Saturday, July 11, 2009

The third day of the festival fell on a Friday night, but the crowd was in a diminished capacity compared to the night before. Maybe the lack of a real "big" act kept people away. The weather was gorgeous again, but clouds in the distance spoke bad news for Saturday.

Getting to the festival early with no expectations is a great way to experience new music. The festival has so many artists playing that you're bound to find something you like, but haven't heard before.

The Stills were playing right as I walked through the door, and these kids have the moves down pat. The rock posturing, the way the lead singer leaned into the mic, these kids have watched their heroes and emulated them well. Which is the problem in itself, there was so much derivative nonsense going on, both in their music and presence, that it detracted from their set. Some of the teenagers seemed to be enjoying themselves though, so maybe I'm just a grumpy old guy in his mid-twenties.

I first ventured over to the Hard Rock Cafe stage where City of a Hundred Spires was playing. The band consists of what seems like 4 music nerds, channeling their favourite new prog and instrumental groups. Pelican, and Isis seem like good starting points, but the strongest would be early material from The Trail of Dead. The band was skilled, but the looks on their faces spoke more to concern than fun.

After a couple songs I wanted to see what else this early hour had to offer, so I wandered over to the Subway stage where Lindsay Ferguson was keeping early Steve Earle fans occupied with standard fare light rock. Ferguson had an odd moment where she claimed she was performing her own music/lyrics, after finishing her previous song "and if that mocking bird don't sing..."

I made my way to the Blacksheep stage where The Dodos were keeping a whole raft of kids happy with brand of indie rock. One of the biggest things of note with this new bevy of young bands is their unique approach to instrumentalism.

The Dodos have two percussionists and a guitarist. They make light, poppy indie music that should appeal directly to the Pitchfork crowd. The numbers at this early show was an indiciation that they've been successful so far.

As the final notes petered out for the extinct birds, I headed back to the Hard Rock Cafe stage to catch Okkervil River.

There was a huge audience for the Austin, Texas band who ran through their variety of folk rock for an extremely receptive audience. The band was having a lot of fun, which showed in both their appearances and their music.

Light and poppy, it was a nice diversion under the increasingly lower sun. The group looked like they had partied too hard the night before, and probably the night before that, like true professionals, they soldiered on despite their condition.

After a few songs, I decided to see what else the festival had to offer at this particular time slot, and I came across Carlos Varela on the main stage.

Speaking and singing in spanish Carlos was clearly there to fill the "world" music quota, but just like every show, there was some guy shouting requests(in spanish..natch). The music was enjoyable, and the duet he shared with a pretty young girl(whose name didn't make my notepad) was fantastic.

As Carlos finished up, Sam Roberts took to the Rogers stage in front of a massive audience. Roberts is a bluesfest/Canadian favourite and he plays for the audience.

He punches up his live show compared to his recorded output, and the audience responded with enthusiasm. Roberts makes music that is relatively universal with teenagers, aging rockers, and children in the audience. All of them were having a good time.

Roberts needs to hire a new basisst though, he looked like he was straight out of a Robin Black video, where he had accidentally eaten a pound of horse tranquilizers. Boring and weird doesn't even begin to describe it.

Roberts had material left, but the real reason I was at the festival that night was just starting up on the Subway stage. Steve Earle is a legendary singer/songwriter in both the rock, and country circles. Earle can be found both with a band, and without, and tonight was the latter. Some of his die hard fans were dissapointed by that, but I've never seen him live at all before, so this was a perfect chance to sample what he had to offer in a stripped down format.

Earle ran through both his hits, material from his most recent studio album, and quite a few songs from his recent reworking of Townes Van Zandt material. The audience was warm to just about everything, and besides one idiot yelling for Copperhead Road(which Steve dealt with very well), it was a great venue for Steve to perform.

He only got political near the end of his set, and even then he kept it brief. He did call our Prime Minister an asshole, which won big points with the crowd, and with this writer. If you have the chance to see Steve in any capacity, I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 2

The weather outlook for the night as I stepped off the bus was decidedly better than Day 1. The sun was shining, and there wasn't a cloud in sight. Which means it was hot. Extremely hot. I'm going to splurge tonight on dinner, because it was fries again for Day 2. Although the portion sizes were much better today.

I got to the festival grounds around 6:45, too early for Holy Fuck. I hit up the Subway stage anyway, and caught the tail end of the Brothers Chaffey. Most of the band members looked like they were having a blast(except for the keyboardist...maybe he was gassy), so they had that going for them. Otherwise they were an extremely generic blues bar band, cranking out songs people have heard a hundred times just enjoying a pint on the patio. The organizers of the festival seem to have a hard time grouping similar acts on the same stages.

In between the Brothers and Holy Fuck, I wandered over to the main stage, and caught a few minutes of Sista Monica entertaining a lawn chair crowd with some slow blues, and a bit of soul. Her stories were amusing, and the crowd responded in kind. She was having a good time despite the sweltering heat.

Holy Fuck took the stage about 15 minutes late because of how much gear they have to set up. The staunchy, 1987 haired radio punk didn't look happy about the delay, but he had just pushed for a Brothers Chaffey encore even though the audience was completely indifferent. So he had no authority to that scowl.

Some other radio goon introduced them, and took entirely too much pleasure in shouting out their name. As the boys shuffled up to their instruments, you could feel the uncertainly in the audience. Most people had no idea what was about to happen. I have a feeling the majority were there early for Iron & Wine.

Later in the night at Ben Harper, I heard a kid behind me describe to his friend "Holy was like we were just watching them jam." Which is absolutely the truth. I've seen them four times now, and despite playing all the biggest songs from their two LPs, they're just up there messing around. The most telling example were their expressions, ranging from happy to pure joy.

There is a specific smile that humans have when they're doing exactly what they love. Whether its gardening, playing baseball, or settling into a deep groove on stage in front of a thousand people, it's universal. Each member of Holy Fuck displayed those smiles at some point during the night, usually at the same time. The song would be slowly building to a peak, and every member was just loving it.

That energy transfered to the audience, who also seemed to be having a blast watching these four guys have the time of their lives.

Once Holy Fuck unplugged their last toy, we made our way over to the main stage to catch Ben Harper. We caught a few minutes of Metric on the way by. People rave about Metric's live show, and while I've never caught a full one, I've never understood the appeal. It's edgy music for people who live on the centre line. To each his own.

I was a Ben Harper newbie as we waded past a sea of lawn chairs that would be displaced very shortly. Both of the people I was with were old hats, and they assured me I was in for a good time. The Relentless7 "rocked," I was assured. And they did. Mr. Harper has assembled himself an extremely talented band that bend and twist to any genre he needs. There was hard rock(including a zeppelin cover), folk, blues, and maybe even a bit of country. The band kept up at every step of the way.

If I had to have a complaint, the band was too polished. Too refined. It might just be in the wake of the Black Keys of the previous night, but it seemed too clean to be "real" rock & roll. Just the Relentless7 though, they seemed like studio players. Guys who get paid for clean notes.

Harper himself bleeds music. The notes he coaxed out of his guitar, either standing or sitting, were just filthy. I've never seen someone rock out so hard with his ass in a chair. And he deserves major points for that. I'll see him again, next time he's in town.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

As I stepped off the bus at Lebreton Flats just before 6 PM on the opening day of the festival, fat rain drops were cascading on the pavement around me. I ducked into a nearby shelter as the skies opened up for over 15 minutes of torrential downpour.

As the skies cleared, the sun poked out over the festival grounds, and I took that as a good sign. I tucked around the back of the festival grounds, and slithered up to the media area and got my envelope full of tickets, and a yellow piece of paper for photo access. Journalism!

I was starving, so I grabbed some fairly tasty fries as I wandered around checking out the festival grounds before any music even started. The on again/off again rain throughout the day had created huge mud areas that were navigable when the sun was out, but became nasty surprises once the star went down. The festival's layout hasn't changed since last year, but that's a good thing. They've got the layout figured out pretty well by now.

Amanda Rheaume was the first to take the stage shortly after 6, and she was a disappointment. I had no expectations, but her variety of bland pop rock was a bore. The band was going through the motions, having fun on a big stage, but it wasn't nearly enough to start the festival with any kind of excitement.

I wandered over to the Subway stage where Tympanic were entertaining a relatively small crowd with their Sublime influenced funk/ska. Troy Lajambe is a capable front man, getting the audience into the show through callbacks, and just having a blast himself. Charity Corbett on saxophone was the band's soul element, and Murray Matheson on Bass was ridiculously funky (and adept).

I originally had plans to see Blue King Brown, but a friend I was with really wanted to get close for the Black Keys, so we made a sacrifice in hopes of a good show.

Holy Fuck(they're playing tonight), did the boys come through. Hailing from Akron Ohio, The Black Keys play an extremely heavy variation of the Blues that threatens to tear the earth into pieces.

Patrick Carney will probably never be labeled a virtuoso on the drums, but he doesn't give a fuck, and he'll force the skins into submission instead. Countless sticks were shattered throughout the set, with none of the fans agreeing on exactly how many. I bumped into a kid on the bus ride home who showed me the one he caught with a huge shit-eating grin.

Dan Auerbach was something special. From now on when someone mistakenly laments the loss of "real" rock & roll, I can point them in his Dan's direction. The feeling that tears through that Gibson was a force. Channeling both Jack White and Jimmy Page, Auerbach is calm and even stoic on stage, but the noise that erupts every time he touches a string would move a nun to heathenism, given the opportunity. To use the parlance of our times, he's disgusting.

To be entirely honest I was a newcomer to the band, I don't own any albums, and I had only started listening to them a week or two before the show even started, mostly through videos on youtube. I'm not a fan of the word converted, but it does hold some water in this situation. I just ordered Attack & Release on Vinyl, because I don't think this variety of aural assault belongs on wussy plastic discs. It belongs on vinyl, right next to my Zeppelin and Sabbath albums.

Jeff Beck took to the main stage when the Keys finished up, and it was quickly clear that he had not updated his sound since about 1986. The entire irony movement of the 90's was lost on him, as he went through the motions for his fans. The amount of people watching was staggering, but our little posse decided to move on.

Van Der Graff Generator was playing on the Subway Stage, and it was evident that a high dose of a hallucinogen was required for enjoyment. I didn't have anything on me, so we moved on to Eric Lindell, who was pumping out generic blues on the Hard Rock Cafe stage. After a song, we gave it our last shot with the Black Sheep Stage, where we discovered Sergent Garcia.

Hailing from France, this eleven-piece band had just about every instrument imaginable on stage, and they were all in use. The front man bounced back and forth on stage, switching between singing and rapping in what I think was Spanish. The whole band had an incredible amount of energy, and the crowd responded in kind. When he said jump, they jumped, and when he said dance, they danced. His English was extremely limited, but he could get across what each song was supposed to be about.

They slowed it down as they moved closer to 11, and we shuffled out about 10 minutes early, to try and beat the rush back to the bus station.

In comparison to last year's opening with the excellent, but out of place TV on the Radio, and the unbelievably boring Tragically Hip(I love the Hip..but c'mon, they play here constantly), 2009 is off to an excellent start.