The penultimate day of Bluesfest featured some of the best performances of the entire festival.
Toronto R&B singer Jessie Reyez gave an incredible set on the City Stage early in the evening.
The 27-year-old singer is electric on stage, with expressive vocals and an exuberant, intense presence to match her profane, personal songs. She opened with a song called “F*ck It,” in which she daydreams about execution methods for a cheating lover. “I showed you mercy – I crashed your Corvette. You’re lucky I didn’t roll it,” she sang, adding: “You’re lucky I didn’t blow your brains out.”
The next song, “Shutter Island,” had Reyez subverting crazy ex-girlfriend stereotypes to empowering effect, wailing “My straight jacket’s custom-made!”
Reyez, who is on her first tour with her own band, compared the show to “a good first date.”
“Can I tell you a secret?” she asked, introducing a pair of unreleased songs, R&B ballad “Apple Juice” and an acoustic song that she said was her first Spanish-language composition. She also showed off the first #1 hit that she wrote for another artist (“Hard to Love,” performed by Calvin Harris).
“I’ve been chasing this sh*t since I was *this* little,” she explained, noting that she got her start posting covers on YouTube and Instagram, and then writing songs for television and other performers.
“If you’re someone chasing a dream, make sure you work your ass off,” she advised.
Her pep talk was followed by a cautionary tale. Reyez revealed that, as an up-and-coming artist, she herself was sexually propositioned by a producer, who told her she’d never get a record deal if she didn’t submit.
That story led into “Gatekeepers,” a harrowing song about sexual extortion in the music industry. “You know we’re holding the dreams that you’re chasing /You know you’re supposed to get drunk and get naked,” she growled, singing from the perspective of a predator.
“This is bigger than me; this is bigger than music,” she stated, as the crowd chanted her name. “The #metoo movement is not f*cking new.”
She picked up her guitar for the penultimate track, anguished breakup ballad “Figures,” and then closed with a defiant banger, during with she waded into the crowd.
“I don’t want to leave you crying about your ex,” she explained. “F*ck your ex.”
“One-man blues rock band” Steve Hill kicked off his set at the Blacksheep Stage just as Reyez was finishing.
Manipulating the drums with his foot and bashing cymbals with a drumstick affixed to the head of his guitar, Hill played a set of heavy, no-nonsense blues rock, closing with a cover of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
The Quebec multi-instrumentalist also took a moment to salute headliner Colin James, who had been one of his musical heroes growing up, along with the late blind bluesman Jeff Healey.
“My dad used to call me the poor man’s Colin James,” he admitted.
Saskatchewan-born blues-rocker Colin James was definitely the biggest draw of the night. The Blacksheep Stage area was packed to the brim with fans, many of whom showed up early to nab a good spot on the hill.
Backed up by a tight band, James played a set of lively blues numbers interspersed with his excellent rock hits.
“Playin’ blues at the blues festival is what we’re doin’ here,” he explained, before “[bringing] it back to 1988” with upbeat love song “Five Long Years.”
Later on, the crowd burst into cheers at the sultry, lonesome opening riffs of “Why’d You Lie,” which featured some wicked guitar licks and a sweltering sax solo.
Other crowd-pleasers included the supercharged blues track “Voodoo Thing;” scathing farewell “Just Came Back to Say Goodbye” (best line: “I felt real bad, thought I’d give you a call / I didn’t look up the number, I just looked on the wall”); and closing rocker “Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby.”
It was an awesome show.
Line-up: Jessie Reyez (City Stage) / Steve Hill / Colin James
Venue: Bluesfest – Lebreton Flats, Ottawa
Date: Saturday, July 14/2018