Rage Against the Machine and Run the Jewels Triumphantly Capped Off Ottawa Bluesfest 2022
With the National, Andy Shauf, Lucy Dacus
Published Jul 18, 2022Ottawa Bluesfest has been billed as "Canada's largest festival" for no other reason than its pure scope. After an opening four-day extended "weekend" (July 7 to 10) that saw well-received performances from Sarah McLachlan, Garbage and Alanis Morissette, the event drew more rock-oriented fans across its next six straight days (July 12 to 17). Alternative radio fodder Milky Chance, Grandson and the Beaches, alongside more established fare like Millencolin, Sum 41 and Alexisonfire, provided a much-needed injection of energy to the festival. As July 14 packaged '90s CanRock icons like Wide Mouth Mason, Crash Test Dummies and the Tea Party, July 16 found old-school hip-hop heads dressing up and hitting the town for TLC and Ja Rule (with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony canceling at the last minute).
Although Marshmello and Luke Bryan drew some of the week's largest crowds, the headliner on everyone's lips was undoubtedly Rage Against the Machine. Their July 15 appearance marked the rap rock pioneers' maiden performance in the nation's capital, and saw droves of fans filling the LeBreton Flats grounds, with lineups to buy their $50 T-shirts rivalling that to purchase beer.
In addition to the triumphant reunion of Rage Against the Machine, the following acts proved to be the clear highlights of the behemoth festival's second and final week.
Anyone concerned about the absence of Gen Z at this year's Bluesfest just needed to head to the festival's tented stage for Lucy Dacus's return to the nation's capital. Greeted by throngs of teens and 20-somethings, the Virginia indie rocker took to the stage to the deafening chants of "Lucy! Lucy!"
Sporting a bubbly rainbow/cloud tee and pants combo (which she called her "gayest outfit ever"), Dacus opened the set with a soothing rendition of "First Time," countering the audience's ferocious squeals of dedication. After strumming her 12-string acoustic to a singalong version of "Hot & Heavy," Lucy gripped her Telecaster through a mini set of tracks. Melding the dazzling energy of her four-piece band and her own delightfully slack demeanour, Lucy leaped up and down during the explosive breakdown of "Yours & Mine" and throughout guitarist Jacob Blizard's hazy, pedal-kissed soloing during "Brando."
After a charming version of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," introduced as "the best song I ever wrote" by Dacus, the band reached back four years for a closing rendition of "Night Shift." As most of the 300-or-so young fans belted the lyrics back to her, Lucy Dacus looked grateful and astonished as the crowd turned an 8:00 p.m. pre-headlining slot into one of the best-received performances of the fest.
Run the Jewels
Presently on tour with Rage Against the Machine, Run the Jewels made their triumphant return to the very festival that hosted the duo's first-ever performance. Hitting the stage two hours before their tourmates, El-P and Killer Mike found themselves before thousands of festivalgoers, with many just as enthusiastic to see RTJ as they were to see RATM. Launching into "Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)," the crowd began to cheer loudly before Zach de la Rocha's verse, hopeful he'd get on stage for a guest appearance. Throwing jabs at one another, themselves, and the crowd (including Killer Mike giving props to a "chubby ginger" who rapped along to every word), the duo seemed jovial, boisterous and ready to get fans bouncing throughout tracks like "Ooh La La," "JU$T" and DJ Shadow's "Nobody Speak."
As the festival grounds congregated into the "kindest, gentlest mosh pit ever," according to Killer Mike, a fan emerged above the crowd in his wheelchair, crowdsurfing along to "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" before the duo requested security to bring him up on stage. As El-P told fans, "Don't touch women, or we'll beat your ass," Run the Jewels led fans through "A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)," closing off a performance that was equal amounts humour, chaos, and mutual respect.
Rage Against the Machine
On the third stop of their Public Service Announcement tour, Rage Against the Machine graced those in attendance with first Canadian show since 1999. After injuring his foot during their Chicago stop, vocalist Zack de la Rocha was carried onto the stage by two crew members and placed on an equipment rig, where he would remain the entire show.
Greeting the near-sold-out grounds with an impassioned version of "Bombtrack," guitarist Tom Morello made up for de la Rocha's static performance by lashing his guitar around before shredding the solo to "Bullet in the Head" with his teeth. Fusing together beloved singles ("Bulls on Parade," "Guerilla Radio") with deep cuts ("Tire Me," "War Within a Breath"), the band whipped the crowd into a frenzy, as a relentless stream of crowdsurfers made their way from the mosh pit over the barricade.
Feeding off the unbridled energy, de la Rocha shook his body forcefully and rocked back and forth during "Wake Up" and "Freedom." Performing in front of a video backdrop blasting images of police brutality and surveillance, de la Rocha set up closer, "Killing in the Name" by addressing his discontent with the Supreme Court of the United States: "They just robbed millions of our sisters their right to decide. But how we defeat them is with solidarity."
Transitioning into "Township Rebellion," de la Rocha led chants of "Why stand on a silent platform? Fight the war, fuck the norm," showing the crowd that Rage Against the Machine has always been much more than that band who says, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."
A late addition to the festival's final day, Andy Shauf brought in a number of fans eager to catch the Saskatchewan singer-songwriter after his cancelled February gig. Missing his signature ball cap and long locks, Shauf entered the stage gripping his beaten Waterloo acoustic guitar, huddling in with his bandmates as they occupied only a small portion of the mammoth main stage.
While Shauf opened the set with "Neon Skyline," the quintet overcame early sound issues that found audience members struggling to hear the vocalist's whispered delivery. Moving into "Where Are You Judy," Colin Nealis and Ottawa's own Dan Pencer wowed the crowd with a tastefully languid organ and sax breakdown before Bernice drummer Phil Melanson took his own turn by adding a jazzy extended outro to "Begin Again."
Debuting his new single, the soft and shuffling "Satan," for the Ottawa crowd, Shauf and his band closed their hour-long set with "The Magician," raising the energy during the track's fuzzed-out ending while drawing cheers from the well-mannered crowd. While he's been known for his closed-off solo recording sessions, Andy Shauf's tight set with his band showed the crowd just how far he's come as a live performer.
Returning to the nation's capital for the first time since their 2014 Ottawa Folk Festival performance, the National brought their expanded live show, widescreen sound and arsenal of songs to a crowd that spanned generations. Standing among a stage setup featuring multi-coloured LED lights — while choosing to present the festival's screen feeds in black and white — the National provided an aesthetically-pleasing stage show.
With eight full-lengths to pull from, the band crafted a greatest hits set that almost exclusively featured fan favourites, including "Don't Swallow the Cap," "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Fake Empire." Adding drummer James McAlister to their touring lineup, the eight onstage musicians were able to present a sonically tight wall of sound that found Aaron and Bryce Dessner moving between guitars and keys — with the former clutching two guitars to create a vibrating feedback surface during "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness."
After unveiling a pair of unreleased tracks ("Ice Machines" and "Tropic Morning News (Haversham)"), Berninger increased the onstage drama, leaping into the audience and dragging his microphone cord 30 metres across the grounds, joining the fervent crowd for an impassioned rendition of "Mr. November."
Closing their 90-minute set with EP cut "About Today," the octet managed to deliver a memorable and frenetic performance, proving one thing: anyone who claims the National are boring hasn't bothered to see them live.