Jazz Fest Wrap: Courtney Barnett, Colin James, and Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy. Montreal Jazz Fest 2019. Photo Rachel Levine Buddy Guy. Montreal Jazz Fest 2019. Photo Rachel Levine

Courtney Barnett

It’s impossible not to be blithely amused when listening to Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Who else can get away with writing a song about having an asthma attack while gardening featuring “I’m not that good at breathing in” as a chorus (“the paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause I play guitar/I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying/Anaphylactic and super hypercondriactic/Should’ve stayed in bed today….” –from Avant Gardener). Even the names of her albums are amusing, from her 2015 debut studio album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, to last year’s Tell Me How You Really Feel.

With roots in grunge and psych-country, Barnett thrilled MTelus with her trademark deadpan delivery and left-handed guitar licks. Being MTelus, the sound was loud so her lyrics were completely drowned out by guitar, bass, and drums, but the audience didn’t seem to care and sang along regardless. Her setlist included City Looks Pretty, Avant Gardener, I’m Not Your Mother I’m Not Your Bitch, Depreston (about shopping for houses in the depressing town of Preston), Everybody Here Hates You, Elevator Operator, and Pedestrian at Best (among others), with four encores (one, Ode to Odetta, requested by a fan), ending with the great psychedelic stream-of-consciousness History Eraser.

The opening act, local band Pottery, also impressed with the extreme volume level. Almost a parody of themselves, like a sort of punk/grunge/garage/psych-rock Spinal Tap, their sound and mixed-genre style eventually grew on me, rather like a fungus, and over the course of their set I actually came to appreciate their speed-whacked aesthetic. Worth checking out if you’re into that kind of thing. (NB)

Colin James and Buddy Guy

Two great blues musicians offered a double show as a huge closer at the Montreal Jazz Fest.

Colin James surprised the audience by entering from the back of the auditorium and playing his way down to the stage. He and his large band that included horns and harmonica, opened with a loud, swampy Mississippi sound, that transformed into a more sultry newer song, Still A Fool. With a kind of West Coast Canadian friendliness, James told the audience how his son is now going to Concordia and that he has fond memories of living in Montreal in both Lachine and Verdun (Verdun represent in the audience!). He recounted busking, playing Club Soda, and the next incarnation of Club Soda, and even Foufs.

James went on to play some new songs from his album, Miles to Go, particularly, Dig Myself A Hole. Other songs played include the rootsy Man’s Gotta Be a Stone, the cleanly played Freedom. Colin’s easy voice and smooth playing came through in songs like I Will Remain. Particularly fun was when James took up the acoustic and played solo See That My Grave’s Kept Clean and then played along with Steve Marriner of MonekyJunk on the harmonica for Riding in the Moonlight. James recounted how he won $50 twice playing that song in talent competitions in Montreal.

After a strong set from James, Buddy Guy took to the stage and proved to be every bit worthy of the BB King award he was given this year. He’s been an influential bluesman for 60 years, and at age 84, he is outspoken and shining on stage. With agility, he flows from story to song to riff with an entrancing presence.

Buddy manages to be the ever likeable showman, funky, funny, and loose. He played many familiar hits, both originals and covers — I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Someone Else Is Steppin’ In, Skin Deep, Boom Boom, with interspersed riffs from Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love, and Voodoo Child. Also, Sister’s milking the Bull.

“They don’t play blues no more on the radio,” he said, “I gotta bring it to you.”

Particularly highlights included Fever, which he dedicated to Montreal. He also threw in a few stories about his life, which take on all the more meaning as someone who has witnessed changes in his life. He recounted in particular that his life path was set in 1967 Mariposa Blues Festival in Toronto. He switched careers from truck driver to musician thanks to the warm reception he received in Canada.

Apparently Montreal was to his liking because he played blues long into the night, just as he promised near the start of his set. (RL)