CityFolk I – Opening Night

I’m not sure how this qualifies as folk music. The Tubes were the first act on the main stage at CityFolk 2015, the Ottawa Folk Festival with a new name and location.

I have no emotional investment in The Tubes. I have never owned any of their records, never seen them live before and would be hard pressed to name any of their songs except “White Punks On Dope.” I think that means I can give an objective assessment of their performance. I enjoyed it; but I wouldn’t describe it as folk music – this was pretty much straight forward rock and roll.

CityFolk suffers from the same disease as its big brother, the Ottawa Bluesfest Both festivals (which are now run by the same organization) book acts that will draw a crowd, but may not be what you would expect from a festival with a particular genre of music as part of its name. This can upset the purists. I guess I am not a purist.

While admittedly there wasn’t much blues to be found at the 2015 Ottawa Bluesfest, there will be lots of sensitive singer/songwriter types wielding acoustic guitars at CityFolk. So I can enjoy The Tubes, and The Sheepdogs (who are coming up Friday) knowing I will also get to hear Lucinda Williams and Van Morrison.

It was The Tubes first time in Canada in about 15 years, according to singer Fee Waybill. He appeared to be enjoying himself as the band ripped through a few Tubes classics (replete with Waybill’s trademark costume changes) before introducing a new tune, “Life is Pain.” He says that one will be on “a new Tubes album in 2075.” No that isn’t an error in my typing, the man has a sense of humour.

Fee Waybill and the Tubes at CityFolk.

Fee Waybill and the Tubes at CityFolk.

The band exhibited solid musicianship, which is what you would expect of a group that released its first album in 1975. For me the standout songs were “I Don’t Want To Wait Anymore,” White Punks On Dope” (of course) and a cover of The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There.”

I still don’t have an emotional investment in The Tubes, but now at least I can say I have seen them in concert.

I also don’t have any emotional investment in UB40, the British reggae/pop band that was the other main stage act on CityFolk’s opening night Wednesday. Good thing since here are now two bands using the name, with accompanying lawsuits.

I know back in the early 1980s I played both The Tubes and UB40 on the radio, but neither band made a huge impression on me. The only tune I remember now was a cover version of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine.”

This version of UB40 promised a party, full of their greatest hits. One of the first songs was “Politician,” an appropriate choice perhaps for the ongoing Canadian federal election. I shook a politician’s hand at the bus stop on my way into work yesterday, but I didn’t accept the free coffee he was offering. My vote cannot be bought. Especially not with coffee.

UB40 is basically a cover band, putting their spin on whatever strikes their fancy. As the air temperature dropped the crowd warmed to the music, though I don’t think there was as much dancing as the band would have liked. The crowd did sway as one though with their version of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Bottom line for me was that UB40 put on a pleasant enough show, but even closing with an extended version of “Red Red Wine” I can’t say that they turned me into a fan. I will admit though that their sound was a bit closer to what most people would think of as folk music than the tunes on offer by The Tubes.

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