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)

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #6 The Shins – Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

(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 Shins performing live at Bluesfest 2017

Artist: The Shins
When: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
Where: Claridge Stage at 7:55pm
Context: This set by The Shins in 2017 marks the most recent performance to make this list and it also marks the only one for which I didn’t have any notes to which I could refer and pilfer to write this post. For all the other sets in this series, I was diligently making notes during them so that I could post reviews of sorts to my old blog ‘Music Insanity’. By the time 2017 rolled around, I had stuck a fork in that old blog and had just started this one and I decided to spend less time making notes and taking photos during concerts and just tried to enjoy the live experience more.

Interestingly, this particular Wednesday was the only day I got to Bluesfest in 2017. I was going to skip the festival altogether that year but the one day lineup that included Phantogram, The Shins, and LCD Soundsystem was too good to pass up. I had seen The Shins five years earlier with my wife Victoria and remembered that they blew us away, despite the rain storm that had swept up during their set. Still, leading up to that day, I was considering them and Phantogram icing on the cake to finally seeing LCD Soundsystem. That all changed when James Mercer and his players hit the stage.

The particulars are rather fuzzy, given that it was three years ago, again, I don’t have any notes from the day, and of course, I had enjoyed a few pints beforehand with my friend Jean-Pierre. However, I was totally engaged and enrapt during the set’s entirety. James Mercer and The Shins definitely know how to rock. They pulled out tunes from all of their albums, right back to their 2001 debut, “Oh, inverted world”, and didn’t focus solely on selections from their newest, 2017’s “Heartworms”. Yeah, I was there singing along to all the tunes right there with the rest of the crowd. And the smile never left my face the whole time.

Casey Foubert, Yuuki Matthews, Jon Sortland, and James Mercer
Patti King of The Shins
Casey Foubert of The Shins
Mark Watrous and James Mercer
Yuuki Matthews and Jon Sortland of The Shins
Yuuki Matthews, Jon Sortland, James Mercer, and Patti King
James Mercer of The Shins

Setlist:
Caring Is Creepy
Australia
Name for You
Mine’s Not a High Horse
Girl Inform Me
Saint Simon
Kissing the Lipless
Painting a Hole
The Rifle’s Spiral
Half a Million
Phantom Limb
Simple Song
Encore:
The Fear
New Slang
Sleeping Lesson

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #5 Future Islands – Tuesday, July 14th, 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.)

Future Islands live at Ottawa Bluesfest 2015

Artist: Future Islands
When: Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
Where: Bell Stage at 7:00pm
Context: (You may have noticed there wasn’t a ‘great set’ yesterday. This is because Bluesfest normally takes one day off during the festival, a sort of breather in the middle of the marathon, and it is typically the Monday. But now we’re right back to it. Enjoy the homestretch.)

I had been lukewarm on Future Islands since first hearing them back in 2010, really only enjoying a handful of songs and being only slightly more than ambivalent about the rest, but that one live performance I caught back in 2015 changed all that.

Frontman, Samuel T. Herring was quite the showman, all dramatic gestures and dancing all over the stage, and that’s something I wasn’t at all expecting. We all know about that crazy voice of his. It really is one of a kind. Watching him, you have no idea where it comes from, switching from lounge lizard to Tom Waits growl in an instant, much to the appreciation of the crowd. Indeed, he seemed hell-bent determined to connect with each and every audience member while the band behind him, Gerrit Welmers (synths) and William Cashion (guitars) and touring drummer, Michael Lowry, were just there, almost emotionless and motionless, providing a dense, synth pop palette upon which for Herring to work.

I found myself dancing along only three songs in and I wasn’t the only one. It was all a big Future Islands love fest party. And then… the skies opened up. Yes. It was another one of those sets.

Umbrellas and parkas came out and those without were soaked, including those on the stage. Yet to my surprise, they soldiered on, despite the downpour, and when the song they were playing finished, they started right into their popular single, “Seasons (waiting on you)” while the stage crew ran about the stage covering up equipment. The dancing picked up even more (if that can be imagined) and just when I thought the plug was being pulled, the band convinced the festival organizers to allow them to play one more song, “Spirit”, performed with much of the same gusto, Herring slapping emphatically at his chest through his rain drenched shirt. And amazingly, he called all of us warriors, in kind of a pot and kettle sort of way. It was awesome, a set I’m sure to never forget.

The intensity of Samuel T Herring
Gerrit Welmers and Samuel T Herring of Future Islands
Michael Lowry on drums
William Cashion of Future Islands
Gerrit Welmers, Samuel T Herring, and Michael Lowry, just as the rain is beginning
Samuel T Herring singing in the rain… downpour

Setlist:
Back in the Tall Grass
A Dream of You and Me
Walking Through That Door
Long Flight
Balance
Before the Bridge
Doves
The Chase
A Song for Our Grandfathers
Light House
Seasons (Waiting on You)
Spirit