Friday Night Rocked

Live, in concert Cityfolk 2019, photo by Sean Sisk.

I missed most of the music on the nineties. When you lived in Pembroke, Ontario, there wasn’t much choice. The local radio played (as I remember it) country music.

Which means, in those pre-internet days, all I knew about the band Live was what I read. I could perhaps have named you a tune or two, but had no idea what they sounded like.

Friday night I arrived at Cityfolk, Ottawa’s annual festival, just before Live were to start their set. With thousands of people waiting in front of the stage, I figured I might as well join the throng.

My first impression was that they were loud. Which is saying something given that it was an outdoor show. You could feel the bass guitar and bass drum almost more than you could hear them. Ordinarily I might have thought negatively of that, but my soul has been missing rock and roll – it felt good.

I could see the appeal. Strong light show added to a wall of sound, what was there not to like. As a lyrics guy though I didn’t find that I was engaged. Maybe it was that at high volumes you can’t always make out the words. My impression though was of a band with a certain amount of earnestness, as evidenced by their song “The Beauty of Grey.”

I understand the sentiment, as expressed on stage, of breaking down barriers of race and creed – but if you’re going to sing about such things you’ve gotta convince me why those barriers need to go. Maybe it was the way it was expressed that annoyed me – mushy sentimentalism that we can all agree with, as long as we don’t think about it too closely. You could make a strong case that we have too much grey already in this word, we need more black and white. But that is a discussion for another day.

For me the standout tunes were “Lightning Crashes,” which featured some gritty grunge guitar work, and a cover version of the Stones classic, “Paint It Black.”

It was a polished, professional show, and I can see myself catching them another time – in a festival setting. They didn’t grab me enough to make me want to rush out and buy their records.

Headlining Friday night was Our Lady Peace (OLP), a band I first saw in the same location about 25 years ago when they were opening for Van Halen.

Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace, in concert at Cityfolk 2019, Photo by Sean Sisk. 

I remember a young band with potential, a decent opening act but nothing made me want to run out and buy their music. The next time I saw them was in 2006 at the Calgary Stampede. The band had matured, exploring spiritual themes in their newer material. They were the reason I went to Cityfolk on Friday, and they did not disappoint.

When they hit the stage, my first thought was they were a heavier version of Jars of Clay, as vocalist Raine Maida ‘s voice sounded to me eerily similar to Jars’ Dan Haseltine. Throughout the evening I heard other vocalists in the music: a touch of John Mellencamp, a bit of David Bowie, a wisp of Gord Downie, all combining to give a unique blend.

Live seemed to be trying to beat e into submission with their aural assault. OLP wanted me to listen, to consider and to journey with them in exploring the human condition and alienation. Maida wants to be an artist, not just an entertainer, and it shows in OLPs music.

The show mixed of and new tunes, with perhaps one of the newer songs getting the most favorable response. “Stop Making Stupid People Famous” was seen I am sure by many in the crowd as a shot at US President Donald Trump, but to me it spoke more about reality television.

I think my favorite song though was a rendition of “Drop me in the Water,” recorded on the 2018 album Somethingness. Maida’s lyrics ae at times ambiguous, but to me it seems like a baptismal song.

Something that struck me: there was a lot of marijuana being smoked while Live was onstage. I saw/smelled none while OLP were performing. True, I was standing in a different area -but maybe OLP fans are better able to face reality.

Cityfolk continues today and Sunday. Friday night I didn’t have a chance to really explore the grounds or check out the other stages. I had the impression that there have been improvements since the last time I was able to attend the festival. The lineups for concessions and porta-potties seemed long, but getting into the site was smooth.

If you are in Ottawa this weekend, you might want to check it out – especially the free late night Marvest which features local talent in smaller venues close to the festival grounds. I’m hoping to be there again tonight, and Robert Plant’s closing show Sunday is a must-see in my books.

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