There are music fans who love the commune spirit of big outdoor music festivals, but there are just as many music fans who can’t stand them. The idea of being stuck with tens of thousands of others outside in blistering heat, using porta-potties and being all but cut off from the outside world can be a turn off for many – but I adore it. According to older friends, a day will come when I will no longer find these events as enjoyable as I currently do, but I truly hope that instead I’ll end up like those rare cute older couples I see at these things who decided not to put an age limit on fun.
This was my first time attending Osheaga, and I am not overexaggerating when I say I was incredibly impressed. While the only similarly large music festival I’ve been to that I can compare it to is Bonnaroo, Osheaga was much more organized and convenient. The lineup was also planned out in a far more efficient way, as the two side by side main stages meant you could listen to one big band while getting close to the other stage for the band you really want to see. At Bonnaroo, all the stages are far apart, so you truly have to pick and choose, and miss out on many of the artists you probably want to see.
There’s also the fact that one is in Montreal in August (80 degree heat – perfection) and the other is in Tennessee in June (100 degree desert like heat – death like). I couldn’t help but laugh at people complaining about the heat at Osheaga – I was more than fine with one bottle of water a day, when I needed at least 4 at Bonnaroo and was still dehydrated.
Also, because you’re not camping at Osheaga, it is possible to avoid the nasty porta-potties completely (I DID) so long as you go to the bathroom before you get there and once you get off the island. This was a big plus for me, as that was the absolute grossest part of Roo. To continue with that, being able to go home and shower and sleep in a bed at the end of the night was also a huge benefit. Being able to actually sleep after a day on your feet, and being able to rid yourself of the caked on dirt each day, were both incredibly wonderful things.
Now, for the bands I saw.
Work meant I wasn’t able to get there on time for The Walkmen, which was incredibly sad for me as they were a big reason I was looking forward to the festival. By the time I arrived, Down With Webster was onstage instead. If I have any complaints about Osheaga, it’s that some of the best bands were on the super early timeslot, while bands like those guys somehow snagged the mid-day main stage. (Band photos taken from the Osheaga press website).
With that said, most of the bands I wanted to see Friday came at the end of the day. Franz Ferdinand was the first band I ended up watching outside the media tent, and they gave the audience a good show. This whole festival felt very 2003 for me (in a good way – that was when I stopped listening exclusively to classic rock/folk and started embracing modern music again, thanks to bands like these guys) as they were the first of many bands at the fest to bring me back to my first year of University. While I do still see them as a bit of a one hit wonder and haven’t played their music since probably 2005, their first album was solid. I was obsessed with it back in the day, so it was fun to see them live for the first time, all these years later, and still remember the words to so many of their songs.
The set didn’t make me want to go out and buy their newer releases by any means, but it was nostalgic in the best way possible to dance and sing along to songs like “Micheal,” “Take Me Out” and ‘Matinee.”
Abel Tesfaye, or The Weeknd, as most know him, is not an artist I would make an effort to see outside of a situation like Osheaga – where he was on right after Franz and right before Florence. While I am not particularly into his mixtapes (I know I’m alone here, sorry!), seeing him live gave me a new respect for him. He represented Toronto in a big way, which is always appreciated, and he sounded great on that giant stage. The sexy sound he has brought back to the mainstream was actually a nice change from the indie rock that dominated my weekend, and his hold on the audience showed great depth as a performer – something rare to see in a 22 year old who just started performing live less than a year ago.
While I tend to write musicians off when they build buzz by not appearing in public and going by cheesy pseudonyms, seeing performers like him reminds me not to be so jaded. Sometimes a ‘good thing’ is actually a good thing, even if it’s marketed in such a phony way.
Their first album is one I will love for years to come – if only for how “Dog Days” somehow lifted me out of a really terrible time in my life – so it was convenient that they were on right before Sigur Ros. The new album hasn’t had nearly as much of an impact on me, but Florence’s voice more than makes up for any lackluster songs. This was my first time actually seeing them perform – I had heard their set at Bonnaroo – but again, because Osheaga is set up in a much more efficient and crowd friendly way – it was possible for me to see the stage this time, which was rarely the case in Tennessee.
That said, there was something about seeing her live that made me fall slightly out of love with them. I’ve seen her perform on SNL and so on, so I knew what to expect, but seeing an entire set full of the whole hand-wavy ethereal dancey act kind of got on my nerves. It probably goes back to my overwhelming dissatisfaction with the lack of women that truly rock in the current music scene. Seeing this sort of pandering fairy princess thing onstage does very little for me, but the music makes up for it. They don’t play rock n’ roll, so I can’t expect her to have any kind of edge – but maybe it’s because I think she’s the one responsible for starting this awful trend, that made it grate on me so much. Ladies in music – I beg you – stop waving your hands in the air like you are catching butterflies – it makes it incredibly hard to take you seriously.
Now that I got that off my chest, I will say she was one of the only performers at Osheaga who really engaged with the audience in a friendly, entertaining way. She talked directly to us, she asked us to participate, and she gave a great, fully engaging show. That alone more than makes up for any perceived annoying qualities.
“Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” was the stand out song of the short nine song set, and as amazing as her performance of “No Light, No Light” was, it seemed an odd choice to end the set with, especially on a festival audience that is likely filled with a ton of people who don’t know anything but the monolith that is “The Dog Days Are Over.”
Sigur Ros could have been the only band playing on day 1 and I would have been more than happy. Were it not for my great fortune of seeing the Jesus and Mary Chain with a relaxed, very small crowd on Day 2, they would have taken my number one spot for best set at the festival.
They are that rare breed of band that holds a power that can not be explained, it has to be witnessed in person. Someone on twitter tried to get into it with me about how terrible they are, and I couldn’t even bother to argue – there are people who get it and there are those who don’t – and that is completely fine. They sing in a made up language called Hopelandish, which sounds horridly cheesy to someone unfamiliar, but it really just sounds like they are singing in their native language – which is why it feels incredibly genuine and beautiful. It is the music of dreams, and to witness it live is to be a part of that dream.
The set didn’t include any of my favorite songs, but because all their music has a similar feel and flow, it really didn’t matter. I have been intrigued by their sound since I was a kid in high school, so to finally see them live was as incredible as I had always expected it would be. If you ever get the chance to see them, take it. Especially if you are one of those who don’t get what the big deal is – I guarantee it will all make sense when you experience it for yourself.
While I missed most of their set in favor of Sigur Ros, I caught the last four songs, which ended up being the best part because of the fireworks Osheaga set off for Justice’s set that was happening at the same time on the main stage.
“Electric Feel” was the first song I heard as I approached their stage, followed by “The Handshake,” and that proved to be the highlight of what I saw as they ended with the less than spectacular “Congratulations,” and “Alien Days.” An underwhelming closer, for sure, but at that point I was paying more attention to the massive colourful explosions going off in the air next to the stage, so it didn’t really matter. When I looked at the setlist I noticed they didn’t even play “Kids,” which seemed odd. Would have been a perfect song to end the night on.
The night wasn’t over yet, as I had the chance to check out a band I’d heard nothing but good things about after I finished at the Green Stage. Les Breastfeeders played in Toronto during NXNE and their set was the talk of the festival. I had hoped to check it out but they played super late, so I wasn’t going to miss them this time around.
When I got there they had already started, and there was a small but passionate crowd of fans dancing around and having a blast right along with them. To say they embody the French party lifestyle that is the spirit of Montreal is an understatement. I rarely like music with lyrics I can’t understand (I listen first for the words), but as soon as I laid eyes on them I was sold.
Their style and sound is very 60s influenced, which automatically makes me appreciative, but they also own the stage in a way that most bands are completely incapable of. To be frank, they seem like they are on a lot of drugs – but I mean that in a good way (if that’s even possible). There is one guy who wears makeup and whose role seems to be just to run around the stage like a crazy man, keeping the crowd entertained. The lead singer ripped his shirt off at one point. The dual male and female vocals are a musical rarity I live for. As their name might suggest, they have no filter, and that makes for an incredible show. I loved every second of this set.
When I say I want to see more ladies in music that rock, this band defines what I mean by ‘rock.’ It’s a relentless energy – you know these guys love every aspect of performing, and most importantly you can see them having fun doing it.