167. Stop!: Jane’s Addiction and Death From Above 1979, July 16, 2011

 Jane's Addiction, Death From Above 1979, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011, Ticket, variousartists

Bluesfest Stops!: the high spirits of the second Saturday night came to an abrupt halt with Sunday night’s collapse of the main stage during Cheap Trick’s set.

167. Stop!: Jane’s Addiction and Death From Above 1979, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 (Pt. 4), LeBreton Flats, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Saturday July 16, 2011, $19.17 (pre-sale, per-night average).

After John Fogerty’s conquering of the Ottawa Bluesfest on Tuesday of Week Two, there wasn’t really much I wanted to see until this Saturday night’s back-to-back double header of Jane’s Addiction and Death From Above 1979.

Cublet gave this evening of noisiness a pass, and so Sebado Hepburn, who saw Robert Plant with me, came along.  We got the night rolling with Toronto duo DFA 1979, playing the first Canadian gig of their reunion tour.

Anticipation was high on an especially blazing hot summer night in front of the Claridge stage, with throngs of scenesters wilting under the still-sizzling sun, awaiting the dancey-punk unit’s reincarnation. Me, I never really “got” the huzzahs surrounding them back in their mid-noughties prime, a few numbers aside.  I thought that seeing them live would be mucho fun and give me a new perspective.

Nope.

My reaction to their live show mirrored my response to their discs: after a few songs, it all sounded monochromatic and monotonous, neither done distinctively.

Drummer Sebastien Granger provided most of the witty repartee, joking about his possible scoliosis and his am-I-or-aren’t-I jibes about being very stoned. The banter was often more entertaining than the tunes. Bassist Jesse F. Keeler was decidedly more taciturn: a muted Finnegan to Granger’s gregarious Casey (let’s see if anyone outside of Canada gets that reference).

Death From Above 1979, Bluesfest 2011, variousartists 

Death From Above 1979, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011. A still from some video footage that will be coming to my eventual YouTube channel, VATV … not enough hours in the day, etc.

After about 45 minutes of their 8pm set, Seb and I moved one stage over for Jane’s Addiction, due on at 9:30. If Tuesday night had me basking in nostalgia from the cusp of the ‘70s, then the appearance of Jane’s Addiction took me back to their heyday period of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.

I vividly recall their debut studio album, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, coming out late that summer.  It was during a period of a few years that stand as the closest I’ve ever gotten to metal being part of my musical diet via the early Soundgarden as well as bits of Metallica, Danzig, Masters of Reality, and Guns’N’Roses (if you can’t count them as metal, per se). I was intrigued by what I’d been reading about this band from L.A. and asked my friendly Warner Bros. rep to get me a copy of the then-forthcoming album as soon as she could. 

Jane's Addiction Nothing's Shocking Ritual de lo Habitual variousartists

Jane’s Addiction’s two central releases: Nothing’s Shocking (1988) and Ritual de lo Habitual (1990): on the cusp of an explosion, straddling the space between the later ‘80s indie scenes and the alternative revolution of the early ‘90s. I always thought those figures on the cover of Ritual looked like dough people crafts.

She was always great with supplying me with freebee requests as I wasn’t a promo-hog (like a number of others I knew from that time in the music/record store communities) plus she knew that I’d promote it on my radio show if I liked it (and then, later, in print), and that I would be honest with her in terms of what I thought and felt about the music. Since I was still an actual music fan rather than one of the jaded, promo-collecting miseryguts that can get bred in longtime music retail, she appreciated the genuine “market research feedback” I could give her.  Rather than the usual “yeah, it’s great!” crap routinely sung at her from the chorus of swag-fetishing, asskissing industryfolk,  I gave her plenty of “yep, it’s crap” recaps, with smiling alacrity.  I gave her plenty of thumbs up on other stuff, too.

Jane's Addiction 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest Sebado variousartists 

Jane’s Addiction, 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest: (l-r) Dave Navarro, Perry Farrell, Chris Chaney, and Stephen Perkins.  Photo(s) by Sebado Thanks Seb!

The assessment I gave her for Nothing’s Shocking? I’d told her I’d absolutely fallen in love with it, but doubted that the album would do much commercially as it was way too heavy for the Cure/alterna crowds and far too strange and avant-garde for your standard metalhead.

Whoospy-daisy — talk about a totally wrong call! Little did I see that components of those two then-fully-disparate worlds were in the process of merging into a new stream, with JA at the helm.

 “Been Caught Stealing,” Jane’s Addiction from Ritual de lo Habitual, 1990.

To my credit, the record did sell slowly at first but, as we know, it and the band inchingly swelled into a momentum. By the time that the follow-up, Ritual de lo Habitual, was released two years later, they were stars.  It was an instant hit. Twelve months later, the game was up for JA as their farewell tour transformed into the first Lollapalooza, in ‘91: a galvanizing event for an exploding indie-nation.

Since then, Jane’s Addiction has had a few reunions, this latest incarnation sporting lynchpin Perry Farrell, guitarist extrodinaire Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins, and Chris Chaney in place of original bassist Eric Avery.

Jane's Addiction, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011, variousartists 

(Photo by VA)

Jane's Addiction 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest sebado variousartists

(Photo by Sebado)

Seb and I meandered over to the mbna stage early enough to get pretty damn close. Until … an ill-advised decision on my part to grab one more pre-set beer … which turned out to be a much more problematic, time consuming process than I had anticipated. Consequently, I found myself trying to fight my way back to Seb, as the Jane’s hit the stage and things got rolling with the slowly revolving opening bass notes of “Up the Beach” amidst a dense, exuberant, crushing crowd. Thank heavens for personal tenacity, texting, and that Seb is tall (read: visible in a crowd, especially when waving a hanky in the air). Alas, a reunion was achieved in the dense multitude amid much rejoicing.

The band sounded hot, but what really struck us was how together they looked, given this unit’s well-known pharmacological excesses. Especially Farrell. Just a few years ago, I would see him in interviews and he looked like a hellish bone rack, possibly not long for this world. Today he looks downright healthy! Well, as healthy as one can look while swilling from a bottle of red wine all night (hey, pass it around, Perry…) Could it be he’s had a chakra realignment/rejuvenation? Meanwhile, Sebado was decidedly pleased that Navarro, one of his former teenage crushes, played the show shirtless.

 

 Jane’s Addiction performing “Jane Says,” their encore number at the 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest from a fan-shot YouTube video.

Aside from so-so numbers “End to the Lies,” from the forthcoming The Great Escape Artist (out today!), and “Just Because” from 2003’s disappointing Strays, the set was drawn from Shocking and Ritual. Fine by me. “Had A Dad,” “Stop,” “Ted, Just Admit It,” “Been Caught Stealing,” “Jane Says,” “Mountain Song,” and a particularly dramatic “Three Days” echoed out into the night sky as the adoring hordes rocked along.

Jane's Addiction 2011 Ottawa Bluesfest variousartists sebado

(Photo by Sebado)  

Dave Navarro Ottawa Bluesfest 2011 sebado variousartists

(Photo by Sebado) 

Jane's Addiction, Ottawa Bluesfest 2011, variousartists

(Photo by VA) 

About those throngs … it was one seriously crammed crowd. Shoehorned into a packed, euphoric crowd, I looked up at the massive stage rig at one point and stopped to think about the pandemonium that would ensue were anything to go wrong and everyone needed to get out tout de suite. It’s hardly the first time that sort of thing has crossed my mind in these kinds of circumstances — not that it would stop me from attending these types of shindigs as I tend to feed of the energy of crowds and big events — but it’s a bit chilling for me to recall that moment of pause as this very stage did indeed collapse some 22 hours or so later on the final night of Bluesfest.

“Ocean Size” at Bluesfest. That stage would not be standing 24 hours later.

As you may know, a ferocious wind and rain storm blew up during Cheap Trick’s early evening set. When conditions appeared dangerous, B-Fest pulled Cheap Trick off the stage which promptly collapsed mere seconds after their exit. Thankfully and incredibly, the stage fell backwards. I don’t even want to ponder about what may have happened had it fallen forward into the crowd.

Suffice it to say, this was a major story here in Ottawa this summer. There have been important questions posed about accountability and liability, with arguments advocating for better emergency preparedness.  Meanwhile, others who were present have talked to the media about how the weather changed in an instant — too swiftly to properly react. I’ve also heard conflicting stories as to the head’s ups that the relevant Bluesfest folks had about the severity of the oncoming weather. I wasn’t there so I can’t give a first person account.

I will say this: it’s incredible that this didn’t happen on the previous Friday, when another major storm hit with little warning. Also, it’s easy to make the calm, correct decision retrospectively.

In my neck of the woods, just east of the core, I was outside on our deck at that time. While it had been overcast for the previous 15 or 20 minutes, the violent winds seemed to materialize from nowhere. I was just preparing to throw some steaks on the heated grill, trying to discern if it was going to rain or not, when everything seemed to shift in a snap.

As the scattered walls of gusts hit, coming from seemingly every direction, I quickly shut the gas off because I could easily envision our not-insubstantial grill getting bounced right over, setting our deck on fire — it was that intense.

It must have been a horrifying experience for the people there to have to witness the collapse and danger. I am so relieved that no one was killed and serious injuries were few. Those of us here in Ottawa escaped relatively unscathed in comparison to the mortifying, fatal, later-summer stage collapses at the Indiana State Fair and the Pukkelpop Festival in Belguim. Furthermore, one of the stars of this year’s Bluesfest, The Flaming Lips, had their lighting rig collapse in a storm in Tulsa as well.  What the hell was it with this past summer?

Weather-related festival safety will clearly and necessarily be a big topic in advance of next summer’s festival season. Interestingly, Bluesfest repositioned its main stage this year, and I’ve wondered whether the new location may have left it more vulnerable to severe weather.

I do know that I’m glad I sold my tickets for that night. I’d been debating whether or not to see headliners Death Cab for Cutie but finally decided on the “sell” option as I’m not a big fan. Of course, they never got to play anyway.

Bluesfest White ID Band 2011 variousartists 

So, what did I learn from this year’s Ottawa Bluesfest, aside from that the main stage wasn’t as stable as I thought it was? I learned that it’s probably never going to be the guaranteed, consistently excellent festival I hoped it would be. That’s not to say that there’s not going to be more great years. But it seems they have a run of a few top-notch years and then comes the inevitable crappy, half-assed one.

The festival came into its own by broadening its horizons in 2002, fully morphing into its current state in 2005 when it truly ditched any kind of genre lens for booking artists. There were many years where time, money or both precluded me from seeing a number of acts I was jonesin’ for, resulting in me twice booking off two weeks of vacation in conjunction with the festival when my situation finally allowed it, only to have both of those years — 2009 and this one — be real disappointments (2004 was truly a write off: the one year we didn’t venture out at all). While this year and 2009 had some selected highlights (I’ve already written about Bootsy Collins, The Flaming Lips, Erykah Badu, and John Fogerty for example), they both fell far short of the overall mark of excellence of other years.

Then there is the orginization’s attitude that sometimes left a bad taste in my mouth, not only from what I found as sometimes heavy handed security but from quotes like this one from BF big cheese himself, Mark Monahan: “Anyone who thought that the lineup of bands this year wasn’t great was aged 50 and older.” In other interviews, he seemed to have a suspicious relish in going on about how the older crowd this year didn’t get its stars.

Here’s an open message to Monahan: Hey Mark, this is a wonderful event that you have built from the ground up here in Ottawa. As a live music lover, I am so glad you have done so, but hubris is never a pretty thing. I’m 48, so, yeah, I’m close to that aforementioned demo (and how old are you, Monahan?) but, I am also someone who is equally vested in the past, present, and future. That just-right balance of great legacy acts mixed with terrific contemporary and up’n’coming newbies from a broad spectrum of musics is what makes Bluesfest work so well, pulling in a diverse crowd. And, frankly, that balance ws mostly done fairly poorly this year. I can’t believe you don’t know that.  That most of the post-announcement-day acts got quietly trundled out onto the website with few press blurbs stands in sharp contrast to the big announcements of previous years … when you actually had some big announcements to make.

Bluesfest Yellow ID band 2011 variousarists 

You spent a lot of time chatting to the local press about your focus on “newer” acts to bring in the “younger audience” this year … well, if the swell but decade-old Black Keys represent a time yardstick that equals “new,” I’d like to mention the names Janelle Monáe, Kurt Vile, Peaches, Fleet Foxes, Caribou, Fucked Up, John Grant, Of Montreal, Austra, Besnard Lakes, TV on the Radio or some older-but-still-younger-audience-favourites such as Sonic Youth or PJ Harvey. They all have one thing in common: precisely none of them were at Bluefest this year, with many of them on the road at the time (and I do acknowledge TVOTR’s brilliant set at Bluesfest a few years back). Instead we got … A Perfect Circle? Three Days Grace? Billy Talent? You’re boasting about being cutting edge and they’re the hot trays at the buffet?

Me thinks he doth protest too much.

As for the legacy talent … don’t even get me started on Huey freakin’ Lewis. In the past, we had Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, and this year we get … Huey Lewis (ok, and Fogerty).

While I’ll certainly be awaiting next year’s lineup once it’s unveiled in April, I’ve finally learned to dim the expectations and enthusiasm. As a hit-or-miss event, I’ll savour the hits but know that the misses are going to be there too.

Bluesfest 2012: my fingers are crossed.

Jane’s Addiction, “Stop!” at Bluesfest.

Next On Stage –> … if this year’s Bluesfest was, overall, a let down, then their virgin effort of curating this year’s Folk Festival was indeed a success, commercially and artistically. While I had to miss Friday night headliner, Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses, I fortunately made it out for ….

168. Trees Outside the Academy: 2011 Ottawa Folk Festival with Thurston Moore, Bright Eyes, Tom Morello/The Nightwatchman, and The Little Stevies, Hog’s Back Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 25-28, 2011

… and I’ll soon be returning to the past with …

014. Gimme Danger: Iggy Pop with Nash the Slash, Wonderland Gardens, London, Ontario, Canada, Wednesday, October 27, 1982 — featuring guest contributor M. Zeppelin on the topic of some spirited social interactions with Iggy and his band.

NOTE: I simultaneously cross-post over on my Open Salon blog, where I also have a deeper backlog of entries. 

© 2011 VariousArtists

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