July 31 and August 1 saw the fifth annual Osheaga music festival in Montreal. Usually a pretty modest affair, most of what Osheaga does, it does right. Beer, for instance. Osheaga does beer really well: the lines are short and the price isn’t too steep. And they’ve done away with beer tents, allowing Canadians the freedom to roam with their brew – just as God intended. There isn’t an overwhelming sense of corporate sponsorship, and the free metro ride home is very much appreciated. Oh, and the music is pretty good too.
In past years, Osheaga hadn’t attracted as many big performers as Coachella, Lollapalooza, or Bonnaroo, but this year it joined the ranks of the heavy hitters. Weezer and Snoop Dogg were some of the high profile names, but the band that made Osheaga truly transcendent was Montreal’s own Arcade Fire.
Two days before releasing their highly lauded third album, The Suburbs, Arcade Fire reminded a massive crowd of admirers who really owned the festival this year. It was one of those performances that can put a band ahead of its peers and atop a whole genre. But there was lots of other great stuff too and below are some of the weekend’s highlights as told by me, Chris MacGregor, festivalgoer extraordinaire.
DAY 1 – July 31 – Headliner: Arcade Fire
Rich Aucoin has had a pretty fast rise in recent months. They played Halifax Rocks alongside The Black Eyed Peas, Weezer, and Hot Hot Heat, recently opened for Of Montreal at Metropolis, and were the last minute replacement for Cage the Elephant at Osheaga (because of border issues). They’re a pretty good band from Halifax, but their electro sound didn’t quite fit the festival’s main stage. Especially so early in the day.
Owen Pallett was a Montrealer with the hometown advantage, or so one would think. Pallett was the first to suffer the wrath of the Green Stage, having to work through technical difficulties mid-performance. Guy didn’t even finish his last song because it got so bad. When the sound cut, he just said, “Thanks,” and went off stage. He did get to perform with Arcade Fire later in the night though, so I guess all’s well that ends well.
Japandroids, who just finished their most recent bout of touring, showed no signs of fatigue. They put forth what was, arguably, the best show of the day on the Green Stage. “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Heart Sweats” got the crowd into a frenzy and inspired the first mosh pit of the weekend. The Vancouver dudes got lucky too: they may have been one of the only bands not to suffer tech problems before and/or during their set.
By 5 p.m. the main stage was dominated by easy listening acts – K’NAAN, Stars, Keane – and the crowd was full of frisbee-throwing bros and Womens’ Lit majors. It nearly made me sick. Stars brought their almost uncomfortable, cutesy brand of “WE LOVE EVERYTHING!” but that really was all right – I can’t hold a band accountable for the crowd it attracts. But Keane inspired me to go get some beer.
Pavement was a welcome change. Their lo-fi, Gen-X, “Don’t give a crap” ethos made me feel like I had stumbled into a wormhole and gotten sent to Lollapalooza, circa 1994. Malkmus pulled off the coolest moment of the weekend – taking a beer-turned-projectile square in the face, he just put his guitar in the air, Jimi style, and didn’t miss a beat. His pedals and guitar drenched, he licked his shirt and said, “Labatts. Yep, definitely Labatts.” Badass.
Robyn was the biggest casualty of the weekend. With a complicated set to assemble, and a sound system that wouldn’t cooperate all day, she started an hour late. It really was a fantastic show – from what I saw of it, anyway. She was bouncing around like a little blonde pixie, with the same haircut as Gozer from Ghostbusters, showing off her new techno/dance-hall persona. Unfortunately, she had only performed five songs when half the crowd booked it to the main stage to catch the rest of Arcade Fire – myself included.
And who are we kidding? The entire day was a precursor to Arcade Fire. Everyone was there to celebrate the Montreal band’s homecoming. Having already played some lower profile gigs earlier in the summer, the Osheaga stage was the most fitting chance for the city to cheer on their favorite band. Win Butler et al. delivered a performance heavy on both new and classic material (but no “My Body is a Cage”!) The show was everything it needed to be: a bunch of extremely talented musicians who were overjoyed at the prospect of playing music for such a large crowd, if any crowd at all. Their shows are a celebration of musical inspiration, adolescent hopes and dreams, and shared experiences.
DAY 2 – Aug. 1 – Headliner: Weezer
Sunday was clearly a main stage day. Aside from Major Lazer, there wasn’t much to entice someone to the smaller stages in the wilderness. The day really began with Gaslight Anthem at 3 p.m. as the New Jersey rockers played to a crowd that was uncharacteristically large for their “early” set time. But they are soon heading off to the U.K. to play with The Boss himself, and have just released a highly lauded new album, so maybe the crowd wasn’t all that surprising.
Black Keys went on a little later, and it could have just been the humidity and heat of the day, but the performance seemed a bit forgettable. Their set went heavy on new material and they featured a bassist and keyboard player, which was pretty different for the duo.
The shittiest part of the day had to be the fact that Deadmau5 had been hospitalized two days prior to his gig. With no one available to take his spot, all festival organizers did was juggle the line-up and extend some set times. The thing they forgot to do was advertise the fact that Deadmau5 wasn’t playing, leaving the 8 kids I saw in Deadmau5 t-shirts quite confused when Metric got on stage.
A definite casualty of the rescheduling was Sonic Youth. I know they’re festival veterans and have been around forever, but their sound did not translate well on the big stage. They were supposed to play the Green Stage and the intimacy of that venue would have suited them much more. Seemingly aware of the mismatch, the band motored through their set, barely speaking to the crowd. They just played and left. But people were probably too stoned to notice Sonic Youth’s lackluster performance anyway. Snoop Dogg played right before them.
And Snoop, well, he was Snoop. The man is so ingrained in our psyche that there is virtually no need to describe the event. Smokin’ weed this, bein’ a gangster that – you know the drill. It was bloody awesome, but you already knew that.
At nightfall, Metric took the stage and they were pretty good. Emily Haines was a bit more animated than usual and the band totally embraced the Montreal crowd, but the night belonged to Rivers Cuomo and Weezer. Whatever the hell Rivers was on – I want some of it. The guy was running around like a ten-year-old who had just been taken off of his Ritalin. Cuomo was stealing hats from fans, hitting toilet paper rolls into the crowd with a ukelele, and humping big inflatable beach balls. Much to the dismay of security, he ran off the stage and into the V.I.P. bleachers during “Beverly Hills.” It really was a great show, even though it’s kinda weird to see Cuomo so … not emo.
For footage and photos from Osheaga 2010, and info on next year’s edition, check out: http://www.osheaga.com/en/