I’ve been looking forward to this festival for a long time! The line up just keeps getting better and better, and with The Black Keys playing this year, I knew I had to make the effort. Unfortunately I could only make the Sunday but, from reading Randal’s reports on the rest of the weekend, I guessed I was in for a treat.
I’d heard rumours of it being over-crowded in previous years but as we walked the 100 yards from the Metro to the entrance of the site, it quickly became clear that, even with a sold out crowd, it felt nicely full rather than uncomfortably busy. The sun was shining and everyone seemed in a great mood as we headed in to check out the first artist on our wish list, SZA.
SZA (Solana to her mom) says she was raised on “a lot of John Coltrane, Satchmo, Miles Davis, Billy Holiday, and Björk with an adult obsession of all things Wu-Tang” and that collage of sounds has resulted in something quite unique in the world of R&B. She’s a great entertainer, getting quite flirtatious without over-playing her sexuality, and her voice is ferociously dynamic, even at 1 o’ clock on a Sunday afternoon. She attracts a healthy crowd too but we’re soon eager to explore the rest of the huge Osheaga site.
We pass the Osheaga Play Area and the the fairground rides and explore the impressive gallery of photos from previous Osheagas. Cordelia & The Buffalo are entertaining an enthusiastic crowd on the Valley Stage. She looks amazing and sounds great too. This is one of the real joys of festivals like this – stumbling across great new artists as you wander around the site.
We hit the main stages for the first time of the day, just in time to catch Ryn Weaver showing her soccer skills as a beach ball flies towards the crowd.
Weaver is a new name to me but obviously has plenty of big fans in the crowd today. She seems to be attempting to do her best pouty Lana Del Rey impression a little too much and it distracts me from what are actually some decent songs. No such problems with the UK’s rising star, James Bay. Wearing his signature hat, he seems to be relishing playing to such a big crowd in the sunshine. Songs from his debut album sound even better in a live environment and he wins over the audience immediately with gems like “Let It Go” and the rousing “Hold Back the River”.
Time for a beer me thinks. $8.75 for a beer might seem a little pricey, but we do get our own Osheaga cup that we can return for $2. We opt to keep them anyway cos they’re too cool to not have in our kitchen! The food on site is surprisingly good too. And $5 for a cheeseburger seems more than reasonable to me. Plus, there’s free water everywhere to avoid you overheating.
We walk back past the Vans skateboard ramp and the free wifi area and back to the Valley Stage where Glass Animals have succeeded in attracting one of that stage’s biggest crowds of the weekend. Their blend of chilled electronic influenced songs is perfectly suited to the Sunday afternoon in the sun vibe and every song is received with huge roar of approval, both from those packed down the front and the crowds chilling on the hillside.
No rest for the wicked as we speed-walk back to the main stage for some bluesy rock n roll courtesy of Gary Clark Jr. This man knows how to play an electric guitar! He looks like he was born to do this and has a voice to match the soulful guitar playing. Occasionally the solos drag a little too long but there’s no denying the man’s talent.
Back in the wooded area we find artists making bizarre creations, painting the letters of Osheaga before being offered free candy from a stranger. Now this is something my parents warned me about but the girl looks harmless enough so we accept and carry on to see if the hype surrounding Father John Misty is justified.
As he struts around the stage like Jesus on ecstasy he seems to be doing his upmost to make some kind of ironic statement about what it is to be a rockstar in 2015. It’s all a bit contrived and pretentious in my opinion. Trying far too hard rather than allowing the music to speak for itself. We give him chance to prove us wrong but eventually decide we’re probably missing out on something far more interesting on one of the other 5 stages.
By complete contrast, Future Islands are a riot. Frontman, Samuel T. Herring, could not be more different to Mr Misty. He simply couldn’t give a crap whether you think he’s cool or not and looks like he’s having the time of his life, twisting and turning to the band’s original brand of synthpop, while singing and growling in equal measure. They rightly win over the entire crowd and put a smile on everyone’s face in the process.
One of my favourite bands is up next on the main stage. The War On Drugs may not be as visually interesting as Future Islands – there’s no dancing or theatrics here folks – but they sound absolutely majestic as they play the perfect set dripping with gems like Baby Missiles, Red Eyes and the uplifting Under The Pressure.
While Hot Chip get the dancing started, we opt to head over to check out the heaviest band of the weekend. Indeed, Brand New might look more at home on the following weekend’s Heavy Montreal bill, but it seems they are a welcome addition at Osheaga and a huge crowd has gathered to witness the now legendary alternative rock band deliver a set filled with emotional and intense tunes that have half the audience singing every word back towards the stage.
Our favourite discovery of the day comes in the shape of New Zealand duo Broods. Vocalist, Georgia Nott, is having a fun time up on stage and repeatedly tells us how she loves this festival. Her enthusiasm is infectious and songs like Mother & Father and LAF, from their excellent album Evergreen, suggest great things are ahead for this instantly likeable act.
We catch the end of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros but sadly miss one of the most incredible moments of the festival, where wheelchair-bound François Bernier was hoisted above the crowd and then invited by singer Alex Ebert to join him on stage. Ebert even headed down himself to help the man get over the security barrier!
Check out the video below:
Alt-J are another band who sound amazing but don’t really do much on stage. We stick around for a few songs but are drawn back to the smaller stages where BANKS is swaggering around on high heels and seems to be singing along to a backing track. It’s disappointing as her music is hypnotic and her album, Goddess, is one of my favourites of last year. She also performs in terrible lighting, which may be a deliberate move to add drama but ultimately means there’s not much to see.
Possibly the best place to lift the mood is the Piknic Électronik stage where DJs and electronic acts continuously keep the party rocking and the crowd get lost in the music rather than standing around watching the stage. You’re sure to have fun here and possibly make some new friends in the process.
And then the whole weekend comes to a superb climax thanks to The Black Keys. Ten years ago the thought of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney headlining huge events like this would have seemed absurd, but they’ve taken to the role like true pros and now seem to be a band who will be around for a very long time. Tonight sees them role out the hits to ensure a crowd-pleasing finale to an excellent festival. The stage lights attract a horde of moths that flap around Carney and even land in his drink (he drinks it anyway!) but it just adds to the magic of the occasion.
Songs like Fever and the massive Lonely Boy get the best reactions of the night, but I Got Mine and Your Touch still sound as real and relevant as ever. As the closing chords of Little Black Submarines ebb away and the crowd begins to disperse into the Montreal night, nobody here leaves disappointed. Thanks Osheaga. Here’s to 2016!
Review – Evelyne Desilets
Photos – Steve Gerrard