The third night of Ottawa’s CityFolk festival did not disappoint, kicking off at 6pm while the sun was still shining on Lansdowne. It was a warm evening filled with surprises, from the beautifully cooperative September weather to the unanticipated talent demonstrated by the performers — particularly by Son Little, The Suitcase Junket, and Amanda Marshall.
Son Little started the evening on the outdoor City Stage with his cool, new wave brand of blues rock, somewhat reminiscent of The Black Keys. He announced his new album, New Magic, had just been released that day, and proceeded to grace the audience with some of the new material. Despite the sparse attendance for the first act of the night, showgoers seemed to be grooving to Son Little’s music, cooperatively singing along to “Blue Magic (Waikiki)” when invited to do so. Indeed, many of Son Little’s choruses were easy to sway to and sing along with. All four members of the band provided vocals, making for some impressively fulsome choral harmonies. Son Little particularly has a nice, soothing rasp to his voice, capable of serenading the sun down on such a warm September evening. Overall, his songs were groovy, soulful, and sexy — the perfect, good-vibe music to wind down a Friday night with a drink in hand.
Next was The Suitcase Junket on the Ravenlaw stage, inside the Agriculture Building. This was a more intimate space which enhanced the experience of this one-man band, who had come recommended by several as a unique act not to miss. Boy, did he ever live up to the hype! This act was unlike anything I had previously seen or heard. I have seen one-man bands before, but The Suitcase Junket sounded so full and fierce, it was unbelievable that all the sounds I was hearing were created simultaneously by one person. Many times during his set, I found myself scratching my head, wondering how he was making certain sounds and where they were coming from. Toward the end of his set, The Suitcase Junket (Matt Lorenz) gave the audience a self-proclaimed “nerdy” demonstration on how he was making certain sounds with his mouth, particularly by using specific tongue movements that break notes into their harmonic sequences to achieve an overtone structure. It was mind-blowingly impressive to watch, despite his humble efforts to make it sound easy. He proceeded to apply the technique to his next song, “Eileen”, during which he also teased a bit of a “Mississippi Queen” cover by Mountain.
At one point during the set, something broke and Lorenz jammed a spoon into it to fix it, while playing a “song he plays when he fixes stuff”. This led me to believe that Lorenz presumably builds and maintains his whole instrumental set-up himself, which further blew my mind. I could probably go on forever describing how effortlessly The Suitcase Junket performed, seeming to be a vessel through which his music flowed. He mixed different vibes of rock music, from psychobilly slide guitar to old school rock and roll reminiscent of Chuck Berry or George Thorogoode. Many of his songs had simple choruses that made it easy for the audience to sing along and feel connected. He seemed to be the embodiment of the musician who lives and breathes music, to the point of living in his car and driving across the country for it. Indeed, Lorenz mentioned he would be leaving soon after his performance to drive back down to the U.S. for another music festival the following day. Ultimately, The Suitcase Junket ended up being my unexpected favorite act of the night, and I heard the same from several other people in subsequent discussion.
Amanda Marshall was the final highlight of the night for me. She was a firecracker personality from the minute she hit the stage, a ’90s legend comparable to the likes of Alanis Morrissette or Celine Dion. The first thing I noticed was her band dressed all in black and set further back on the stage, in stark contrast to Marshall’s front and centre red-from-head-to-toe outfit. Marshall commanded attention with her amazingly powerful vocal range, complemented by two impressive backing vocalists who provided soulful, choral vocals reminiscent of gospel music. Marshall held some impossibly long notes without faltering, and hit some strikingly high notes with ease, particularly in her song “Beautiful Goodbye”. There were a lot of fun, feel-good interludes throughout her set, including a tribute to all the girls in the audience with teasers of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Beyonce’s “Who Run The World”. Marshall sang her addresses to the audience for the most part, seemingly having a lot of fun interacting. The set went late and the audience still demanded an encore, which Marshall obliged with her ballad, “Let It Rain”. Overall, Amanda Marshall is a case of a must-see performer who is way more impressive when experienced live.
Other acts that graced CityFolk on Friday night included the admittedly awkward lullaby rockers Big Thief, the overwhelmingly symphonic collective Broken Social Scene, an impressively diverse and antithetical Tribute To Jesse Winchester, and fun party rockers Dead Flowers. Looking forward to seeing what surprise gems adorn Saturday night at Lansdowne!
CityFolk continues through Sunday. For tickets and lineup, visit www.cityfolkfestival.com