The Killers / The Psychedelic Furs / James / William Prince @ Ottawa Bluesfest

Arts Coverage, Bluesfest 2019

Las Vegas indie rockers The Killers headlined Bluesfest Sunday night, delivering a flashy spectacle worthy of their hometown.

With charismatic frontman Brandon Flowers at centre stage, the group opened with two tracks off their 2004 debut Hot Fuss: “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” and hard-edged new wave hit “Somebody Told Me.” Killers songs straddle genres while maintaining their standard slick sound, fusing the sometimes contradictory pleasures of power pop and arena rock with a splash of Broadway theatricality.

The visual accompaniment was delightfully devoid of subtlety. Giddy 2008 single “Spaceman,” for instance, employed trippy imagery that wouldn’t have been out of place at a prog show. With mismatched flashing lights and skyward-pointing laser beams (not to mention confetti and fireworks), the show felt like being inside of a casino.

They slowed things down a bit with 2012 power ballad “The Way It Was” and “Shot at the Night,” an anthem that could have been ripped right out of the eighties.

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Flowers ironically donned a cowboy hat for braggadocios disco track “The Man,” which saw neon reliefs of cowboys and cowgirls flashing on the screens. 

The band shifted gears again with “Run for Cover,” a propulsive track that was one of the more straight rock songs of the night. Next up was “Smile Like You Mean It” and anguished synth-pop banger “For Reasons Unknown,” one of the highlights of the set.

The Killers

Americana story-song “Dustbowl Fairytale” was followed by an abridged acoustic cover of “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (originated by Ottawa’s own Bruce Cockburn), before arena rock love song “Runaways.”

The next song, “Read My Mind,” almost felt like a showstopper; however, the lingering silhouette of Flowers against the spotlights dispelled any doubts that there would be an encore. They returned in fine form for crowd favourites “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “When You Were Young.”

Lebreton Flats felt like a karaoke bar as thousands of people sang along to the bare-bones sung/spoken intro of “Mr. Brightside;” the field felt like it was about to explode when the song finally kicked into gear.

It was, pardon the pun, a killer show.


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Earlier in the evening, the City Stage showcased two other influential alternative acts.

Manchester indie rock band James showed off their diverse catalog, which ranged from raunchy breakout hit “Laid” (prominently featured in the American Pie movies, and buried in the middle of their Sunday setlist) to intense protest songs like “Heads.” Lead vocalist Tim Booth paused to condemn “fascists and racists” after the latter track, before switching gears for “non-political”  (but still apocalyptic) love song “Leviathan.”

Next on the main stage were eighties new wave icons The Psychedelic Furs. The group displayed a quintessential British post-punk sound, with punky vocals and artsy arrangements in the service of effervescent pop-adjacent songs like “Pretty in Pink” and “Heartbreak Beat.”

Lead singer Richard Butler’s compelling and at times confrontational stage presence added some welcome bite, particularly on political songs like the scathing “President Gas.”


William Prince

Acclaimed folk singer William Prince started the evening at the Bluesville Stage.

Armed with an acoustic guitar and his deep baritone voice, Prince played a mix of unreleased songs (he’s in the process of creating his second album) and tracks from his debut record Earthly Days. 

The JUNO winner endeared himself to the crowd with his tender, earnest songs, as well as his humble stage presence and self-deprecating sense of humour. He occasionally poked fun at his propensity for slow, sad songs; towards the end of the show, he joked that “Eddy Boy” (a touching portrait of his late father, gospel singer Ed Prince) could be his “Free Bird.”

Prince concluded the set with his breakout hit “Breathless,” a moving tribute to the classic songs he grew up listening to his parents perform. “Never heard a song sound quite like Elvis,” he sang wistfully, capturing the magic of those long-ago moments.

After a brief absence (during which the house music came back on), he returned to the stage for an apparently unplanned encore. After reminiscing about his father on “Eddy Boy,” he closed with the cautiously optimistic “All I Know,” leading the crowd on a subdued sing-along after a melancholy chorus of “All I know, is all of this will all pay off…We pay the dues while they watch the clock.”


Line-up: William Prince (Bluesville Stage) / James / The Psychedelic Furs / The Killers (City Stage)

Venue: RBC Bluesfest, Lebreton Flats, Ottawa

Date: Sunday, July 7/2019

 

 

 

Kenny and Spenny @ Yuk Yuk’s

Arts Coverage

Comedians Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice don’t so much “do stand-up,” as re-hash decades of grievances in front of a bloodthirsty audience.

The two cult comics, who grew up together in the suburbs of Toronto and had their lifelong friendship tested (if not destroyed) in their depraved reality competition show Kenny vs. Spenny, played a packed house at Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa Wednesday night.

David Lloyd @ Ottawa ComicCon

Arts Coverage, Ottawa ComicCon

Artist David Lloyd is responsible for creating some of the most iconic images in comic book history – and his influence has expanded far beyond the printed page.

The acclaimed illustrator, best known for co-creating V For Vendetta with legendary writer Alan Moore, appeared at Ottawa ComicCon last Friday, leading a lively discussion on politics, punk rock, and Guy Fawkes masks.

Metric / July Talk / Murray Lightburn @ TD Place

Arts Coverage

Synth-rockers Metric put on an electrifying show at Ottawa’s TD Place on Saturday.

Touring in support of their album Art of Doubt, the Toronto band showcased their distinctive hybrid of punk rock, indie, and new wave with fan favourites from throughout their career.

Metric kicked things off on a lively note with “Dead Disco,” an early track that had lead singer Emily Haines playing the world-weary punk. “I know you tried to change things,” she sang wearily, lamenting the proliferation of “Dead disco / dead funk / dead rock-n-roll.”

They then switched things up with “Twilight Galaxy,” a sparse Fantasies-era track that set aspirational lyrics (“Did they tell you, ‘you should grow up’ when you wanted to dream?”) to mellow synths straight out of an 8-bit video game. Their live version concluded with a surprisingly heavy guitar solo that eased the transition into the anthemic “Synthetica,” which was in turn followed by recent single “Risk.”

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The best Metric songs have an air of discontent – an unease behind the uplift of their irresistible synth hooks and grandiose arena rock choruses. Their minimalist poetry took on an extra poignancy in concert, with Haines frequently exhorting the audience to live authentically and reject the artificial. Introducing Synthetica track “Breathing Underwater,” she encouraged fans to find their own truths within the song’s enigmatic lyrics, which – depending on your perspective – could be about achieving your wildest dreams (“Is this my life? Am I breathing underwater?”) or drowning.

“When you come to a Metric show, what you want is some fucking catharsis,” Haines said. “There’s no pasted-on smiles.”

This intermingling of vulnerability and defiance was represented by the band’s blend of moody electronica and energetic, guitar-driven rock.

Metric

The dramatic “Art of Doubt,” which mixed punk-rock energy with gothic melodrama, was contrasted by earnest synth ballad “No Lights on the Horizon.” Gently motivational Pagans In Vegas standout “Cascades” shimmered like a disco ball before giving way to industrial-style soloing, leading into Art of Doubt single “Dressed to Suppress.”

Later, founding guitarist James Shaw joined Haines at centre stage for a stripped-down rendition of “Love Is A Place,” a melancholy ballad that closed out their 2003 debut. This wistful moment was juxtaposed by the alienation of “Underline the Black” (which boasted a withering Leonard Cohen-esque refrain of “I’m not sorry, I don’t think if you that often.”)

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Haines introduced their nostalgic breakout single “Gimme Sympathy” by reminiscing on Metric’s early days opening for Mississauga rockers Billy Talent. She recalled initially struggling to win over Billy Talent’s rabid punk fanbase, to the point that singer Ben Kowalewicz would have to beg the audience to go easy on them: “Please don’t throw bottles at Metric.”

The band closed with two more Fantasies favourites, “Sick Muse” and “Gold Guns Girls,” before returning for a four-song encore.

After skewering a socialite on “Dark Saturday,” they provided another blast from the past with manic Live It Out single “Monster Hospital” and 2010’s “Black Sheep,” a punchy kiss-off written for the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World soundtrack.

Towards the end of the set, Haines paused once again to denounce the current era of “build your fucking brand or whatever.”

“Have a friend – have a good time,” she pleaded. “If you want to do something with your life, do it now.” They underlined that message by closing, appropriately, with “Now or Never Now.”


Opening act: July Talk

July Talk’s stark opening set felt like the hard rock equivalent of watching a film noir.

Equal parts infectious and abrasive, the alt-rock band’s harsh music is built around the contrast between the gruff growls of singer/guitarist Peter Dreimanis and the high-pitched, siren-like voice of Leah Fay. The two leads have an electric stage presence together, their frenetic yet fluid movements capturing the psychosexual tension of songs like “Touch,” “Picturing Love,” and “Lola + Joseph.”

July Talk

After kicking things off with energetic rocker “Headsick,” they followed with single “Guns and Ammunition” and “Now I Know,” which was as danceable as it was discordant.

With soothing singing by Fay and a deceptively lullaby-ish melody, new track “Pay For It” could have been mistaken for a torch song; according to Fay, though, the tune is actually “about toxic masculinity.” Later track “The News” was similarly misleading, draping drippingly sarcastic lyrics in sunny power chords.

The best moments, though, came when the band let their rock-n-roll roots shine through. “Summer Dress” was a hard-edged, bluesy rocker, and “The Garden” was a wild rockabilly number which had Fay writhing onstage beneath a giant inflatable moon.

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They closed with a hat trick of “Beck + Call,” the voyeuristic “Picturing Love,” and finally “Push + Pull,” during which the stage was bathed in rainbow spotlights. This was the dimly-lit show’s first flash of colour, and it felt like the cast of The Maltese Falcon had been picked up and dropped into Oz.


Opening act: Murray Lightburn

The Dears’ frontman Murray Lightburn got the evening off to a mellow start with a set of plaintive folk songs, showing off his soulful voice and bittersweet lyrics with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment.
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Line-up: Murray Lightburn / July Talk / Metric

Date: Saturday, April 27/2019

Venue: TD Place, Landsdowne Park, Ottawa ON