Highlights from Ottawa Bluesfest Day three

Highlights from Ottawa Bluesfest Day three, including performances by Earl Sweatshirt, Occupations (Vietcong)
Occupations at Ottawa Bluesfest

And on the third day of Bluesfest, the rain came. My night started off with catching the tail-end of the London Souls’ performance at the Claridge Homes Stage. The NYC duo were dressed like they were playing Woodstock, and their hard/classic rock sound gave them all the credentials they needed. Props to them for fitting in a Neil Young cover too. At 5 pm, Ottawa local rapper Yusso took the City Stage. The crowd was a small but devoted group of Ottawa youth, many of whom Yusso seemed to know personally, and his lyrics, which pleaded self-discovery and change, seemed tailored for “the 613”.

At the Claridge Homes Stage, Brooklyn-born indie singer Tor Miller took the stage. Hammering away at his piano, he carried the confidence and charisma of a 1950s teen heartthrob; the ladies in the crowd went wild. Though he’s only released one EP up to this point, his energy and vocal range were impressive, and judging by the samples he gave of future work, he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Back at the City Stage, Earl Sweatshirt strolled out. Though it was just Earl and his DJ onstage (no production besides), he drew a huge crowd (mostly of teens) who weren’t deterred by the rain in the slightest. As Earl put it: “We about to get sad in this rain, bitch.” He played plenty of dark material from his last record, Doris, but he also sampled a surprising number of tracks from a forthcoming album—tracks which had a livelier, sample-based sound. Too bad the lowkey rhythm he raps with on his records was replaced with a less fluid shouting. Doris was comprised almost entirely with collaborations, so there was a lot of material for Earl to take on just by himself here, but after seeing all the lengths the small-time Yusso went to with his production and support on the very same stage, Earl’s show fell a little flat.

The Cult then drew a much thicker (and older) crowd at the Claridge Homes Stage with their arena-rock roarings, taken mostly from their new album Hidden City, as well as their 80s material. They brought great energy, and showed considerable experience and comfort onstage, but for all their post-punk sensibilities, the performance felt a little too tried-and-true. Lead singer Ian Astbury’s unknowingly conservative social banter between songs grew a little obnoxious, and made for a poor mix with the band’s vintage sound. Still, they sure knew how to rock their audience.

Over at the smaller Black Sheep Stage, Calgary post-punkers Preoccupations (who recently changed their name from Viet Cong) showed what true counter-culture, carefree music is about. Their songs were droning, pounding, fast, and very, very loud. Guitarist Daniel Christiansen stole the show with his flippant attitude—spitting at his fellow bandmates, playing random solos and dead-end intros, making the whole show feel exciting and spontaneous… perhaps too much so. In the latter half of the performance, Christiansen’s equipment died out, forcing him to jump on the (less-exciting) electronics, and forcing the band to stretch their final song into an intense outro that must’ve gone on for ten minutes. Though what an outro to cap off a rain-soaked night.

Matthew Wardell