Rhythm killers

OK, so there may be highlights at this year’s Ottawa Rockfest beyond Danny Brown.

Not that the loopy split-personality rapper didn’t meet expectations. True, watching a DJ open his laptop just doesn’t build an audience’s expectation like, I don’t know, some pyro or something. But whichever voice Detroit’s finest used, he was at all times a marvel to behold — whether jumping up and down, or sticking out his tongue. (Who needs pyro?) Kudos to the handful of faithful in front of the stage who knew every word to every motherfucking song.

So yes, Danny Brown was a highlight. But then, I wasn’t counting on Sly and Robbie to deliver the goods — and the sublime Mr. Bitty McLean as guest vocalist — quite as forcefully as music’s finest rhythm section did on Day Two. From the opening dub-style number through to Robbie Shakespeare’s teary-eyed farewell, this was a set and a night to be treasured.

So much so that when I sauntered over to catch the remainder of Jeff Tweedy‘s solo set afterward, well, I gave up after two songs. Oh, Tweedy was his usual magnificent self, but I was reminded of my encounter with a friend at the original Capital Music Hall during Wilco’s concert at that now-defunct venue. Admitting that he had caught Prince in Toronto the previous evening, my pal stared at the stage, bewildered, while Wilco worked its magic on the crowd.

“Look at them!” he exclaimed with disgust. “They’re not even moving!” Moreover, he added, no one in the audience was dancing.

“It’s not a Prince show,” I helpfully reminded him. He was none the more impressed for it.

Now, I understand. Jeff Tweedy is a brilliant songwriter and performer. But he’s no Sly and Robbie. “Where’s the bottom end?” I asked no one in particular as Tweedy and his acoustic guitar charmed the remainder of the attentive audience.

Perhaps I felt let down because the emcee for the River Stage had introduced the headliners as “Sly and Tweedy.” Not that would have been an interesting collaboration. Plus, it would have saved me from having to negotiate my way from stage to stage. Alas, Tweedy did not join Sly Dunbar at any point. Fortunately, Bitty McLean did.

The main stage? Can’t say I noticed. Well, I will say this: You forget what a truly wretched blight on music Journey is when you’ve managed to successfully avoid the group’s hits for a while. Tonight, I was subjected to a few minutes of Any Way You Want It on my way into the park and let’s just say I still haven’t started believing. I mean, this is a band whose creativity is such that when Steve Perry left, the remaining Journeymen launched a worldwide search to find the best Steve Perry impersonator available for hire. Surely, there was a middling Canadian talent they could have turned to. Look how well that worked for INXS and Styx.(I’ll bet Gowan does a killer Suite Madame Blue.)

At least music lovers can take solace in the knowledge that Journey did not serve as the main-stage headliner. That honour fell to Germany’s Zedd, an artist recognized internationally as the last name in the DJ phonebook. I caught only fleeting moments of Zedd’s pumping set and can tell you that he too is no Sly and Robbie. Though, perhaps a more fitting review was offered by one of a group of teens crowded onto the 95 bus at the end of the night:

“Does anyone have some Tylenol?”

Sly and Tweedy Robbie, fans were not asking that question.

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