Blending Blues and Indie Rock at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Jesse Mac Cormack Is Muddy Waters

Jesse Mac Cormack press photo. Photo Frederique Berube

Legendary bluesman Muddy Waters would have his band play a simple blues melody. Artist Jesse Mac Cormack saw this as an opportunity to weave in some indie rock.

Alongside his band, Mac Cormack reinterpreted Muddy Waters’s repertoire this past Monday at the Cinquième Salle in Place des Arts.

The set began with a cover of Waters’s song “Kansas City.” The song began with Mac Cormack playing repetitive chords on his electric guitar, followed by a clapping noise that came from using the side of the snare drum and the hi hat.

This combination of sounds was soon followed by the bright tune of the harmonica, a clean melody played from the Fender Rhodes, the bassist quickly thumping to the beat and the percussionist using a handshaker that added rhythm to the song overall.

Mac Cormack’s vocals were powerful and rough, almost as if he was loudly crying the blues, adding a touch of rock to an otherwise simple blues ballad. At the same time, he was backed up by the musicians and his Fender Stratocaster.

At some point in the song, Mac Cormack put on an electric guitar solo where he incorporated different pedal effects that helped him to elevate the song’s rhythm. The “Whah Whah” and the distortion effect pedal that gave a psychedelic echoing effect helped add some diversity into the song.

The song ended with the same rhythmical pattern from the beginning, slowly getting every instrument to play softly, until the theater was in silence.

“Tonight is the loudest sitting crowd that I’ve ever seen,” Mac Cormack said to the audience. He explained how he wanted to cover some songs from The Beatles, but his agent had requested that he not do this, since it had already been done too many times by other bands.

However, Mac Cormack—along with special guest artist Brad Barr from The Barr Brothers—happily broke that rule and decided to play “Get Back” for the show’s encore.

He began the song by strumming a repetitive chord pattern on his electric guitar while elevating the tone of the song with the distortion effect pedal. This was followed by a light shuffling sound from the the hi hat on the drum set, the fast-thumping sound on the bass, a fuzzy piano tone from the Fender Rhodes and some loud notes from the harmonica.

Mac Cormack’s electric guitar playing was different from the previous songs that he’d performed since he continuously played at the bridge of the guitar to give a dirty sound while he toggled the tone switch and knobs at a fast pace.

The song ended with Mac Cormack singing loudly with the volume of each instrument turned up to the maximum. The audience felt the band’s energy and the floor vibrating, until the song cut to silence, and the crowd clapped and cheered loudly.

The whole performance could have done with a drum solo adding a loud rock element to the piece. Nevertheless, the absence of the drum solo kept the tune easy to follow and understand.

Jesse Mac Cormack and his power band delivered an electrifying performance, showing the audience that they are capable of adding some indie rock elements into any musician’s repertoire.

Jesse Mac Cormack // Montreal International Jazz Festival // June 28th – July 8th//