We here at Bucketlist Music Reviews had the chance to cover yet another day at RBC’s Ottawa Bluesfest, and although it would be hard to match the sheer awesomeness of Foo Fighters, this lineup of artists more than rose to the challenge. Dave Matthews Band certainly proved their worthiness with an almost three-hour barnburner, but it was arguably The Spencer Lee Band and The Lucas Hanneman Express who were responsible for putting the “blues” in Bluesfest.
There are some misinformed concertgoers that might tell you that there is no point wasting your time seeing the opening bands at festivals. Just stick to the big names. The Lucas Haneman Express is a definite counter-argument to such ignorance. The crowd might not have been fully formed yet, but for those who were there were treated to the purest blues of that day’s roster and some face melting finger dexterity courtesy of frontman and lead guitarist Lucas Hanneman. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a Robert Johnson and sold his soul down at the crossroads. All the more impressive about this is that Hanneman only has limited vision in his right eye. His guitar was such an extension of himself that it’s not surprising that this impairment has not slowed him down one iota.
The Spencer Lee Band were introduced by the night’s MC as being from Pluto, liking long walks on the beach, and milk and cookies. In a strange way, I don’t think there is a better description of their sound. They were strange, fun, and had a strong retro vibe going on. They have a unique way of combining funk, blues, and pop to make an almost sensual experience. Frontman Spencer Lee’s voice has the swagger of Lenny Kravitz, and when he goes into his falsetto he shows promise of being the next Justin Timberlake. His best performance though had to be on their earth-shattering rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which seriously would have made Joe Cocker proud. The crowd went nuts every time he’d let out a raspy howl before each chorus. My only complaint is that I wish their originals were as exciting. All of them were oozing with sexuality and fun but slightly lacking in heart and soul.
Seeing Dave Matthews Band in a live setting is a lot like seeing two bands in one. There is the band that plays sensitive alternative rock tunes like “Crash Into Me” and “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)” in almost the exact same fashion as they are recorded. Then there is the jam band who will stretch “Jimi Thing” into a fifteen-minute solo extravaganza and use Prince’s “Sexy MF” as an outro, which results in the hilarious image of a middle-aged man yelling “SHAKIN” THAT ASS” without a trace of irony. I had no idea that THIS side to Dave Matthews Band existed, and man, I love it! I had only been aware of their studio output, which quite frankly does not do justice to how good these guys really are! They played a very long set but had the audience eating out of their hands the entire time. This is especially impressive considering that they played A LOT of their new stuff.
Now, even though nothing they did left the audience cold, it was when they got weird, wild and out of left field that everyone REALLY got on board! An out of nowhere, pitch-perfect rendition of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer;” sure why not?! An extended rip-roaring version of “Ants Marching” where every band member gets not one but TWO extended solos; even better! The best moment by far had to be when saxophonist Jeff Coffin, stuck two saxophones in his mouth and just went to town. It’s funny I was always under the impression that these guys were kind of tame, but I’ve yet to hear louder appreciation at any show I’ve seen this year! Admittingly the encore ended up being kind of anti-climactic as a result. It was almost as if they had already given everything they had. Usually, encores are reserved for big fan favourites but they started the encore off with the new and barely known “Do You Remember?” Where was “Tripping Billies” or “The Space Between?”
Regardless of such glaring omissions, Dave Matthews Band DESTROYED and I left Bluesfest feeling nothing but the utmost satisfaction. After all, I had traveled all the way from Montreal just to see a show and by God did I ever get one! It made me sad that we wouldn’t be able to cover more of the festival but grateful that we were able to cover two very memorable days.
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Mark Horton
*edited by Danielle Kenedy