By B. Simm
MONTREAL — Since its inception in 2007, Osheaga has risen to become one of Canada’s most desired festivals that attracts close to 150,000 music lovers and party-goers over the August long weekend. As soon they pour off the Metro, move up towards the sunlight and into Parc Jean Drapeau, festival frenzy kicks in as event greeters in bright, blue ball hats and matching T-shirts wail through megaphones, “Welcome to Osheaga! Bienvenue à Osheaga!”
Even before the fun begins, it’s easy to see why Osheaga works. First, it’s held in Montreal in the middle of summer. The city’s in full bloom—outdoor cafes, bustling bistros and its glorious nightlife lit up like a carnival. French-Candiana as intoxicating as the bars wide open serve until 3 a.m. Secondly, Parc Jean Drapeau is a quick, three-dollar Metro ride that jets you out of downtown, and direct into the lush landscape along the banks of the St Lawrence. No traffic, no line-ups, instant delivery to the front gates. While there’s a lot of new, fresh ’n’ fun talent trucked in for Osheaga, the big draw-factor is the cherry-picked headliners. No doubt that’s why the fest sells out with a sizeable chunk of its attendees from the Northeast States and across Canada who come to witness performers at the top of their game take over Osheaga’s towering twin stages.
Day 1, Friday
Flanked by his best bud, Big Boi, André 3000 let loose under the moonlight with his charismatic, comical charm that could melt even the most cynical killjoys. There is nothing not to like about Outkast, especially when they’re laying it down with love. Some feminist minds might wag their disapproval when the road crew undoubtedly hand-picked a bevy of beautiful women from the crowd, brought them up onstage, while André, grinning from ear to ear, hugged all of his harem as they line danced and the golden flesh of suntanned bodies bounced and protruded out of tank tops and tight, tight cut-offs. For his selfish indulgence, Big Boi then summoned André to 50-plus push-ups on the downbeat to sweet, smackin’ hip hop.
Day 2, Saturday
An early evening set by Modest Mouse seemed laboured, pushed by rhythms that were more mechanical than melodic. Although an interesting selection on the bill, the creative force led by Isaac Brock didn’t unleash itself. It could be a sea of 30,000 isn’t the right playing field for the band whose raging, off-kilter flailings are better suited to a hot, sweaty club.
If there was a category for the past, present and future of rock ’n’ roll, Nick Cave reigns as king. The average age of the audience was in their mid-20s. Cave is 55, with certain members of the Bad Seeds looking like Grandfather Time himself. But as the dark, thunderous gothic swell of drums and guitar rose across the vast expanse of thriving bodies, a transfer of energy, control and power came directly from the stage. Cave seized the crowd instantly, bounding out and withering straight into their clutches. He moved like a man possessed preaching the revelations of loving, lusting and losing yourself in the hurricane of humanness. As arms reached out to pull him down, Cave held them at bay, held them in the palm of his hand with his unrelenting testimony. The rise and fall of the Bad Seeds’ howling delivery surged behind him, twisting and turning to punctuate and embellish his every move. The video stream overhead, cast in black and white, cut out the glamour. Cave’s emotive power felt more real than theatrical. He wears no mask.
Keen to squash concerns that he’s test-driving new material as he did on his last tour, provoking a downpour of indifference, Jack White reassured the anxious crowd he’s here to deliver the hits. “Icky Thump” followed by “Fell In Love With A Girl” set off the exhilaration as White packed a third of his set with White Stripes’ material. Not everything the new blues master touches glitters and glows. “Lazeretto,” the title track off this latest release didn’t exactly fizzle, but with all the intensity and urgency White could muster, it still failed to catch fire. As did some of the alt-country tangents he went out on halfway through the set. What did astonish throughout, however, was the torrid rhythm section driven by drummer Daru Jones and bassist Dominic Davis. Their heavyweight R&B union allowed White to shine supreme revealing what he wears very well on his sleeve… one arm tattooed with Led, the other with Zep.
Day 3, Sunday
The Replacements’ reunion was highly anticipated on the summer circuit. While Nick Cave was able to transcend the age gap with the audience, Westerberg, even with the help of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as celeb guitarist, didn’t have the same luck. Part of that is half the Mats’ set was culled from early albums only hardcore fans could appreciate. But even when they pulled out “Androgynous”, “Achin’ To Be” and a landslide version of “Left Of The Dial,” few seemed to know or care who they were. Tragic, considering Westerberg was in fine form sporting one of his goofy stage outfits (a bright, red Hawaiian shirt and too-short red pants) and singing his surly, heartfelt best. Then he missed a cue in “Can’t Hardly Wait” and cut the song off cold catching both the band and crowd off guard. From there the Mats’ shit show hit the fan, sans alcohol, with Westerberg launching into a few throwaways before lighting a cigarette, stepping back and waiting for their stage time to run out provoking even more bewilderment from onlookers. In one last flurry of rock riffs that ended as quickly as they started, Westerberg spat out a frustrated, self-depreciating goodbye from “The Cements, the world’s greatest Replacements’ cover band.”
As soon as the deep synth drone started to bleed and the prism of blue and white light flooded the stage, Osheaga rolled out its big roar for their most beloved guest, Lorde. When she appeared, young girls screamed and shrieked so madly surely a stream of tears and fainting bodies followed. Despite the loving grace she commands, Lorde’s music, performance and popularity remains a mystery. For sure, her minimalism is a warm welcome in sharp contrast to other contemporary female artists who pile studio, video and stage productions to the heavens with everything glitzy under the sun. And her music, while sensuous and engaging, certainly isn’t thrilling to the point of screams and tears. As she roamed in circles, emulating some kind of voodoo dance around the midnight fire, you can’t help but wonder, “What’s the big deal?” She then broke into a passionate monologue, clutching a Canadian flag (in Quebec no less!), a mere 17 years of age holding Osheaga spellbound, her gratitude running deeper than the St. Lawrence Seaway as thousands willfully drowned in it. The power of persuasion absolutely amazing. A truly, gifted gal working mysteries.Lorde, Montreal, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, OutKast, Quebec