeff Welch
Mike Bradford
A clearer Michael Sheridan without glasses
Katie Bonnar, Jeff Welch, and James Rossiter

Setlist: (not available)