071611 Jane’s Addiction/Blackie and the Rodeo Kings/Death from Above 1979/Ganga Girl, Ottawa, ON

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July 16th was the penultimate day of the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest and it was a hot one, both literally and figuratively.

I started the day checking out a didgeridoo-driven rap and percussion-heavy Australian hip-hop quintet called Ganga Giri who was on their first tour of Canada.  Though they may have heard stories about our famous snowy winters the Giris managed to keep their earthy aborigine beats fast and furious despite a thermometer reading well into the 30’s. 

A sweaty hour later the mainstage crowd swelled in anticipation of post-Indie noise-pop duo Death from Above 1979.  Though the band had recently reunited for a handful of concerts they didn’t seem to be too invested in their new future; the band’s backdrop featured a tombstone etched with: “DFA 1979, 2001-2006”.  The music, on the other hand, was relentless.  Distorted bass bombs and frantic drumming alongside manic, shrieking vocals that sounded like a rock and roll version of a runaway train.

Just like The White Stripes or The Black Keys, Death From Above 1979 turned their sparse instrumentation (in this case solely bass and drums) to their advantage.  With so much sonic space to fill there was never a danger of overplaying but it sure was fun to hear them try.  Even when the bassist fleshed things out with his minimalist synthesizer rig the music remained stark though the skull-numbing density never faltered, eventually culminating in an ear-numbing coda as the sun finally went away for the night. 

After a brief sidestage time-out that involved world-class Dobro playing and stunning songwriting courtesy of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings my tympanic membranes felt ready for another low-frequency workout. So I made my way back to the main stage area where re-re-reunited ’80’s alt-rockers Jane’s Addiction were about to crush the sweltering air like musical jackhammers.

Looking dapper in a black jacket and tails, white t-shirt and sculptured hair, Perry Farrell sauntered onstage with the confidence of a tiger while guitarist Dave Navarro shredded away already in full-on rock-out mode, with his foot firmly resting on his monitor and wearing little more than body ink. 

Sounding fifty feet tall from the first note, Jane’s Addiction turned LeBreton Flats into a bona fide stadium show with a steady stream of relentless bass attacks, sinuous guitar lines, and a kick drum that permeated my spine.  There was crowd surfing, confetti cannons, and dancing girls on stage risers.  

Of course the best part of the show was Been Caught Stealing – the crowd went completely bananas – challenged only slightly with the unforgettable two-chord campfire standard Jane Says encore.  We all sang along and Farrell raised his ubiquitous bottle to salute us while drummer Stephen Perkins kept time on congas and Navarro sat on his monitor banging away on an acoustic guitar. 

But really, while Jane Says was a soothing post-script to a searing day of overdrawn energy, that Been Caught Stealing was the song of the set, the moment of the day, and perhaps the best thing of whole two-week festival.

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