REVIEW: Arrested Development turns folk fest into rock concert

We don’t “put our hands in the air and wave them like we just don’t care” at the folk fest. Hmmph, the very idea! We do it because we DO care. It’s just that kind of a shiny, happy event.

There was no better band to illustrate this phenomenon than Arrested Development, which turned Saturday night’s otherwise somnolent proceedings into a real rock festival – something that happens once in a blue moon at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The whole staking-out-your-tarp thing was abandoned as people rushed to the front of the stage to boogie down to this exuberant soul-rap band from Atlanta. (Some folk at the front remained seated on their precious real estate, and the gyrating fans seemed to respect this, which you wouldn’t see at a real rock festival, but close enough.)

At witching hour, as the frontman Speech and his band cranked out their trademark brand of hip hoppin’ groove and the positively political messages therein, the crowd went wild. They cheered. They hugged one another. Drinks were drunk. Joints were lit. Everyone did as they were told: Jump! Sing! Make some noise! Put your hands in the air like you care very deeply! Much mention was made of revolution. It would’ve made a good drinking game. Take a swig every time you heard the word “revolution.” Maybe not. Might be disrespectful, and also, unnecessary. This crowd was lit up. Much inspiration was also derived from the knock-out backup vocalists Eshe and Aerle Taree, who danced like crazy. They looked like they were having the time of their lives, which as studies have shown, can have a positive effect on observers. After Arrested Development did the afternoon mainstage slot in 2009 – which seemed like kind of a waste – people wondered how they would go over late night. Now we have our answer.

Mixing rap with vocals, hip hop with soul, substance with style and message with pop hookery of the highest order – the hits like Mr. Wendal and Everyday People especially going over like gangbusters – Arrested Development remains the anti-gangsta group of all time, and again, perfect for this event. Positive messages abounded, put simply: Don’t be a dick, celebrate life, let your voice be heard, and so on. Folk fest fans should have no problem getting behind that.

Just one complaint: The use of canned backing tracks – pre-recorded percussion and keyboards – at an event where you think you’d be safe from that sort of thing. Speech, the band’s founder, sang at one point, “Stand up for what you believe in.” So OK: I call bullshit on pre-recorded backing tracks at “live” concerts. There at least should be a warning on the ticket or before the show starts: “The following performance will feature machines playing music. Listener discretion is advised.”

Other than that, these guys were great. Would it kill them to hire a keyboard player?

(Photos by Amber Bracken)

Mike Mullis