Ottawa
5 min

Bluesfest diary: Day five

Specials singer freaks, Mother Mother rocks the river

The last day of the first half of Ottawa’s largest music festival saw two bands suffer from sound problems, while another rocked the River Stage.

While waiting for British ska legends The Specials to grace the Claridge Stage, Ottawa-Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi took time to thank volunteers, which puzzled some attendees, but it was nice to see our provincial representative commend the people who make the festival run smoothly. 

The Specials front-men Terry Hall and Lynval Golding kicked off their set by taking notice of our city’s cleanliness, calling Ottawa the “land of no litter."

"Please drop some litter on your way out,” Hall said.

Lynval, 61, stayed energetic throughout the show, dancing on the spot and becoming winded.

The rock-steady innovators tore through “It’s Up to You,” their anti-racism anthem “Doesn’t Make It Alright” and “Stereotype” before the drummer, who a friend tells me was not original band member John Bradbury, broke a stick — which acted as an omen for how the rest of their performance would play out.

As the band neared the end of their bouncy collection of hits, keyboard player Nik Torp became drenched in sweat, appearing two-tone, much like the genre The Specials fit into.

While sounding off “Little Bitch,” “Gangsters” and, perhaps the band’s most well-known song, “A Message to You Rudy,” Hall’s mic faltered. He commandeered Lynval’s mic for a song or two, before angrily grabbing the replacement mic from a stage hand. At some point, the stage hands removed Hall’s mic stand, now bent at a 90-degree angle, from the stage. Unfortunately, the replacement mic didn’t work, and Hall either didn’t notice or didn’t care and “sang” the band’s last song, “Too Much Too Young,” into the useless mic.

Some fans who told me The Specials were the only band they came to see at the festival said the concert was ruined, not because of the sound problems but because of Hall’s “hissy fit.” Hall’s attitude seemed completely out of line with the band’s upbeat music.

I passed by Rush on the way to the Black Sheep Stage, but the Canadian legends also encountered sound problems and were showing an odd long-form video that, if I’m correct, featured Jay Baruchel and oompa loompas.

On the Black Sheep Stage Toronto-based electronic duo Thugli kept a small crowd dancing and were rewarded with bubbles.

Vancouver natives Mother Mother ended my Monday night over at the River Stage, and band leader Ryan Guldemond didn’t help to dispel my notion that he is gay by telling the crowd, “We mean every second of this and we want every inch of you tonight,” adding that the band is happy to have so many friends in Ottawa.

The quintet opened with “The Stand,” followed by “Body of Years” and “Infinitesimal."

Guldemond killed the guitar solo on their cover of the Pixies’ “Gouge Away,” rivalling Joey Santiago’s original version.

The band dedicated “Simply Simple” to Rush, who were concurrently playing the main stage, “because they are way too complicated."

As much as I adore Guldemond’s biceps, I exited the festival around 10pm. I would have loved to hear my favourite Mother Mother track, “Dirty Town,” but it was a weeknight, after all.