Every year, Bluesfest packs as many high quality acts as possible into it’s too-short ten day run. This is how it came to be that on a Monday night, I went down and stood in a muddy field where I listened to two timeless and legendary bands that have been popular longer than I have been alive.
I showed up just as The Specials blew out part of their sound system near the top of their set. After only a short delay, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Roddy Radiation took their places at the front of the stage and started tearing through some classic tracks. It took the band no time at all to build up some momentum with “Man at C & A” before they got everyone young and old dancing along to “Monkey Man”. There were more than a few scattered groups skanking in sweet vintage punk gear alongside mods in their pork pie hats and sunglasses. Some of these people were old, some were young, but everyone was reveling in seeing The Specials live after hearing so many recordings. As the concert ended, almost everyone sang along to “A Message to You, Rudy”.
There was only one act scheduled on the main Bell stage this Monday and when I arrived I could see why. Rush had a huge load-out with floating screens, a giant circular lighting mount, and all kinds of electric stage decorations. Lee, Lifeson and Peart took the stage without ceremony and started pounding out a few newer singles. After about three songs, Geddy Lee took the mic and said simply, “We’ve got a gajillion songs, let’s get to it.” Truer words were never spoken. A string section appeared on stage and the band took a tour through their 2012 album Clockwork Angels.
I’ll admit that at this point I took a little detour over to the River Stage. I wanted to catch a few songs by Mother Mother as their set was ending. My timing was excellent and I managed to hear their most recent single, “Infinitesimal”, as well as being surprised with two excellent Pixies covers including “Gouge Away,” a personal favorite. Mother Mother had the audience all whipped up when I arrived and the band was so energetic they looked like they could go all night.
Wasting no time I hurried back over to Rush in time for pyrotechnics to go off as they drew to a climactic peak in their exploration of “Clockwork Angels”. With all that new stuff out of the way, and a string section hanging around on stage, it was time for “YYZ”. The jarring time signatures, riffing guitar, and unbelievable drum fills pulled together in a way that sounded better than any recording while still remaining true to the original form. It’s worth mentioning that Rush played a number of instrumental tracks throughout the show which made the whole experience a rare treat. It’s not often you get to party to instrumental prog rock with a crowd of 12,000 of your friends and neighbours.
The encore contained a predictable hit, “Tom Sawyer” which is always great to hear. More interestingly though they played the first two parts of “2112″. As they played these earlier hits, the floating high tech screens were turned off leaving just the regular lights giving the whole stage a classic, timeless feel.