Ottawa Bluesfest - July 14, 2006

DENIS ARMSTRONG - Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:57 AM ET

OTTAWA - There wasn't any blues at Bluesfest last night.

Then again, Etta James or John Lee Hooker Jr. wouldn't have had nearly 5,000 dayglo-wearing teens squealing constantly as bubblegum queen Rihanna did last night at Festival Plaza.

It's been a sensational ride to fame for the 18-year-old who caught the attention of Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson's superproducers Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken. Struck by her combination of dancehall, calypso, reggae and soul, she recorded her first album 2005's Music of the Sun and this year's A Girl Like Me.

Her show was a Disney-esque choreographed fantasy of non-stop hip-swivelling, sassy attitude and personal endearments and a string of funky, sugar-free hits, such as We Ride, Unfaithful, Kisses Don't Lie and the Soft Cell-inspired SOS that, even by hip-hop standards, was surprisingly forgettable.The music took a back seat to fashion as Rihanna had a hard time singing in tune, while her dancing was little more than strutting back and forth. Meanwhile, her hyperactive DJ kept telling us to make some noise, which I thought Rihanna was already doing sufficiently well on her own throughout a dreary and embarrassingly short 40-minute set.

It's not that every one of the hundreds of musicians who play Bluesfest have to have a blues pedigree, but what claim the bubblegum queen has on blues, or music for that matter, is beyond me. For an event as predictably trustworthy as Bluesfest, last night's presentation was a broken promise.

She had some help along the way. Opening for Rihanna was Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon. Accompanied by his DJ, the aptly named Weapon rapped ferociously on a number of original issues for a half-hour, including the socially relevant Black Hand, the snappy dance number Getting Dumped or his finale House Music (SOS).

When left largely ignored by everyone except a few of the club kids, Weapon ramped up the F-bombs. The precocious 19-year-old's snarly, puffed-up attitude, abrasive personality and energetic performance was a perfect fit for his aggressive X-rated lyrics and cliched rap.

While it all quickly grew tiresome, the families and their young children were ahead of the critics. They weren't even listening.

But last night's offerings weren't a total loss. At least on the MBNA, Blacksheep and Blues 'Til Dusk stages. Toronto's Holy F%#@, an experimental electronic dance band and pet project for Blue Rodeo's Glenn Milchem, were dazzling, creating infectiously danceable rhythms and rich jazz-like jams with little more than drums, bass and battery-operated synthesizers.

Meanwhile, over at the Blacksheep stage, Toronto-based singer and songwriter Luke Doucet and his alt-country blues and easy-going, friendly personality was a convenient place for music fans to hide.


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