Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 16, 2017

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 16

Tom Petty & the HeartbreakersLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 16
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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Cheekily greeting the crowd for the first time since his 1981 Hard Promises Tour, even Tom Petty was aware that his return the nation’s capital was long overdue: “It’s nice to be in Ottawa for a change,” he quipped.

Closing out the city’s sprawling ten-day Bluesfest, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers filled the massive grounds of LeBreton Flats Park for their much-anticipated Sunday night (July 16) headlining slot. In the midst of their 40th Anniversary Tour (that curiously celebrates the 41st anniversary of the their first LP), the Florida band kicked off the evening with the fittingly chosen opening track from their self-titled debut, “Rockin’ Around (With You).”

Looking quintessentially laid-back and happy, Petty moved into a duo of ’90s hits (including the crowd-pleasing single “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “You Don’t Know How it Feels” from his 1994 solo LP, Wildflowers), the latter of which found Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell moving to the front of the stage to trade licks with Petty to provide some energy to the well-mannered audience. Informing the crowd that, “We’re going to look at the show kinda like it’s a huge, one-sided LP, and we’re going to drop the needle wherever we want,” it seemed strange that Petty and his seven-piece band (including long-time Leonard Cohen live back-up singers the Webb Sisters) would continue on with an identical setlist to the one they’ve been performing the entire tour.

After great but satisfyingly loose renditions of “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Petty delved into three more tracks from Wildflowers, including the single “It’s Good to Be King” (which found Heartbreaker Benmont Tench stretching out the song behind a baby grand piano) and album cuts “Crawling Back to You” and “Wildflowers.” Mostly sticking to tracks from his late-’80s to mid-’90s era, Petty invigorated the crowd with a strong performance of “Refugee” (one of only four songs from the band’s first decade they would play) before closing with a too-slick version of “Running Down a Dream” that found the Webb Sisters handling the song’s iconic woo-hoos.

Returning for an encore that included “You Wreck Me” (the set’s fifth song from Wildflowers) and “American Girl,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers showed the massive crowd that they have enough great material and charisma to deliver a solid rock show, no matter how unspontaneous and left-field of a setlist they choose to deliver.

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Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 14, 2017

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14

Anderson .Paak & the Free NationalsLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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The looming threat of a thunderstorm put a damper on Anderson .Paak’s much-awaited Ottawa debut, but the California musician assured each and every person who turned out for his Friday night co-headlining performance wouldn’t regret a single moment of it.

Hitting the stage with his four-piece band, the Free Nationals, .Paak required nary a song or two to get the crowd amped up, immediately leaping onto a riser at the front of the stage, urging the crowd to “Get ready to party!” Kicking the show off with the unlikely opener “Milk n’ Honey,” from his 2014 debut Venice, .Paak launched into the single “Come Down” from last year’s Malibu LP, keeping the on stage energy impossibly high, leaping, dancing and skanking across the roomy stage.

Pumping the crowd up even further through a call-and-response that kicked off tight versions of “The Waters” and “The Season/Carry Me” with the latter culminating in .Paak jumping behind a full drum kit to assist the song’s punky beat. As the crowd roared throughout the track’s conclusion, .Paak got onto the mic to inform those in attendance that the rest of the performance would be postponed due to “severe weather.”

After 30 minutes of steady drizzle and a few off-the-horizon lightning strikes, .Paak returned to the stage, hopping right back behind the drums to give the shrunken crowd an electrifying rendition of “Put Me Thru” that allowed guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalaz to brilliantly hold down the groove.

Moving back behind the mic, .Paak thanked the crowd for sticking with him, while promising that the remainder of his truncated show would be a party. Closing the interrupted 40-minute performance (which was now running into the headliner Live’s proposed set time) with “Am I Wrong,” the audience wildly begged for one more track, which Anderson gratefully obliged with the fittingly titled, “Luh You.” Throughout his hampered performance, .Paak kept promising the audience a party, and against all odds, he absolutely delivered.

LCD Soundsystem @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 13, 2017

LCD Soundsystem

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 12

LCD SoundsystemLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 12
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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Headlining an evening that also featured performances from Choir! Choir! Choir!, Phantogram and the Shins, New York’s LCD Soundsystem were greeted by a youthful ready-to-party crowd that braved persistent rain to witness the Ottawa debut of James Murphy’s dance-punk band. Entering the stage beneath the band’s iconic disco ball, Murphy was joined by his seven-piece band, featuring LCD originals Nancy Whang, Gavin Russom, Pat Mahoney and Tyler Pope, who situated their instruments in a tight horseshoe to surround their charismatic leader.

Opening with “Yr City’s a Sucker,” from their 2005 debut LP, the slow-building track worked as a great primer for the level of aural energy the eight musicians would push out to the crowd during the unbridled “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” Though strong breezes pushed the rain onto the stage, causing Whang and Russom to deal with malfunctioning synthesizers, the group never missed a beat, launching into the sleek, downbeat “I Can Change” from 2010’s This Is Happening, before picking the pace back up with Sound of Silver‘s “Get Innocuous!”

This would prove to be a pattern for the band, as they would follow four-on-the-floor bangers (“Tribulations,” “Yeah”) with rock-based (“Movement”) or more ambient (‘Someone Great”) material, making it difficult for much of the glowstick-crowd to keep a steady vibe going. By the time Murphy found his way through joyous renditions of his band’s two latest singles (“Call the Police” and “American Dreams”), a portion of the crowd had vacated the festival grounds, leaving the diehards with ample room to dance, jump around and sing along for the group’s scorching finale of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”

Though the band stuck close their own square-metre of stage, LCD Soundsystem nonetheless delivered the goods, playing an impossibly tight set assisted by crystal clear sound, a gorgeous (and at times perfectly restrained) light show and Murphy’s charming stage presence. For those who witnessed the band’s entire two-hour performance, it was more than clear that LCD Soundsystem may be the biggest niche band of the moment.

The Zombies @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 12, 2017

The Zombies

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 11

The ZombiesLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 11
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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On tour to support the 50th anniversary of their irrefutable classic Odessey and Oracle LP, The Zombies made a stop at Ottawa’s Bluesfest for a Tuesday night (July 11) third-stage headlining performance. Returning to the city for the first time since their appearance at the same festival in 2009, original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, along with current Zombies members — bassist Jim Rodford, his brother Steve on drums and Tom Toomey on guitar — managed to once again draw a sizable legion of predominantly aging fans to the festival’s tented stage.

Decked out in matching black leather jackets, the quintet looked energized and grateful, opening the evening’s set with their 1965 B-side, “I Love You,” as Blunstone showed the crowd just how well his voice has held up, especially during the song’s vocal-stretching post-chorus. Cleverly getting a duo of tracks (“Moving On” and “Edge of the Rainbow”) from their latest LP, 2015’s Still Got the Hunger out of the way early, the band launched into a mini-set of songs from Odessey and Oracle, including “Care of Cell 44”, “This Will Be Our Year,” the Argent-sung “I Want Her, She Wants Me” and “Time of the Season,” with the latter causing the crowd to simultaneously pull out their phones (and iPads) to snap photos and take video of the band performing the mega-hit.

After a joyous rendition of their 1964 single “Tell Her No” and covers of the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” Rod led the band through a boisterous rendition of his ’70s band Argent’s hit “Hold Your Head Up,” as the organist hammered out a brilliant extended solo that managed to ramp the energy of crowd to a near-boogie. Closing the evening off with their biggest hit, “She’s Not There,” Blunstone and Argent (now in their early 70s), left the festivalgoers after a flawlessly crafted stage show that highlighted the best of what the Zombies (and Argent) gave to rock’n’roll.

Brandi Carlile @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 8, 2017

Brandi Carlile

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 8

Brandi CarlileLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 8
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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Brandi Carlile undoubtedly possesses a healthy amount of confidence in her craft — she was able to wrangle some of music’s biggest superstars, including Adele, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Pearl Jam, to contribute renditions of her songs for this year’s Cover Stories benefit LP. And it was that unyielding credence that the Seattle alt-country star brought to the stage for her co-headlining slot during the first Saturday night (July 8) of Ottawa’s sprawling ten-day Bluesfest.

Sandwiched between performances by Ottawa hip-hop trio Flight Distance and a headlining gig by 50 Cent, Carlile nonetheless brought out a small but loud and proud crowd of festivalgoers. Hitting the stage with her backing band “The Twins,” led by identical brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass respectively, Carlile absolutely beamed with joy as she launched into “The Things I Regret” from her latest LP, 2015’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter. Following up with “Raise Hell” from 2012’s Bear Creek and “Again Today” from 2007’s The Story, Carlile played off her band brilliantly, participating in a gorgeous three-part harmony for “The Eye” while inviting drummer Brian Griffith to the front of the stage to play the washboard (strapped across his chest) on the buoyant “Keep Your Heart Young.”

As the Hanseroth brothers took to the corners of the stage to hammer out polyrhythmic beats for a raucous version of “Pride and Joy” from 2009’s Give Up the Ghost, Carlile and her four-piece band promptly left the stage before returning for a rare Bluesfest double-encore. Closing the 70-minute performance with a four-octave-pushing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” and perhaps the most joyous rendition of the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” I’ve heard, Carlile showed the adoring crowd that it only takes an infectiously positive stage demeanour and a fistful of confidence to deliver a memorable performance.

The Afghan Whigs- In Spades | Exclaim! | May 2017

The Afghan Whigs

In Spades

The Afghan WhigsIn Spades
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When Greg Dulli and John Curley reformed the Afghan Whigs for their strong 2014 comeback LP, Do to the Beast, fans and critics were quick to point out the group’s moody and restrained sound. On their equally terrific follow-up, In Spades, it seems that the Cincinnati six-piece are back in full-retro Whigs mode.

Much of the unbridled energy the band exude on LP number eight seems to stem from the fact that In Spades was recorded right in the studio in a full band setting, as tracks like “Arabian Heights” and “Copernicus” play off thudding, driving polyrhythms that once fuelled classic Whigs tracks like “Gentlemen” or Miles Iz Ded.” In addition, the thoughtfulness that aids tracks like the soul-searching “Demon in Profile” and the bouncy anthem “Light as a Feather” feel like they benefit from the album’s swift conception and short recording session.

The Whigs never feel complacent on In Spades: “Toy Automatic” is bedazzled by a rubbery Kamasi Washington sax breakdown, while “Oriole” moves from emaciated acoustic strumming to woozy string symphonies and electric guitar squeals in just four minutes. At 51 years of age, frontman Dulli comes off tremendously tuneful, energetic and exploratory across the album’s ten tracks, a fact best exemplified on closer “Into the Floor,” a track born from an onstage jam that the band would often close shows with.

Dulli and company manage to elatedly deliver everything long-standing fans crave in an Afghan Whigs album — and they do so in spades. (Sub Pop)

Preoccupations @ Zaphod Beeblebrox | Exclaim! | April 29, 2017

Preoccupations / Walrus / the Yips

Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON , April 28

Preoccupations / Walrus / the YipsZaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON , April 28
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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Returning to the nation’s capital for the first time since their sparsely attended slot at last summer’s Ottawa Bluesfest, Preoccupations appeared redeemed, as fans packed themselves into the city’s Zaphod Beeblebrox nightclub.

Opening the festivities was Ottawa’s the Yips, a five-piece garage rock outfit who derive much of their charm from vocalist Kerri Carisse’s powerful yet reigned-in delivery, alongside the band’s impossibly tight playing.

Next up were Haligonian band Walrus, promoting their upcoming debut, Family Hangover — a pristine slice of Elephant 6 pop zen. But in a live setting, the band came off something like Real Estate with the rhythm section of a Primus cover band after watching a stoner rock documentary. Although the quintet sounded quite shambolic and vacillated in their delivery, there was nonetheless a sonic charm that made their set undeniably watchable and original.

By the time Preoccupations hit the stage, Zaphod’s dance floor was swamped with mostly twenty-somethings, eagerly ready for the band’s fabled high-octane live show. Kicking off their set with “Select Your Drone” from their self-released 2013 cassette, the band used the track’s building progression to further amp up the energy of the room, and the crowd erupted into a combination of pogo-ing, moshing and bro-hugging.

Playing only two songs from last year’s Preoccupations LP (“Memory” and “Zodiac”), the Calgary band rather focused on their older, more primal material, as guitarists Scott “Monty” Monro and Daniel Christiansen crafted solid beds of sound to allow bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace to loosely attack their instruments. As Flegel snidely mentioned that they would have to get off the stage early to make room for Zaphod’s dance night, his band launched into a condensed version of regular set closer “Death” — a track that normally finds the band pushing the bridge into a 10 to 20 minute single-note breakdown.

It’s no secret that the usual Preoccupations performance is punishing and tense, but the band sadly missed their opportunity to capitalize on the venue’s untamed energy, seeming rather bored and uninspired throughout their insultingly short 50-minute set. When Preoccupations left the stage, the once-unbridled crowd immediately returned to their regular, reserved Ottawa selves. The audience had obviously given Preoccupations every ounce of vivacity they could muster, and the band returned the favour by giving the crowd a standard, basic set. No more, no less.