[Another report from on-the-ground correspondents Ross MacDonald (text) and Karen Coughtrey (text). – AC]
Ottawa Bluesfest night four got off to a rocking start on the RBC mainstage with Ottawa rocker Sophia Radisch. If her music didn’t catch your attention her unique look certainly would. The fair-skinned dark red-haired beauty is sponsored by American Hatter and her outfit (top hat, fishnet shirt, vest, black pants and neckerchief) was giving off vibes verging on steampunk.
She opened with ‘Running Down A Dream’ and continued to rock hard for the rest of her set including songs ‘Angel of Mercy’, ‘Enigma’, ‘Ignite’, and ‘Against The Wall’. She slowed it down and demonstrated a softer side with the song ‘Heatwave’ and performed solo on the moving song ‘Thousand Eyes’ that she wrote for her idol, the late rocker Chris Cornell of Audioslave and Soundgarden.
Between songs she was lovely, feeding off the energy of the crowd, telling them “You ignite a fire in my soul”. She would close out by asking the audience if they had a rock and roll addiction, adding that they were her obsession and rocking out one last time with her band on her song ‘Addiction’.
Next up on the main stage was the iconic band Garbage. Shirley Manson grabbed attention before even uttering a word with her bright red hair, black dress, and houndstooth leggings. The band opened with ‘Automatic Systematic Habit’ and then performed ‘No Gods No Masters’ from their latest album.
Elder Millennials were transported back to their high school years with the 90’s hits ‘Stupid Girl’, ‘Special’, ‘Push it’, ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’, and ‘I’m Only Happy When It Rains’ but the crowd also responded positively to new songs like ‘GodHead’.
Shirley held no punches declaring “These are testy times for us all but F*ck the US Supreme Court” and followed that by dedicating ‘Queer’ to all the LGBTQ community fans of Garbage. She said, “They’re going after you too and we’re going to fight, this isn’t over yet.” Shirley would later say that in travelling the world they have had the opportunity to see what old white men are doing to people the world over, and then dedicated, to “all the not old CIS white men”, their song ‘The Men Who Rule the World’, the starting lyrics to which are: “The men who rule the world, Have made a fucking mess, The history of power, The worship of success, The king is in the counting house, He’s chairman of the board, The women who crowd the courtrooms, All accused of being whores”.
Shirley also explained that it was a miracle they were performing here, that they had always been told they couldn’t come to Canada, that no promoter would bet on them and that no one would buy their tickets. A comment the crowd was clearly flabbergasted by. She repeated the sentiment at the end of the show, begging a promoter to take them on and have them come back to Canada and it was clear the crowd hoped promoters were listening as they would like to see them again.
Garbage closed their set on a high note with a mashup of ‘You look so fine’ with Fleetwood Mac’s megahit ‘Dreams’.
One downside to multi-stage festivals is that there is often an overlap in artists performing, forcing a tough decision to be made. This conundrum was forefront on Sunday night as Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats started playing on the second stage only half an hour after the start of Garbage on the main stage. The audience area in front of the River Stage, where Nathaniel was playing, is somewhat confined. There is a nice grass hill where audience members can typically sit in relative comfort, but not on this night. Nathaniel drew in thousands of enthusiastic fans, and they were not let down.
Nathaniel started off his show in full swing with his latest single, the title track off his album ‘The Future’. This was followed by a fan favourite, the 2018 hit ‘You Worry Me’ (2018? It seems like just a few months ago it was released, the past few years have been a blur).
The Night Sweats definitely have a rhythm and blues feel. Not only do they have guitars, bass, and keys, The Night Sweats also have a three-piece horn section, playing trumpets and saxophones; it sounded like they came straight from Chicago.
Nathaniel was playing different instruments throughout the night, starting on guitar, but also playing keyboards and often adding some percussion with the tambourine. But it was fun to see that when he changed instruments he would throw his tambourine or even his telecaster to the stagehands in the wings. Nathaniel was on fire! When he came out for his encore, the second of three songs was the one in everyone’s heart, he had thousands singing along to S.O.B., especially the chorus where everyone was screaming the words. The band then closed with the single ‘Love Don’t’ off their recent album. The next time Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats come back to Ottawa, they will have to play on the main stage.
The headliner of the night was Ottawa’s own Alanis Morissette. There are no photos of her show because media photographers were not permitted to take any pictures of her set. This was a night and performance to remember for anyone growing up in the 90s or for which Jagged Little Pill was a formative album. The performance celebrated the 25th anniversary of the album and opened with a video montage of different cultural references to the iconic album from SNL and the like.
The crowd sang loudly along with ‘All I Really Want’, ‘Hand In My Pocket’, ‘You Learn’, ‘Head Over Feet’ and ‘Ironic’. Her change to the line in the song ‘Ironic’ from “Meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife” to “Meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful husband” earned loud cheers of agreement.
In a truly cathartic experience it is likely safe to say that every female in the place released their anger (over past relationships and perhaps current events south of the border) by screaming the legendary song ‘You Oughta Know’. The younger members of the crowd, less familiar with the Jagged Little Pill album as a whole, had their moment of excitement of knowing the words on her newer song, ‘Reasons I Drink’ from the album Such Pretty Forks In The Road, released in 2020. Other songs from this latest album ‘Ablaze’ and ‘Smiling’ were also warmly received by the crowd’.
The night was capped off with a performance of ‘Your House’ performed in several different styles and ended with her song ‘Thank You’ which she performed while displaying tweets from the hashtag #ThankYouJLP25 of things people are thankful for and she expressed her gratitude for Ottawa and dedicated the song to her hometown. The only thing that would have made the night more perfect was if she had reappeared for a second encore to sing the secret song from the album ‘Uninvited’ but it wouldn’t happen (darn 11 pm noise bylaw!) but I don’t think anyone walked away disappointed. It was truly a wonderful night of ’90s nostalgia and an excellent tribute to an important album.