Photo Credit: PATRICK DOYLE / POSTMEDIA
Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine
City Stage, RBC Ottawa Bluesfest
“Best day of my life,” a radiant Jamie Fine remarked to her musical partner, Elijah Woods, as they were tearing up the main stage at RBC Bluesfest on Saturday afternoon. Accompanied by a full band, the made-in-Ottawa pop duo known as Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine turned their homecoming gig into a passionate, joy-filled celebration of a career that got a big boost barely six months ago.
The duo emerged in January as winners of The Launch, a reality TV series aimed at launching an act that’s ready to ascend to the next level of rock stardom. They injected their assigned song, Ain’t Easy, with a soulful dancehall-inspired vibe that not only won the show but also made it to the Top 5 on pop radio, the highest-charting single generated in the show’s six-episode season.
That kind of rocket-fuelled success often prompts speculation as to whether the live show can match studio prowess. Well, as they demonstrated in front of a hometown audience baking in the sun on Saturday, they have a terrific live show, plus a bunch more songs. One-hit wonders they are not.
With Elijah Woods stationed at his keyboard-synthesizer stand churning out endlessly inventive hooks, it fell to Jamie Fine to step out as frontperson, a role that was made for her. Her boundless energy was infectious, and she emanated a confidence that compelled the audience to follow her every request, whether to sing along or put their hands in the air. Her staccato style of vocal delivery bore the influence of a range of artists, from Alanis to Adele. When she delves into her soul, it’s a cathartic outpouring that rings with raw emotion.
In their white shirts, Fine and Woods dazzled in the sunlight, a visual contrast with the all-black stage and band members in black shirts. The band, by the way, consisted of players on electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, a configuration that lent a hard-rock edge to the duo’s brand of slick electro-pop.
In addition to their own catchy tunes, the likes of Chasing Feels, 8:48 and Ain’t Easy, to name a few, they tackled an ambitious version of Aerosmith’s Dream On, dismantling it with a rhythmic beat and some over-the-top soulful wailing.
Woods, who’s also a composer, arranger and producer, appears to be the musical genius behind the duo. A mild-mannered young man, he and outgoing Fine make a great team. The spirit of love and camaraderie between them was endearing, evident in the smiles they exchanged. They’re on a thrill ride through the music industry right now, and they’re smart enough to know they’re lucky to have each other.
Woods and Fine were an early highlight of a day that featured pop and hiphop on the main stage, courtesy of Atlanta hiphop duo Rae Sremmurd, Toronto pop darling Jessie Reyez and electronic dynamo Yaeji.
Rae Stremmurd, featuring the brotherly duo of Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, occupied the main stage’s earlier-than-usual headlining slot, getting down to business in front of an exuberant crowd by stripping off their shirts, lighting up joints and riling up the mosh pit with a pounding beat.
Performing with a full band, Jessie Reyez delivered a show that balanced her penchant for upbeat dance music with confessional singer-songwriter fare, including a shout-out to the #MeToo movement in the powerful song, Gatekeepers, based on her own uncomfortable experience with a producer. The young crowd went wild for her honesty.
Meanwhile, the scene behind the museum was worlds away in terms of music and audience. The older demographic congregated at the Black Sheep Stage for a day of true blues, featuring Canadian guitar hero Colin James, one-man blues band Steve Hill and two capable Ottawa-area blues acts, Lyle Odjick and Northern Steam, and River City Junction.