When the first band to kick off the four-day Ottawa CityFolk 2016 at 6:15pm is veteran Boston Celtic-punk band DROPKICK MURPHYS, you know this isn’t your parents’ kumbaya, sing-songing-around-the-campire folk festival.
Despite (or because of) a four-hour border delay courtesy of Canada’s finest, the Murphy’s kicked down the doors with their trademark gritty, snarly, crowd-surfing mayhem on the mainfield City Stage, punctuated by such soccer terrace anthems as “Out of Our Heads”, “The Boys Are Back” and “The Gang’s All Here.” A pair of cover versions served a welcome twist – a subdued version of the Johnny Thunders alt-classic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” and The Cars’ new wave anthem, “Just What I Needed.”
Still, one couldn’t help wish this set had been delivered later in the evening, once everyone had already limbered up, rather than in the full sunshine of 6:15pm. Everything subsequent sounded rather tame in comparison. Even lead singer Al Barr commented at one point, that “It’s hard to be the first match in the box!”
JAMES BAY is in the latest in a lineage of youthful, folk-pop singer songwriters that began in the ’00s with the likes of Americans John Mayer and Jason Mraz, then crossed overseas in more recent years to bring us Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg. The British Bay delivered a highly-charged show that physically echoed the heart-on-his-sleeve nature of his songs. Every heart-wrenching lyric was mirrored by equally-pained facial expressions. As the title of an album by ‘70s power pop group The Knack once astutely described: ‘…But the Little Girls Understand’. They (and their chaperoning soccer moms) certainly got their money’s worth on this night.
While James held his fans at bay on the main field, indoors on the Ravenlaw Stage, Oregon’s BLIND PILOT cut a significantly-deeper emotional swath. Stand-up bass, trumpet and vibraphone added lush, chamber-pop-like textures to their reflective, singer-songwriter fare. The set featured poignant selections from their just-released third album ‘And Then Like Lions’, written and recorded following the death via cancer of frontman Israel Nebeker’s father – far from the downers one might expect, these remained powerful and inspirational statements.
A pair of new-to-me Ottawa-linked bands added welcome twists to the evening. Montreal-Ottawa collective FUTURE STATES delivered sophisticated, artsy, but bubbly neo-psychedelia that reminded me of such UK ‘80s post-punk bands as Durutti Column and Felt.
For the full lineup and more information on Ottawa CityFest 2016 (Sept. 15-18), visit http://cityfolkfestival.com/
Roch Parisien is an Ottawa-based music critic, archivist, broadcaster and consultant. You can find Roch’s Rocon Communications music blog on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Roch-Parisiens-Rocon-Communications-208757673971/
All photos copyright Roch Parisien/Roch Photos/Rocon Communications