Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #2 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Friday, July 8th, 2016

(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.)

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Bluesfest 2016

Artist: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
When: Friday, July 8th, 2016
Where: City Stage at 9:30pm
Context: One of the problems with multi-stage music festivals is that, invariably, you run into situations where there are multiple artists that you want to see playing at the same time. It’s happened to me more than a few times over the years and I’ve had to make a decision on who I wanted to see more, weighted based on whether I had seen the acts before and the chances that I’d have to see the act again. One of the most grievous scheduling conflicts I ever had to negotiate was on that Friday back in 2016 when I had to leave an incredible set by Swedish singer/songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth only a few songs into it in order to get a good spot to catch Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds.

My wife Victoria joined me that night (as she does on occasion), just as she did the last time I saw Noel Gallagher live, back when he was performing with Oasis at the 2008 V fest on Toronto Island. A few of you might recall how that one turned out. Some drunken, middle-aged hooligan had hidden himself under the stage, climbed up in the middle of the set, and pushed the elder Gallagher brother from behind, cracking a few ribs in the process. After the fracas and some confusion in the crowd, the band came back out and performed a handful of songs but it wasn’t a complete set. So although we can say we saw Oasis live, we always felt like we were cheated, knowing there were songs they could have played but didn’t.

Eight years later, Oasis had of course broken up and Noel Gallagher had at that time put together two solid solo albums with a new band. I’d always thought Noel more talented than his younger brother Liam and though Victoria doesn’t agree, I’ve always felt that he had the better voice. Don’t get me wrong, Liam is a great frontman, but his force is his attitude and confidence, more than his talent. Nonetheless, seeing Noel Gallagher live again was too good a chance to pass up and it wasn’t hard to convince Victoria to join me.

Out of a set of twenty songs, exactly half were songs that Noel wrote during his days with his original band. He dutifully played the hits – “Champagne supernova”, “Wonderwall”, and the perfect closer, “Don’t look back in anger” – to all of which the crowd was pleased to help him with the vocals and he welcomed it, stepping back from the mike while we sang the choruses. What I found really cool, though, is that he also dug deep into the B-sides, playing some of the more popular (“The masterplan”, “Fade away”, “Half the world away”) but also the not-so-popular (“Talk tonight”, “D’yer wanna be a spaceman”). And it wasn’t for any reason more complicated than that those were some of Noel’s favourite Oasis tracks.

The other half of his set was dedicated to the songs he has written with his new band, The High Flying Birds, and these are no less excellent. Tracks from both the self-titled album and the previous year’s, “Chasing yesterday”, were well-represented and though, some in the crowd were less familiar with these songs, they were well-received. And why not? Some of these tunes, like “Ballad of the mighty I” and “AKA… what a life!”, are far better than some of the tunes he wrestled together during his time with Oasis. In the High Flying Birds, Noel is calling the shots. He doesn’t have to contend with his brother’s ego and he has just as fine a backing band. The five-piece were on fire, assaulting us with a wall of guitars and waves of organ, sometimes augmented by a three-piece horn section, and they played straight through to just before 11 o’clock, not bothering with the whole encore charade, opting instead to play as many songs as possible.

About a third of the way through the set, I think it was during “Champagne supernova”, I looked around at the joyful reaction and attentions of the crowd and turned to my wife and said, “Now why would he want to get Oasis back together?” It was pure rock and roll, Noel style.

Noel Gallagher and Russell Pritchard
Tim Smith, Mike Rowe, and Chris Sharrock
Russell Pritchard and the horn section
Noel!!!
Mike Rowe on keys
Noel Gallagher with Russell Pritchard, Chris Sharrock, and Tim Smith
“We love you, Noel!!!”

Setlist:
Everybody’s on the Run
Lock All the Doors
In the Heat of the Moment
Riverman
Fade Away (Oasis song)
The Death of You and Me
You Know We Can’t Go Back
Champagne Supernova (Oasis song)
Ballad of the Mighty I
Talk Tonight (Oasis song)
D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman? (Oasis song)
The Mexican
Half the World Away (Oasis song)
Listen Up (Oasis song)
If I Had a Gun…
Digsy’s Dinner (Oasis song)
The Masterplan (Oasis song)
Wonderwall (Oasis song)
AKA… What a Life!
Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis song)

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #1 Billy Bragg – Thursday, July 4th, 2012

(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.)

Billy Bragg live at Bluesfest, 2012

Artist: Billy Bragg
When: Thursday, July 4th, 2012
Where: Blacksheep Stage at 9:15pm
Context: Although I had been to multiple nights of the previous three festival years, 2012 was the first year I bought the full festival pass. On the opening night that year, I parked myself down at the Blacksheep stage for the duration. Though for that year, the Blacksheep stage was moved from its normal spot tucked behind the War Museum (where it was replaced with the short-lived Electro stage) and relocated to a spot not far away, actually, where the main merch tent is now placed. This stage location was one of the victims of stage reduction that took place not longer after to try to combat noise bleed between the stages (more on that in a bit).

I caught three very different but all very good acts that evening but the capper was Billy Bragg striding on to the stage shortly after 9:15pm, just him and his guitar. It was my third time seeing him live but it was the first time in over a decade and I had forgotten how integral his banter was to his live performances. His stories between the songs are almost as important to the Billy Bragg experience (and can be just as entertaining) as the songs themselves.

Tea in hand he cajoled and ranted on subjects like cynicism, government, the economy (if you know Billy, you know where he stands on these subjects) and the fact that he was being drowned at by the “disco” at the next stage where Tiesto was headlining. “You can wear mickey mouse ears all you want, it’s still disco,” he joked. “Come on, I’m fifty-f*cking-four years old!” Fifty-four he may have been, Billy Bragg rocked the set and he did it as he often does. Just him on stage. His set was mixed with songs from his Woody Guthrie repetoire (“Ingrid Bergman”), the classics (“Greetings to the new brunette”, “The milkman of human kindness” “Levi Stubbs’ tears”), and a smattering of new songs. Before one such new track, his anti-cynicism song “Tomorrow’s going to be a better day”, he forewarned of a whistling solo and cracked up when the crowd cheered him in the middle of it.

For his encore, Billy came out with a rendition of “Waiting for the great leap forwards” that had almost a completely re-written set of lyrics, adapted for current events, some of which seemed almost as if they were written that day, even on the spot. He finished his set with a singalong version of “A new England”, including an additional verse for his friend Kirsty MacColl, who famously covered the song in 1984 but died in a tragic boating accident in 2000. He provided the words to the chorus before he began but the crowd knew the words to the whole song and sang with him the whole way. Afterwards, he bowed humbly, threw his tea bag out into the crowd and that was it. Brilliant as usual.

Billy Bragg solo on guitar
Billy Bragg
Billy chatting with the crowd
Billy stopping for some tea

Setlist:
The World Turned Upside Down (Leon Rosselson cover)
To Have and to Have Not
Greetings to the New Brunette
Tomorrow’s Going to Be a Better Day
Help Save the Youth of America
Aginst th’ Law (Woody Guthrie cover)
Ingrid Bergman (Woody Guthrie cover)
All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose (Woody Guthrie cover)
Last Flight to Abu Dhabi
The Milkman of Human Kindness
Levi Stubbs’ Tears
There Is Power in a Union
Encore:
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards
A New England

Best albums of 1989: #1 The Stone Roses “The Stone Roses”

So we’ve reached the end of this series and here were at the number one position on my Best Albums of 1989 list. There have already been comments and I’m sure there have been more than a few raised eyebrows at seeing some pretty iconic albums placed lower on this list, like “Doolittle” at number four and “Disintegration” at number three. I did forewarn you at the outset that the year was pretty stacked and I myself had a hard time looking at some of my favourite albums placed lower than number one. But such is the case for 1989 and the fallacy of ranking things in lists is that there should be only be one number one. For me (and a couple of you have already guessed this), that number one is The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut.

The band had originally formed in 1983, six years before this album’s release, but the personnel didn’t stabilize to the lineup we know of Mani, Reni, John Squire, and Ian Brown until a year or two later. Many of this debut’s songs are reworkings of tracks that had been written long before its release and had been demoed in a variety of ways. When it was released by indie label Silvertone Records, it didn’t immediately take the world by storm. Indeed, even the band themselves weren’t super happy with the production on it. However, the press liked it, especially the NME. Single upon single upon single were released and word of mouth spread based on their live shows. And eventually sales increased and they started rocketing up the charts.

“The Stone Roses” is now seen as the album that kickstarted Madchester and ‘Baggy’ culture, alongside The Happy Mondays, and laid the foundations for 90s Britpop. Indeed, the blend of 60s psychedelic guitar rock with a highly danceable rhythm section were highly influential on what would happen in British music for the next decade and onwards, though North American culture would largely ignore them until much later. Unfortunately, this debut, which many argue is the greatest debut ever, would be their only output for half a decade due to record label battles and a host of other problems. Their sophomore album, “Second coming”, would finally be released but was initially seen as disappointment to many and the band would disintegrate within two years of its release.

I heard many of the songs on “The Stone Roses” on the radio and CityLimits and on friends’ stereos long before I ever heard the full album. I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it must’ve been a best of compilation because I already knew and loved most of it. An astounding seven singles were released from “The Stone Roses”, which is more than half of its tracks. There is just so much fun and awesomeness on this album that I could’ve chosen any three songs at random to share with you and I would’ve been happy with the picks.

I hope you enjoyed this series as much I did, even if you might’ve disagreed with the rankings. Let me know what your own top albums would’ve been in the comments section below and we can continue the discussion as we play this album one more time.


”I wanna be adored”: This is the track that greets the listener upon putting on the album, an easy introduction that merely foreshadows the crazy ecstasy that’s to come. The album version starts very slowly with hints of Mani’s bass strings being fiddled with, Reni’s cymbal crashes, and John Squire’s guitar scrapings being heard far off in the distance, as if the song is being conjured by a trio of mad scientists who are not really sure of the consequences of their actions. Eventually the bass line that holds the whole song together takes shape and grows in volume, that drum beat for which the Roses are famous kicks in, and so does Squire’s wailing guitars. When Ian Brown adds his hushed, mellowed out vocals to the Petri dish, it’s merely a delicate glaze. The words are hardly deep, I think I counted fifteen different words in the whole song, used in different configurations, but the intonation and the repetition is the key. It makes the song easier to sing or shout along with on the dance floor if the words are easy to remember. I mean, who doesn’t wanna be adored?

”She bangs the drums”: A hiss-to-the-hiss-to-the-hiss tappety-tapping on the closed high hat, a rumbling mumbling bassline, all like the foreboding of the explosive shimmering guitar riff that’s sure to come. Ah. There it is. Yeah. The second single off the record jumps out at you, a high energy dance jam that plays just as well as a singalong number. That bass line continues to climb up and down your spine and Squire does his best Marr impression, jangling down the road like a jester troubadour. But he doesn’t stop there, throwing in some wicked backwards effects and wankering away while Brown sings those words with a crazed grin pasted to his face. How do I know he’s smiling? Just listen to him. And while you’re at it, just take a look at yourself in the mirror as you’re singing along. See? You’re smiling too. How can you not? This song is pure joy. Just like so much of this record. Amazing.

”I am the resurrection”: The final song on the original track listing of the album is an eight minute long, acid house dance club anthem, perhaps one the best examples of its kind, the fusing of 60s psychedelic rock and the early days of rave culture, images of kids in baggy clothing tripping on ecstasy. Reni and his ever-present bucket hat puts on a drumming clinic, keeping perfect time for the duration, but the intro is all his, that cadence he sets puts you in the mood to jump on the dance floor right away. Mani steps in next with his flitting bass line that, while not quite as game-changing as it is on “Fools gold” (the band’s other anthem), is nonetheless integral to the song’s soul. Finally, Ian Brown’s mellow, laissez-faire tones fit in perfectly with the sound. Of course, the track really only digs in after he stops singing about halfway through and John Squire and his guitar noodling takes over, leading the rest of the group into a four and a half minute long freak out jam.


Here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South  “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Hup”
4. Pixies “Doolittle”
3. The Cure “Disintegration”
2. Nine Inch Nails “Pretty hate machine”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.