Sound of Lions, Beirut, Wintersleep, André M. Bluteau
LeBreton Flats and Barney Danson Theatre in Ottawa, ON
July 14-15, 2012
Review by: Lisa Truong
Photos by: Jamie Kronick and Kelly Brisson
The final days of Ottawa Bluesfest brought some top acts to the city's stages.
Sound of Lions
The day was blistering hot, but the Sound of Lions’ early set still attracted a modest crowd.
The Ottawa-based band helped the audience forget about the heat with their appealing blend of smooth vocals, rap, trippy guitar riffs and turntable effects. Although their debut album 11:44 contains songs with heavy-hearted lyrics and warm melodies, their live performance made toe-tapping unavoidable. At the end of their set, Sound of Lions was accompanied by fellow Ottawa-natives, Flight Distance, with whom they performed two songs, “My Bloody Valentine” and “Cobra”. Their solid performance made any fear of sunburn disappear. If you have a chance to catch Sound of Lions, you will be guaranteed an alluring and relaxing set. If they aren’t visiting anytime soon, a nice evening can be set with a download of 11:44 available through their website.
With electronic acts such as Skrillex and Diplo the main attractions for the night, Beirut, with their Eastern European style and brass ensemble was a refreshing anomaly.
A large crowd warmly welcomed the band when they emerged on stage as a blazing red sun set. Zach Condon led the band through the hour-long set that heavily drew from their most recent release The Rip Tide. I missed the string arrangements on the album that balanced out the brightness of the brass but, nevertheless, their performance was sound. During “Nantes”, a few fans broke into dancing pairs while cheers erupted every time Ben Lanz picked up the tuba for a solo. Beirut was one of my most highly anticipated acts and they did not disappoint.
A late addition to the Bluesfest line up, Wintersleep played their first show in Ottawa since the release of their new album Hello Hum.
As with any fresh releases, fans were still getting accustomed to the new album and at times, it felt like the band was trying to find their groove in the still fresh songs. Of the new tracks, “Permanent Sigh” held my attention the most as Paul Murphy (vocals, guitar) stared intensely into the crowd while gripping the microphone with both hands.
Judging from past shows and the one at Bluesfest, Wintersleep seems to enjoy the long, slow jams and although pleasant to listen to were also quite drawn out at times.
The highlight of the set came with their performance of “Laser Beams”. Starting off quietly with Murphy and his guitar, the song built up into an intense wall of sound. The entire band became more animated, turning toward each other and seeming to forget about the crowd watching. This was the most energy output of the whole set and the crowd fed off of it.
As the band tours the album and fans become more familiar with the new material, I anticipate the shows will be of higher energy and not just during the old songs.
André M. Bluteau
I stood outside the Barney Danson Theatre curious about André M. Bluteau.
I listened to his debut album, Crooked Smiles, only the previous night but still wasn’t sure how the quiet songs and his raspy voice would carry in a live performance. Murmurs in the crowd suggested many did not know what to expect either, mainly seeking refuge from the heat and sun in the air conditioned theatre.
The band emerged on stage dressed casually, the only decor being white-sheet draped keyboards under-lit with white lights. Within the first few chords of the first song, “Birds”, off the upcoming album Sons, the crowd was captivated. As the set progressed, the audience couldn’t help but start bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the pulsing folk tunes complimented by a lovely light show.
In between songs and moments of technical difficulty, André sheepishly made comments and jokes, but it was obvious his strength lies in telling stories through his music. There is something dark, almost aching, about his songs. With the full band, what are soothing, quiet melodies on his album, turned into a powerful live performance. When Gabrielle Giguere (multi-instrumentalist) wasn’t bowing a xylophone or creating cymbal harmonics, she was lifting and shaping Andre’s quiet voice with her dramatic vocals. Guitarist Allan Gauthier (of The Love Machine) and the rhythm section, Jamie Kronick (drums) and Philippe Charbonneau (upright bass), provided texture and pulse to the music. Perhaps it is André’s raspy voice, the interjection of dissonant sounds or the way notes sometimes hang in the air; all of these elements combine to create a confident sound with a hint of vulnerability in its lyrics.
By the end of the short set, André had won over the audience. Cheers weren’t only produced by the band’s friends anymore. Now cooled off, the small crowd wandered back into the sun, pleasantly surprised by their chance happening upon this Ottawa-native’s earnest personality and music.