Song(s) in my head today: Wolf Parade “C’est la vie way / Floating world”

Sounds like: Wolf Parade missed themselves as much as we missed them

Wolf ParadeDan Boeckner of Wolf ParadeSpencer Krug of Wolf Parade

Those of you who might have been following my exploits at Ottawa Bluesfest these past few weeks, especially the more observant among you who remembered that I purchased a five night pass, might be wondering what happened to my final review. Indeed, I did attend the festival one more time, last Saturday, the 16th to be exact, but at some point during the day, I put away the proverbial notepad and decided to just enjoy the day’s weather, the beer, and the performances. However, in the intervening days, I’ve been listening almost non-stop to the music of the night’s headliner on the Monster Energy stage, and a strong contender for my favourite set of the festival, Wolf Parade.

I was first turned on to their music with their incredible, Polaris Prize-nominated debut album, “Apologies to the Queen Mary”, over a decade ago. There was something ridiculously invigorating in the Canadian quartet’s off-kilter and raw alt-rock sound. And instead of being a source of detraction, the very different singing styles of the two principal songwriters, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, served as a rallying point and set them apart from very their peers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as enthused with their follow up, 2008’s “At mount zoomer”, and though 2010’s “Expo 86” was a marked return to form, it was their debut that I kept returning to. And of course, when they announced their hiatus in 2011, I was quite disappointed that I never got a chance to see them live.

Both Krug and Boeckner have always been quite prolific with other projects – Krug with Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown, and Swan Lake and Boeckner with Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, and Operators – but these only increased with Wolf Parade’s dissolution. And though I always loved Krug’s songs on “Queen Mary”, I could never (with the exception of a few Sunset Rubdown tunes) get into his other bands, much like Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, without a sounding board (Boeckner), his songs were just too weird for me. On other hand, pretty much every pot that Boeckner had his fingers in, I loved. I finally got to see him live last summer at last year’s Bluesfest with his new band, Operators, and was struck at the time by his humility, the complete absence of rockstar arrogance, and in its place, only a passion for music.

And so when Wolf Parade announced they were reforming earlier this year, I was clamouring to learn when and where I could catch them on their tour. And when they released an EP of new material in May, I was right there, fully expecting greatness and rightly so. All four songs are explosive, with Krug and Boeckner penning and supplying vocals for two songs apiece. The video below is of the band performing the final two songs on the EP together as one, much as I remember them doing on Saturday night. Krug’s inimitable vocals grace “C’est la vie way” over a wash of swirling synths and driving guitars and Boeckner takes up the anthem with his rock and roll throwback sensibilities on “Floating world”. It’s like the two push each other headlong into excellence.

And you can see it live. I knew what I was going to get with Boeckner and his frenetic and jittery guitar playing but I was equally impressed with Krug, hammering at the keys like a slightly more crazed Jerry Lee Lewis. And the rest of the band too, Arlen Thompson on drums and Dante DeCaro on guitars, provided their own energy and passion to the performance. There was little to no banter with the audience but none of us seemed to care. It was just enough for all us to be there, experiencing the music and shouting along to our favourite Wolf Parade songs, like “Dear sons and daughters of hungry ghosts”, “You are a runner and I am my father’s son”, “Fancy claps”, “Oh you, old thing”, and “I’ll believe in anything”. The only real disappointment during their set was when it came to an end and they didn’t return for an encore.

These two songs give a sampling as to what it was to see them live and if they can manage to carry this through to a full LP worth of songs, their next album (I’m hoping there will be one) could very well be the album of the decade.

The photos at the top of this post are just a few of those that I took at the show. For more, check out the album on my Facebook page.

Ottawa Bluesfest 2016 day 7: The Decemberists, Carlo, Danielle Allard

The crowd and the clear skies for The Decembrists

I was back at the festival Wednesday night and, man, was it a hot one! And I’m not talking about the musical acts, though they were pretty fantastic too. I think it was over 30 degrees celsius plus humidity all day and then came the torrential downpours just I was getting off work. But these just made things worse, the temperature shooting up over 40 with the humidex. I was joking that I felt like I was melting but the risk of dehydration was very real. Security staff was reportedly hosing down the audience at the front of the main stage and still, the first aid station was busy rehydrating young folks who had not brought along enough water. But was any of this enough to keep me away? Not a chance. One of my favourite ever bands was playing. It was a show that I could not miss.

But all things in their right order.

Danielle Allard

I started off the night in the Barney Danson theatre, much like I did on Saturday, but this time, for very different reasons. It was the heat and not the rain from which I was seeking respite. And much like Saturday, I fell in upon a set by a local singer/songwriter and once again, was pleasantly surprised. Danielle Allard came out on stage with her face and upper torso intricately and colourfully painted (apparently, a four hour process), a nod to her recent album cover and title, “Chameleon”. Joining her on stage was a five piece group that included keys and a horn player. Her peppy and jaunty, folk rock opener gave way to a sultry jazz-like number that suited the cabaret layout of the room, filling it with imaginary cigar smoke. This led quite simply and logically to a folk blues number that focused on her powerful vocals and was very reminiscent of 90s songstress, Jewel. And all of this without noticeably changing gears, though she did have to take off shoes, shortly afterwards, apparently, to get comfortable. Not that she looked uncomfortable up to this point. In fact, this young singer appeared right in her element. And when she slipped in a cover of Wham!’s “Careless whisper”, it fit seamlessly with her other songs: her acoustic strumming against the peerless keys and high hat tap just set the tone for the sad horns to join in, and then, the eruption at the bridge. It was almost as if it was meant to be sung by her, rather than George Michael. Lovely set, all in all.

CarloKelsy McNulty of CarloJames Taylor & Scott Mcconnell of Carlo

Next I headed back outside and into the oven to catch Carlo, a Toronto-based, instrumental surf rock quartet, on the Black Sheep stage. They were dressed all in matching hospital green shirts and put forward a serious face of hip-shaking tunes. The work on the organ by Kelsy McNulty was particularly incredible, providing a funky groove backbone to each tune. The group performed admirably in the heat, regaling us with a bunch of original material, before dipping its toes into some surf standards (including “Comanche”) and their own personal, and impressive takes on The Doors’ “Light my fire” (obvious and recognizable) and Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the silence” (not as much). I’m not sure the crowd gathered in front of the stage, likely there in wait for Half Moon Run later that evening, fully appreciated them but I was into their set completely. At the end of which, bassist, Scott McCanell introduced the rest of the band and stated “We are Carlo. And Carlo loves you”. A fitting tongue in cheek quip for such a fun, throwback set.

Colin Meloy of The DecembristsJenny Conlee of The DecembristsChris Funk of The Decembrists

I finished the night at the Claridge Home stage where The Decemberists held court for a good hour and fifteen minutes. While not officially a headlining act (Brad Paisley held that title), the Portland-based five-piece played like one, keeping the audience enrapt throughout. Fans who have been waiting years to see this group definitely got their money’s worth with an inspired performance. For my part, being a long-time fan, it was now the second time seeing The Decemberists (not counting Colin Meloy’s solo set at Folk fest a few year’s ago) but it had been more than ten years (and it makes me feel old to think of it) since my wife and I saw them in Toronto for their tour in support of “Picaresque” and I was definitely due for another performance.

My friend Jean-Pierre mentioned to me after the show that he thought their set much better than Meloy solo but I think it unfair to compare the two. The frontman is definitely a showman, full of stories and humour, very talented on the guitar and easily able to carry a show on his shoulders. However, the rest of the band, as talented as they are in their own right, add so much to the spectacle of their shows. Between the instrument juggling of Jenny Conlee (organs to accordion) and Chris Funk (guitar to mandolin to banjo) and Nate Query’s gunslinging work on the upright bass, there is so much happening on the stage to dazzle the eyes and ears.

Nate Query & John Moen of The DecembristsWhale about to eat Chris FunkThe Decembrists

Their set comprised of songs from each of their last five albums and they also threw in a couple of brand new tracks for good measure, both which have me already looking forward to a new album. They started things off with a 13 minute melody of the first handful of songs off their rock/folk/prog opera album, 2009’s “The hazards of love” and closed things off with a rousing, fifteen minute performance of “The mariner’s revenge song”. The latter being a favourite closing number in which the band acts out parts of the song, encourages the audience to scream as if they are being swallowed by a whale, and indeed, employ the use of a cardboard cutout whale to “eat” members of the band. In between these two tasty feasts were a number of morsels I knew well and loved and found myself singing loudly along with (perhaps to the chagrin of my neighbours). I got to hear favourites like “We both go down together”, “The sporting life”, “O Valencia”, “Down by the water”, and their popular new single, “Make you better”.

What struck me most was how well the band was adapting to the increasing popularity. They had a much more massive crowd then when I last saw them in a club in Toronto but they seemed to just take it in stride and continued to perform the only way they know how. Colin Meloy was all rock and roll at centre stage and of course, was his usual hilarious self, making Canadian references, like Ottawa’s “love” for shovelling snow. And for us older fans, he slipped lyrics from The Smiths’ “This charming man” into his performance of “The sporting life” and referenced “Dracula’s daughter” (the worst song he ever wrote) during “O Valencia!”

This hour and a quarter could easily have been longer but was as excellent as I thought it would be and will likely go down as my favourite moment of the festival, perhaps my favourite performance of the year. I have no doubt that The Decemberists won over some new fans last night and that the song title “The mariner’s revenge song” has been googled many times over in the last 20 some hours. Yes, it was that awesome.

John Moen and Colin Meloy of The Decembrists

Full setlist:
Hazards of love melody
(Prelude/Hazards of love 1/A bower scene/Won’t want for love)
We both go down together
The wrong year
Calamity song
Sporting life
A sucker’s prayer
All my life
January hymn
Make you better
Down by the water
O Valencia!
Mariner’s revenge song

Ottawa Bluesfest 2016 day 3: Preoccupations, The Cult, Jill Zmud

Umbrellas and parkas

Saturday, day three of the festival, was a wet one. The rain predicted for most of the weekend had for the most part held off for Noel Gallagher’s Friday night set, making it a near perfect night. However, the front breezed through over night and into the morning, bringing with it sheets and sheets of rain, leaving periodic showers for the rest of the day. The weather wasn’t adverse enough to cause any cancellations or delays but was likely enough to dissuade people from attending and changed my own plans. Instead of spending the majority of the day at the festival, I headed down in the evening just after dinner.

Even still, I misjudged how long it would take me to get downtown and locate parking and I found myself on the grounds an hour earlier than necessary to catch The Cult, the first of the two evening acts in my plans. So I referred to the night’s schedule and chose to venture inside the War Museum to the Barney Danson Theatre to catch local singer/songwriter, Jill Zmud.

Jill Zmud and Rolf KlausenerTexas HornsBackup singers

Like last year, organizers had arranged the theatre in the style of a cabaret, with tables and chairs, rather than the stands they had in the past. I found myself a seat near the front and read up on Zmud on my cell phone while waiting for her set to start. I found the story of her finding 40 year old recordings by her musician uncle, which inspired her most recent record, quite compelling. By the time she hit the stage, the theatre was quite full, perhaps the fullest I’ve seen it in all my years attending the festival. It could have had something to do with the weather and people looking for a dry respite but given the audience’s reception of her, I’d say they were mostly there on purpose to see her.

Jill Zmud was joined onstage by a pair of backup vocalists and local musical renaissance man, Rolf Klausener (The Acorn, Silkken Laumann, co-founder of Arboretum festival) on guitars. Her sound was very much of the scratchy, old-timey folk variety, giving her powerful, haunting voice a solid canvas to regale us with her stories. It was quite pretty music, simple and quiet, but it filled the room easily. She performed a couple of covers of songs that she found on the aforementioned long-lost recordings by her uncle. Both of which had a country blues bent and for one of them, invited the festival’s resident horn section, The Texas Horns, on stage to add their touch. My plan was to only stay for a half hour while waiting for The Cult to go on but found myself so wrapped up and rapt as the rest of the audience, that I stayed right to the end.

Damen Fox and John Tempesta of The CultBilly Duffy of The CultIan Astbury of The Cult

The Cult is a band that a band that I never thought I’d see live, and really, a band I never thought about seeing live. Like everyone else, I knew and loved their hits in the 80s and 90s but I was never an ardent fan. Still, since I had planned on attending this night of the festival anyway, I made a point catching (a portion of) their set. After putting my parka back on, I ventured back out into the rain and headed to join the crowd amassed in front of the Claridge Homes stage. Was there more people than I expected? No, not really. I knew they had their fans and that there would be a great nostalgia factor. It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t get very close but was more than a little annoyed at the amount of giant golf umbrellas being employed in the crowd, blocking the views of people behind them. There, I’ve said it and I’ll say no more about it.

It seems I arrived just in time at the stage because the band was just getting into the part of the set where Ian Astbury and company were pulling out their biggest hits to close out the show. For sure, I got to hear “Sweet soul sister”, “Fire woman”, “She sells sanctuary”, and “Love removal machine” live, all of which I’ve heard for years on the radio, at wedding receptions, and at the dance clubs. The band was in high-powered stadium rock mode, full of posturing and roaring guitars, and Astbury, himself, was all over the stage, his inimitable voice in fine form. It was a lot of fun and I’m betting many in the audience enjoyed themselves as well, given the amount of rock and roll hand horns and the fine display of air guitar that I witnessed.

Matt Flegel of PreoccupationsMike Wallace of PreoccupationsScott Munro of PreoccupationsDaniel Christiansen of Preoccupations

The final band of the night for me were headlining the tiny Black Sheep stage and went by the name of Preoccupations. The Calgary-based, post-punk four-piece were formerly named “Viet Cong” but changed it after facing accusations of racism due to their choice in moniker. I was really excited to see them live because I was curious how they would match the insanity on their incredible debut long player. I got my answer when the lead guitarist broke a string within minutes of starting into the first song. The band employed plenty of effects and electronics in changing the sounds of their instruments and the voices but the energy was all theirs. Like their records, it was all angular guitars, rapid fire drumming, surprising time changes, loud booming bass, and yes, extremely dark. The drummer was particularly incredible, employing a mixture of electronic and traditional drums in his kit, and hitting them like he was a machine possessed by a poltergeist.

The crowd was relatively small in size but didn’t lack for enthusiasm. Plenty of times, those closest to the stage erupted into violent, tribal dance, much like a mosh pit. I didn’t join in the fun but did often find myself lost in the waves of music. Their set was loud and dense and consisted of many (if not all) of the tracks off their debut album (including personal favourite, “Continental shelf”), as well as a preview of new material. The have a new album due out in September and based on what I heard last night, it’s going to be incredible. All in all, an amazing set, well worth stamping around in the rain for.

Preoccupations

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