By: Calum Slingerland –
After a solid double-bill evening on the first day of Ottawa’s Folk Festival, featuring City and Colour and the iconic Patti Smith, it was back out in the crisp fall air to catch the wonderful assortment of acts present on day two last night, including New York City-based indie rock quartet Vampire Weekend, Decemberists front man Colin Meloy, Vancouver-based garage rock duo The Pack A.D., and local rock group Little Stella.
2. White Sky
3. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
4. Diane Young
9. Everlasting Arms
10. Diplomat’s Son
12. Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)
13. Ya Hey
15. Oxford Comma
16. Giving Up the Gun
17. Obvious Bicycle
18. Hannah Hunt
19. One (Blake’s Got a New Face)
With three albums under their belt, it was the first time that New York City-based indie rock quartet Vampire Weekend had ever performed in Ottawa. After opening with two cuts from their sophomore album Contra (“Cousins” and “White Sky”), frontman Ezra Koenig apologized for somehow not getting to the nation’s capital sooner.
The band’s performance was quite polished all the way through the set, with literally no error. At points, it seemed like there was little to no live improvisation present at all, but despite that, the crowd went crazy for hits such as “A-Punk” and “Campus” from their self-titled debut, and upbeat numbers “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers” from their most recent record Modern Vampires of the City. Drummer Chris Tomson was a force behind the drum kit the entire show, showing great technical skill through quick paced drumming and triggering of samples. Bassist Chris Baio had the best stage moves of any of the four band members, shaking and grooving his way through each song with plenty of well-executed bass guitar work. Though the night was cold, Vampire Weekend delighted those in attendance, and promised to be back as soon as they could.
Thankfully, this writer’s hearing managed to hold up until the end of The Pack A.D.’s set, just in time for Colin Meloy to take the Ravenlaw Stage for an acoustic set. The front man of the acclaimed Portland, Oregon-based folk-rock quintet The Decemberists stood alone on stage with only a guitar and a bottle of wine, a stark contrast to the broad range instruments that The Decemberists are known for including upright bass, accordion, Hammond organ and more.
Meloy played a selection of songs he wrote by himself, with a lot of them being unrecorded and unreleased. Meloy is known for writing very vivid, poetic lyrics, and that skill was on full display throughout the show. For anyone unfamiliar with his work with The Decemberists, the performance may have taken a bit of time to get around the wordiness of it all.
Keeping with the other artists at the festival in noticing the absence of Neil Young on opening night, Meloy performed a cover of Young’s unreleased tune “Give Me Strength”, which illustrated the influence that the Canadian icon has even in his absence. For fans of his band work in attendance, Meloy also played parts one, two and three of “The Crane Wife” from the album of the same time, which served as a pleasant reminder of what he has to go back to.
The Pack A.D.
As Little Stella’s guitar/horn hybrid style faded into the chilly night air, Vancouver-based duo, The Pack A.D., lit up the main stage with the electricity and energy that has made them the talk of both the Vancouver music but also nationally as well.
Without a doubt, the garage rock duo were the loudest act to play FolkFest yet, as you could hear them clearly from the other end of Hog’s Back Park. Drummer Maya Miller and front woman and guitarist Becky Black are always a pleasure to watch on stage together, with Black’s roaring, distorted guitars being the perfect match for Miller’s hard-hitting drumming style. The set was primarily composed of songs from their 2011 effort Unpersons, with the crowd being treated to incredibly loud, bombastic versions of “Haunt You” and “Sirens”.
Kicking off the evening festivities was Little Stella, a fast-rising group of locals based Manotick, the same small town that gave rise to fellow rockers Hollerado. With a good size crowd present, the band played a very enjoyable set, showing those in attendance just how diverse they could be, with each of the four band members being incredibly proficient on their respective instruments.
Lead vocalist Ryan Tansley was also the drummer, making keeping time while singing look like an easy task. ZachLedgerwood switched back and forth between guitar and bass every so often, showing prowess on six strings as well as four. Jeff Watkins made things sound a little more interesting by adding layers of keyboards, and James Siwanowiczplayed a mean lead guitar.
Adding a small horn section into the mix made things that much better. The band performed a fair amount of material from their self-titled 2012 EP, while also revealing that they have plans to hole up in the studio for a full-length recording later this fall. Set highlights also included two covers – an incredible rendition of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”, and Outkast’s “Hey Ya”, which worked quite well with an indie rock sound.