071015 Kanye West/Hawksley Workman/Jungle By Night, Ottawa, ON

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In a feat of concert arrogance I skipped the first two nights of the 2015 instalment of the Ottawa Bluesfest, a subtle melange of apathy, disinterest, laziness, and overall concert fatigue that saved me from witnessing astounding feats of performance by the likes of Skrillex and Diplo, Jason Aldean, Tara Holloway, Robin Hitchcock, Thrifty Kids and even more acts I didn’t care about.  Oh, the shame (he types sarcastically and yes, arrogantly and even in the third person if you can believe that).

When I did get around to gracing the festival with my presence on July 10th I started with Jungle By Night, a Euro afro-beat dancehall collective that pummelled the clear blue afternoon sky with late-night sounding loopy builds and drops that were probably perfect for the niche 6pm ecstasy crowd of which I was not a part, so off I soon went.  

Which brought me to the wonderful Black Sheep Stage well before the equally wonderful Hawksley Workman mounted the boards to thrill us all with a set of sonic vignettes outlining his imagined life as an extroverted Edward Scissorhands-goth-Bowie.

I can picture this set in my mind as if I were watching a video of it, probably because the guy is so bloody theatrical.  I can clearly see him up there on the smallest outdoor stage at the fest backed by his skinny band, Hawksley and his perfectly unkempt hair preening for non-existent cameras and applying lipstick to his yelping Rocky Horror mouth between epic musical adventures, looking every bit like he dropped out of Hollywood or Mars, when in actual fact the musical monster had somehow come out of Huntsville, Ontario.

I can still hear his voice from the show, rasping like a squeaky Freddie Mercury crowing at the morning sun, reaching from the back of his throat to the back of the room with a well-balanced vibrato inflecting his acerbic songwriting.  He looked like a cross between Tim Curry and Elizabeth Taylor as he acted out songs like his unnervingly catchy Jealous of Your Cigarette.  Ah, it was all so great.

Afterwards on the mainstage came the great (just ask him) Kanye West.  I had missed Kanye when the Bluesfest had booked him as an up-and-comer eight or ten years earlier and figured I’d (yawn) stop by and see what all the fuss was about.

And so I became part of a very large headlining crowd and gaped as one man came out and did pretty much nothing in the most indescribably captivating way.  It was a bit like when I’ve seen Snoop Dogg but completely different.  In both cases I struggled to understand how I could be so entertained and transfixed when it seemed like there was almost no quote-unquote “talent” on the stage at all, but while Snoop bounced around the stage smoking and hanging with a bunch of his homies Kanye stood on a completely bare stage all alone with nothing to lean on but a microphone and a hidden backbeat emanating from the speakers.  And I gotta tell you, he was good.

Then again the real star of the show might have been the big hydraulic lighting platform that dangled and danced from four remotely-controlled wires above Kanye the whole time.  The thing was outfitted with incredibly bright white lights and it moved from completely vertical to angling this way and that to hovering just inches over his head…it was really quite a spectacle, reminiscent of the four moving aircraft-landing lights Peter Gabriel had on stage with him for his So tour.

Anyway, the show was surprisingly great; great enough that I just mentioned Kanye and Peter Gabriel in the same paragraph.  And while you might think it somewhat arrogant of me to have been so surprised that someone as famous and revered (again, just ask him) as Kanye West would put on a good show get this: I’m such an arrogant music fan that – entertained as I was – I left after forty minutes or so.  I wasn’t bored per se – like I said I was enjoying his set – but y’know, I just didn’t feel like standing in the field watching music anymore.

So I retrieved my bike from the bicycle valet and cruised myself home aside the Ottawa River, up the locks and along the Rideau Canal (a UNESCO World Heritage site, doncha know), smiling at the moon on a warm summer’s evening and not noticing one bit how spoiled rotten I am.


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