Our music writers weigh in on Osheaga performances from Saturday, Aug. 1, the second day of the festival’s 10th edition.
The Rural Alberta Advantage (1 p.m., River Stage) “You guys having a good time at Osheaga so far? We’ll change that.” Self-deprecation is the way to go when you’re first up on the main-stage program, but the Rural Alberta Advantage — from Toronto, of course — had a sizable cult to welcome them. The crowd seemed familiar with the clamorous strum of Terrified and the torn-from-the-Edmonton-headlines Tornado ’87. “It happened on a weekend like this, the same weather,” jovial singer/guitarist Nils Edenloff said under blue skies. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. We’ve got people looking after us.” With Edenloff’s bristling shout-sing leavened by keyboardist Amy Cole’s spectral backups, and chameleonic drummer Paul Banwatt switching up his style with almost every song, they had the right bite for the unforgiving stage time. “You don’t want to ease into things, do you?” Cole asked. Well, they didn’t. (Jordan Zivitz)
Bernhari (1, Green Stage) Depending on how recent your references are, the local rocker was either making a play for the title of T. Rex of Montreal or the Tame Impala of Montreal during his Green Stage Day 2 opening set. The man dressed in black played drums with one hand, a keyboard with the other while bellowing with a distinctive quiver. He and his band, which featured Chocolat’s Emmanuel Ethier on guitar, played extended psychedelic passages and reached for operatic heights. More often than not, they succeeded at sounding grand. (Erik Leijon)
Leisure Cruise (1:20, Trees Stage) Boy, did that look the part. Osheaga Day 2 kicks off with Leisure Cruise, Leah Siegel and Dave Hodge and band dressed mainly in white with yellow balloon-balls spinning. And boy, did it sound it, with the ‘80s spinning through the synth-pop and the big keyboard chorus of Crime Tip and its hook “the body wants what the body wants.” You could see them opening for Abba. Aboard the Royal Caribbean. “I wanna hug each and every one of you,” Siegel said. “Are you around all day?” Over by the media tent right now, yeah. (Mark Lepage)
Leikeli47 (1:30, Valley Stage) The short, balaclava-sporting rapper from New York likely won over a few new fans with her explosive early-afternoon set, which opened with the bold introduction “I dress like a boy, talk like a girl.” She performed with two dancers in “Ain’t no wifey” shirts and a DJ/hypeman, all of whom were sporting balaclavas and appeared undeterred by the heat. While the bass-centric beats shared some commonalities with M.I.A.’s more aggressive tracks, specifically Bring the Noize, Leikeli47’s flow was honed in her place of birth. As intended, her single F— the Summer Up whipped the new converts into a frenzy. (EL)
Xprime (1:40, Mountain Stage) The schoolboy whites and shorts gave a clue that the Niagara-region quartet aren’t road-hardened veterans. To their credit, the can-you-believe-this grins did the same. There was at least one fully formed keeper amid the elastic funk-pop, with Tell Me Why boasting a confident strut and shining four-part harmonies. Still, if there was a head-scratch in Saturday’s band/stage match-ups, this was it. They were a touch too green for a slot on the main field, but clearly relished the opportunity. (JZ)
Karim Ouellet (2, Green Stage) Quebec multi-culti groove maestro Karim Ouellet was casting a cool spell on the Green Stage when I caught the tail end of his set (thanks to the lineup at the gate). Born in Senegal in 1984 and adopted by Canadian diplomats, he was raised in Rwanda and Tunisia before moving to our provincial capital at age 15. Finding his place in Montreal, Ouellet has released two solo albums, Plume (2011) and Fox (2012); so he’s due for another. He was right at home in front of the early-afternoon hometown crowd, giving a shoutout to French dance-rap superstar Stromae, whom he was replacing in the schedule, and to Ariane Moffatt and a handful of other guests who had joined him over the previous 45 minutes. Wish I had caught more. (T’Cha Dunlevy)
Arkells (2:10, River Stage) Max Kerman almost disqualified himself with the Ti-Cats shirt, then re-qualified it all by leading his band through a tough and effective pop-rock set, utterly committed to the sound and spirit of the material, with clean musical and energy lines throughout. The Hamilton band’s set was shot through with heartland passion and the spirit of Bruce and all his antecedents, which Kerman made official by reaching for anthem, dropping in a People Get Ready vocal. “Osheaga, are you gonna get on board?” They were, and justly so. Crowd response to the finale Leather Jacket meant that despite their artlessly non-indie sound, this band could easily have handled a later time slot. (ML)
Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant performs on the second day of the 2015 edition of the Osheaga music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Saturday, August 1, 2015.
Young the Giant (2:50, Mountain Stage) The California rockers had a homefield advantage in the form of drummer and Montreal native François Comtois, who greeted the audience in French. Later on, it was frontman Sameer Gadhia who delivered the day’s most unctuous line, declaring Osheaga to be Chicago’s Lollapalooza’s superior in every way. Known for a handful of unsubtle arena rock anthems, Young the Giant are still figuring out what to do with the rest of their set, which was inconsistent in between hits. They closed the set with two of their most well-known songs, Mind Over Matter and My Body. Gadhia said the band is working on their third album, but the Montreal audience didn’t get any exclusive previews. (EL)
Seoul (2:50, Valley Stage) The spotty shade in the Valley Stage’s alcove isn’t enough to preserve a sense of mystery, so the Montrealers’ shadowy mystique evaporated on impact. Not that they tried to guard it. “It’s the first time we’ve played a festival,” keyboardist Julian Flavin said with something like deadpan excitement. “It’s historic.” Considering their buzz and the heat-haze atmospheres, it may prove to be. It’s too soon to tell whether they’re smoothing out their nerves onstage or are just studious performers, but the artful wobble in their synth-pop is already ear-catching, and they loosened up in the finale. “Nobody is sitting on anybody’s shoulders. The only bummer,” Flavin said. Cue at least four obliging fans and a grateful laugh from the stage, as Haunt / A Light’s woozy keys gave a sound to pure sunshine. (JZ)
The Narcicyst, with Yasiin Bey (3:25, Green Stage; replacing Action Bronson) Redaction Bronson. Unfortunately, portly controversy-milking rapper Mr. Bronson cancelled due to “last-minute travel issues.” As in, his BS doesn’t travel well, and he was too busy laughing all the way to the Asshat Bank anyway.
Which was a shame, as the review wrote itself. And hopefully will one day soon, with fun references to Alice Cooper and raising a daughter and a sin worse than misogyny, known hereabouts as gutlessly cynical profiteering. Instead, some game last-minute substitutes to save the day. Local standout Yassin (Narcicyst) Alsalman led the way before announcing: “You guys mind if I hand it over to this legend real quick?”
Out popped Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def, whose Auditorium galvanized the crowd.
It should be noted that a pair of fans approached this journalist to express their anger that Bronson had been — according to the girl — petitioned off the bill (not according to promoters). She and a male friend had come all the way from Toronto just for his set. White and blond, in case you’re wondering.
Interesting, then, that the real moment came from singer Meryem of Nomadic Massive, shouting out to Sandra Bland and dedicating A Change Is Gonna Come to her. Given the controversy surrounding Bronson and the video/lyrics to Brunch, poetic justice had been served. By the set’s end, the entire crowd was jumping like they just didn’t care. So Bronson, you weren’t missed in the slightest. (ML)
St. Vincent performs on the second day of the 2015 edition of the Osheaga music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Saturday, August 1, 2015.
St. Vincent (3:40, River Stage) At a fest where crowd-rousing anthems rule, you’ve got to admire an artist who is not afraid of a left turn. St. Vincent (real name: Annie Clark) never met one she didn’t like. After cutting her teeth with indie acts Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, she set out solo, evolving from orchestral art-pop to arty electro-rock over four albums (plus a joint effort with David Byrne). Striking poses centre-stage with electric guitar in hand, she shredded her way through much of her set, countering the raw riffage by singing off-kilter melodies that proved she was not only here to entertain, but to challenge, which proved entertaining in its own right. (TD)
Lion Babe (4:10, Trees Stage) “Oh my god, that hair!” So Jillian Hervey can make an impression on the curious before even opening her mouth. The singer’s royal mane was the first thing to notice about the New York neo-soul group; the second was how the tireless rhythmic drive remained after that visual novelty wore off. She’s clearly seen a Beyoncé video or seven, and had her diva moves down pat, which distracted from some wandering vocals. Wonder Woman’s empowerment resonated throughout the set, as Hervey high-kicked and made the festival’s smallest stage feel considerably larger. (JZ)
Clemens Rehbein, left, and Philipp Dausch, right, of Milky Chance perform on the second day of the 2015 edition of the Osheaga music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Saturday, August 1, 2015.
Milky Chance (4:30, Mountain Stage) The apparent boffo success of German duo Milky Chance — singer-guitarist Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch, the other guy — is a testament to the crossover accessibility of folktronica. Heavy on the former, in this case, but as undeniably mid-range popular as it was latte-lite and twee in its musical froth. Rehbein looked hilariously dazed in the summer sun under his remarkable Furby hair — as remarkable as the crowd response to Stolen Dance. (ML)
Daphni (4:45, Piknic Électronik Stage) Dan Snaith was pulling double duty Saturday. Scheduled to close the night on the Green Stage with his dance-pop band Caribou, the Ontario-born, London (England)-dwelling artist assumed his DJ persona Daphni for a thumping late-afternoon gig on the Piknic stage. Dropping a mix of tracks by others as well as his own stark-but-funky, Daphni-attributed techno jams — plus clubby remixes of Caribou’s soulful house numbers — the balding musician delivered a perfectly calibrated set to keep the kids in party mode. Most of them probably didn’t know who he was before, but guaranteed he earned some new fans. (TD)
Christine and the Queens (4:50, Green Stage) Héloïse Letissier asked the crowd to let their inner diva out, and considering how much fun the petite Frenchwoman was having unleashing her inner Janet Jackson, she might be on to something. She described one of her songs in particular, Paradis Perdus, as a cross between French singer Christophe and Kanye West’s Heartless, although the comparison works across the board. Her most overt influences are American R&B and Euro club music — she hopped to Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam, after all — but there’s still something undeniably French about her diva homage. Flanked by two dancers, two backing musicians and unavoidable overdubs, Christine sang while pulling off some impressive dance choreography. She admitted she’s no Beyoncé, but the imperfections are what gave the set its charms. (EL)
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals (5:20, River Stage) When you open a prominent Osheaga slot with a lyrical lap-steel instrumental, either you tease or you trust. Ben Harper did both, whetting the appetite for the Innocent Criminals’ no-nonsense grooves while having faith his audience arrives with open ears. They were rewarded with a generous hour spanning Touch From Your Lust’s creeping blues-rock to the 10-ton psychedelic soul of Better Way. The Criminals couldn’t have been more sympathetic, with bassist Juan Nelson and beaming percussionist Leon Mobley deserving their own star billing. One of the classiest offerings of Osheaga’s 10th year so far, and one of the most universal, with something for the rockers, the groove fiends and the sunshine seekers. (JZ)
Alvvays (5:35, Valley Stage) Jangle, where had you been all my Osheaga? Hiding with Molly Rankin backstage? Toronto breakout band Alvvays were less dreamy and reverby than on record, and they were no hothouse flowers: the band’s precision was matched by Rankin’s voice, piercing gently but firmly through the sound issues at the Valley Stage (possibly due to wind, possibly due to location), and Archie, Marry Me had all the melodic hook the day required. Also cute was her request to security: not to manhandle the large gleeful crowd throwing itself at her feet, but to free beachballs trapped by the stage barricade. So Montreal. (ML)
Bishop Nehru (5:35, Trees Stage) The closest Osheaga will ever get to having mercurial cult rapper MF Doom on the premises came in the form of young New York rap wunderkind Bishop Nehru performing songs from their collaborative album NehruvianDoom to a receptive, relaxed crowd. The masked Doom, along with two decades of Stones Throw Records, could be heard in Nehru’s warm, woozy set, which included a song he did with popular U.K. production duo Disclosure. Ideal for a late afternoon smoke break, but it didn’t quite match the immediacy or popularity of the more pop-oriented Kid Ink’s similarly scheduled Trees Stage appearance last year. (EL)
Nas (6:15, Green Stage) In terms of hip hop classics, Nas’s 1994 album Illmatic is up there with the best of them. A poetic, lyrically groundbreaking account of New York street life, it’s an artistic feat the rapper has ambitiously pursued since, but never repeated. So after warming up the crowd with some later material, Nas got down to the business of dropping hit after hit, eliciting roars from the legions of fans who had come out to see a legend revisit his early days. N.Y. State of Mind, Whose World Is This and It Ain’t Hard to Tell were among the gems from Illmatic; while If I Ruled the World, I Can and Hate Me Now covered the aftermath.
The skies opened a half-hour in, and a cold rain poured down. But while the crowd thinned, an impressive core stuck around, out of respect for a rap hero. (TD)
Interpol (6:20, Mountain Stage) It was the end of the Interpol tour, and guitarist Daniel Kessler had already tweeted of the happy inevitability of a set at Osheaga. Just as inevitable: the exquisite black stage clothes, Paul Banks’s stentorian frown of a voice and a necessary dose of urban darkness for the happy multitudes.
And so, on cue, Baal rolled filthy clouds over the site as Kessler spooled out Narc. There was the tremendous poise required by band and fans through the ever-brilliant Evil as the skies threatened to unload. Then in Everything Is Wrong, they did.
It was monsoonular. You couldn’t have scripted it. Perhaps as a result, the set dragged in the middle until ever-intense Kessler worked his silvery guitar figures into Slow Hands and PDA. Banks said “Very beautiful … all of you.” And they had been, cheering in the rain. And the band, which opened strong and then seemed lost in a former era, had closed in tune with its instance. (ML)
Desaparecidos (7:15, Valley Stage) Conor Oberst and company didn’t wait for Nas to finish overshooting his allotment on the adjacent stage. There’s no time to waste — not just when you have a 45-minute festival set, but when you demand a sea change through raging political punk. With Oberst — more no-nonsense than surly — screaming from the back of his throat and the quintet tirelessly crashing from protest to protest with surprising precision, Desaparecidos were as galvanizing as anything heard this weekend. Golden Parachutes’ dedication — “for all the most hard-core criminals in the world, who live down on Wall Street” — indicated the level of subtlety at work, but Oberst’s disgust was no less eloquent than his confessions in Bright Eyes. They could have legitimately been booked for Heavy Montréal. Osheagans with a taste for the bitter and barbed are lucky they weren’t. (JZ)
Patrick Watson (7:20, River Stage) Hosanna time. The rains were ending. The choir assembled in red under the suspended silver light-globes. Pat Watson pounded his keyboard in Love Songs for Robots and we were off reaching for The Moment without even … reaching, really.
And hey — was that a five-piece string section and five-piece brass all weaving the gypsy churchery? Good Morning Mr. Wolf and Hearts had the four moods of Watsonia: hushed, rising, percolating and climactic. Then Watson was singing grinningly into a mic-cam to the barest instrumental sketching in Words in the Fire. More than an extrovert’s extrovert happy both in his stubbled persona and in the elemental melancholy of his sound, you had a natural force, one of the few guys at this festival who, absent any possibility for indie stardom or success, probably would have happily clanked the ivories in the local piano bar until he slipped away on a cot in the back room one day.
By the end of it, the crowd was fearsomely large, the globes were smoking and one didn’t even know if it was by design or happenstance holiness. Easily, Pat Watson belongs on any bill. (ML)
Hudson Mohawke (7:45, Piknic Électronik Stage) The Scottish producer has been touring with a band all summer in support of his latest album, Lantern, but the Piknic stage had no room for a drummer or synth player, so instead Montrealers got a disjointed and occasionally thrilling DJ set with a busy light show. Even though transitions were non-existent and the gear occasionally hiccupped, when Mohawke was at his most playful — meaning the drum patterns, processed horns and gleaming synth sounds were hyperactively cascading in unison — those near the stage were dancing with their mouths agape. The song selection was suspect, given how underrepresented his ambitious new album was. No one needed to hear Juicy or Bump and Grind for the umpteenth time, especially since his triumphant Lantern cut Ryderz was omitted. A missed opportunity in more ways than one. (EL)
Kygo (8, Green Stage) When it comes to hilarious juxtapositions, it’s hard to beat going from Desaparecidos’ lacerating fury to a new-age remix of Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire that Zamfir would find a little soft. Kygo’s stratospheric popularity meant he would have been impossible to book for Osheaga’s Piknic Électronik site, so the Green Stage’s vast field was treated to a massive sunset chillout party — if chillout parties typically come with steam bombs, flames and confetti showers.
With the Norwegian DJ in silhouette behind a massive deck, the focus was on the neon visuals, borrowed from a 2 a.m. Viagra infomercial when Sexual Healing — now with more marimbas! — got a spin. Journey’s techno-fied Don’t Stop Believin’ may have been ridiculous, but Osheaga probably won’t host a more enthusiastic singalong. And it won’t host a more eye-popping finale than when Firestone’s “we light up the world” refrain lit up the park with an all-out firework display. (JZ)
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer performs on the second day of the 2015 edition of the Osheaga music festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Saturday, August 1, 2015.
Weezer (8:20, Mountain Stage) Beverly Hills. If you were waiting for a delivery from the Irony Man, he wasn’t coming. Just riffs.
An hour of them from Rivers Cuomo and Weezer, one of the few remaining bands that simply revel in the awe of turning up to 11 for 20,000 or so fans, shrugging off the preceding monsoon to revel themselves in candy-coated, colour-coded chord changes.
There had been rain, in sheets. Then the big winged W ignited, Cuomo came out in a puffy vest, Brian Bell shook his heroically long hair and My Name Is Jonas was detonated.
Which is the operative word. Back after their headliner victory in 2010, Weezer only had an hour here. Fire up the riff Gatling gun then, sirs. The band lined up stagefront, VH style, firing up Hash Pipe and really, had already won. The guitars were here, they were steroid-big, and they meant Fun Business. There would be Beverly Hills with all its ridonculous appeal. The crowd-gasp of happiness as Cuomo doodled into Say It Ain’t So reminded us how accidentally beloved this band became.
To check off the last remaining box, the group found its way to Adorable, joined by a little girl on keyboards in Perfect Situation and a toddler with an inflatable guitar aping Cuomo’s moves in Back to the Shack. Pork and Beans, Undone — the Sweater Song and Buddy Holly. Many thousands of happy Weezerites. Boom goes the Osheaga TNT. Summer, in a setlist. (ML)
Ariane Moffatt (9, Valley Stage) The Osheaga vet seemed to relish the underdog role of playing at the same time as Kendrick Lamar. Moffatt did just about everything to entice the stampede of festivalgoers leaving Kygo for the big headliner to stick around, including using that ubiquitous hip-hop air siren sample, and sure enough more than a few did. Moffatt and her three-piece backing band came out fuzzy and squelching synths blazing, proving her latest album, 22h22, has its fair share of Miami Vice retro-pop earworms. If the direction of her set wasn’t apparent enough, Moffatt performed a cover of Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight that likely quashed any doubts about her intentions. (EL)
Nothing (9, Trees Stage) Booked opposite Weezer and Kendrick Lamar; following up Kygo’s visual firepower — this was not going to be an easy gig for the Philadelphia shoegaze punks. The wrangled feedback and spiritual lineage from My Bloody Valentine should have been the story here; instead, the cringe factor was the draw, with frontman Domenic Palermo passive-aggressively venting in front of maybe 40 people (generous estimate) while around 750 times that number were over at the main field. You could read between the lines in his hilariously lifeless “Hi, Osheaga. What up? What … up?” You didn’t even have to for the rest: “We almost didn’t make it here — we were singing Journey with the DJ over there. … Where’d all the beach balls go? This is bulls–t. … We don’t have that much left. In general. Not just in songs.” Depressing, partly because their velvet violence could have left the few curiosity seekers raving. (JZ)
Kendrick Lamar (9:20, River Stage) Midway through Weezer’s set on the Mountain Stage, leader Rivers Cuomo announced that the band was from South Central L.A. The aging power-pop outfit was followed by another artist from South Central, and the two couldn’t be more different.
Weezer is about as white and nerdy as they come. Kendrick Lamar, who came next on the adjoining River Stage, is from Compton. He is neither white nor nerdy. The rapper was a surprise hit of Osheaga 2013 with an early-evening set that felt like a consecration, the crowning of a new rap prince. He returned a king Saturday night, in the headlining slot of the first day of this year’s edition to sell out. Lamar’s second album, To Pimp a Butterfly, released in March, has been rightfully hailed as an instant classic, a new plateau for a genre that had been looking for its next leader. Saturday night, he came ready to lead.
“That’s love, y’all,” he said to the sea of ecstatic followers cheering his name. “Last time I was here, I remember having some of the best fans on Planet Earth. I see a lot of the same faces tonight. You’re my homies forever.”
On more than one occasion, he looked out at the adoring throng, taking it all in with a smile. The rest of the time, he performed with a confidence and charisma that obliterated any possible doubt as to his suitability as the main attraction.
The new school of rap has officially taken its place at Osheaga. After booking veteran headliners including Eminem in 2011, Snoop Dogg in 2012 and Outkast in 2014, the festival finally put its money on a hip hop artist in their prime. And it was a perfect fit.
Just 24 hours earlier, fans were following the exuberant flights of fancy of Florence and the Machine. On this night, hands and heads were bobbing in tandem as guys and gals rhymed along to Lamar’s every word. He is the rare rap artist who appeals to both sexes: smooth yet hard, raw and sometimes crude, yet insightful, eloquent and the epitome of cool. On a day that had featured onetime rap saviour Nas, and revered veteran Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def), Lamar not only earned the day-ending spotlight, he owned it. (TD)
Caribou (9:50, Green Stage) Bit of a Woodstock-redux travesty down by the Green Stage, where the rains and the kids had left a slag and trash vista that looked somehow worse in the club lighting accenting Caribou’s synthpop set. So the quartet got lucky. As Dan Snaith’s breathy vocals and the live bass/guitar fused with the slippery psych-electronica and spooky vocal loop of Silver, the sky was filled with their own private fireworks display courtesy of La Ronde. Of course, the band couldn’t see it, but the kaleido-fractals on display in the night sky were the perfect complement, and crowd-pleaser. (ML)
Osheaga: Reviews from Day 1
Gallery: Osheaga Music and Arts Festival 2015
A selection of photos from the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival from July 31 to August 2, 2015.
Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine perform on day one of the 2015 edition of the Osheaga Music Festival at Jean-Drapeau Park in Montreal on Friday, July 31, 2015.
Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette