Maybe I’m getting too old for festival concerts. Between slathering myself with SPF60, eating $5 hot dogs, running spastically between stages, cursing the overlapping schedule, being inundated with corporate sponsorship and drinking watery beer, I was caught between disillusionment and laughter toward the predictable pattern of music fests.
The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival is in its fifth year, and has swelled from 25,000 to over 50,000 attendees. Despite my opening tirade, Osheaga has plenty to offer: a grassy hill with convenient stage view, venues of varying size (from cozy small sets to mega concerts), performances for many tastes (from small Quebecois bands to…Snoop Dogg?), the ability to walk freely with your drinks (goodbye, beer tent!) and free underwear to anyone willing to provide American Apparel with their email address.
When surrounded by so much chaos, I seem to morph into a reactionary skeptic. I should subtitle this post “The Festival Concert in which Sabrina Becomes a Huge Indie Music Cynic.” So, I apologize ahead of time if any readers take my grumbling opinion personally. But here it is, Osheaga 2010.
I missed most of The Walkmen’s woefully short 30-minute performance. The only old favourite I caught was the impressively yelped ‘New Year’s Eve’. However, I did catch rumours of their one-month-old single ‘Stranded’ from their upcoming sixth album, Lisbon (to be released September 14). The song’s echoed horns and slow pace might seem boring in juxtaposition against old high-energy classics (particularly ‘The Rat’), but the album could be a grower.
Don’t be deceived by the mischievous smile in this photo: Pallett was not a happy camper. As we squished into the sizable crowd at the Scène Vert, we heard that the snarkiness had already begun. “If you don’t know how to work the monitors, just take out my vocals entirely, I’ll sing it dry,” the 30-year-old Toronto native hissed at the soundcrew.
The audience seemed unfazed by the quality of the tunes from his Final Fantasy past, including fan favourite ‘This Is the Dream of Win and Regine’. After an apology for not being much of a festival band (“We don’t have anything to shout along to”), Pallett seemed to find his groove. His looped violin weaved the delicate harmonies from a handful of tracks from Heartland with a bass guitar accompaniment adding to the acoustic lushness.
When he started the chaotic layering for his finale ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’, the rapt crowd clapped. But merely a minute into the last song, Pallett cracked. “I’m sorry, you can’t do a looped show without monitors. Goodbye.” After this brusque statement, he walked huffily off the stage. Fans clapped, laughed, gaped confusingly and shrugged their shoulders. No one could deny that he hadn’t voiced his concerns throughout the show, and that his particular performance style would be difficult with soundguy ineptitude. But still, what a diva.
Brian King is a music photojournalist’s dream: his head-thrashing guitar solos, hair-tossing forays into frantic singing, his dimples… ahem. That is, when one dares to push their way to the front of the raucous moshpit, which was considerably subdued compared to previous live gigs. King and drummer/singer David Prowse held little back during their 45-minute set, proclaiming it to be their last for 3 weeks while they head back to Vancouver.
“We’re Pavement, and it’s 1996 all over again,” Stephen Malkmus proclaimed to the crowd with a saucy sneer before launching into ‘Gold Soundz’. Having just seen the band last month at the Toronto Island Concert, I was settling into the familiar setlist as ‘Stereo’ followed. Then everything came to a sloshing halt when Malkmus was the recipient of a perfectly aimed full cup of beer, which hit him right in his soon to be deflated head.
People pointed and booed in the direction of the projectile’s origin. Malkmus said little about the abuse, except a sing song taunt toward the perpetrator with, “Haha! You’re going home in a Montreal ambulance!”
The show went on. Pavement rocked as usual, with screaming and solos and guitars played with beer cans. But, it seemed that the clinginess of Malkmus’ wet t-shirt whet his sarcastic tendencies. Between songs, he said with a smirk, “I’m so excited for Arcade Fire, I could shit my pants.” He was greeted with the cheers of people who missed the fact that he was being an asshole. Ah, Malkmus. Don’t ever change.
I saw The National back at Coachella 2008, and I stand by my assessment at the time: Matt Berninger’s voice doesn’t shine through in live performances. No one seems to agree with me on this opinion, but I maintain that his characteristic throaty baritone seems clipped and forced on stage compared to his studio recordings. It could have been due to intoxication – he did fall over a speaker during the show, after all – but that’s just speculation on my part. Also, why was there so much screaming during ‘Squalor Victoria’?
I need to get something off my chest: I don’t love The Suburbs. It’s not a terrible album, but it’s not fantastic. By the end of ‘Modern Man’, my head already hurts from being beaten with “the message” of the album: damnation of our empty society and the emotional hopelessness of being a privileged young person in a developed country. It seems so blatant and literal. Musically, it’s interesting enough. Still, I can’t listen to ‘Ready to Start’ without drawing comparisons to ‘Keep the Car Running’. ‘Month of May’ is emphatically rockable, if not a bit egocentric. I just miss the relative subtlety of Funeral. The lyrics don’t do it for me. Seriously, ‘Rococo’? What the hell is that? At least choose a more smoothly enunciated nonsense word. “Jabberwocky” would sound more fluid. Okay, that’s out of my system now. Edit: I now realize that ‘Rococo’ isn’t a nonsense word. In fact, it’s pretty apt. Sorry, and thus exposes my ignorance of art/tendency not to google things before ranting.
As little as I love the new album, I still love Arcade Fire. They throw everything into their live shows. They thrive with a larger crowd; while many bands seem more distant on a big stage, the Montreal group seem less pretentious and more sincere. A somber Owen Pallett could be seen among the ensemble, presumably making up for lost time. Their instrument swapping is dizzying! Their banter is bilingual! There were fireworks and fake snow! The background visual display brought the show to a multimedia orgasm: ominous shots of women wading through water, psychedelic patterns, upward angles of Win’s chin. Although, again, I groaned occasionally. During ‘Empty Room’, they displayed an image empty room. For ‘We Used to Wait’, in which Win expresses with chagrin his lack of letter-writing, the screens displayed – you guessed it – letters.
In the end, I wondered whether the crowd got the bludgeoning, repeated message after all. Regine prefaced the debut performance of ‘Sprawl II’ with an explanation about the song’s origin. Boulevard Taschereau, with its vast strip malls, provided inspiration for the tune and an ironic landmark for many concertgoers to pass by on their return to their suburban homes. Maybe that made their closing song more of a rally cry to the massive crowd than a throwback to their indie kingdom days: ‘Wake Up’.
I had an uncanny feeling that many of my Osheaga concert choices contained male-dominated crowds. Why don’t more girls go to Japandroids shows? And how do so many bros know Arcade Fire lyrics so well? Anyway, Georgas’ performance and the surrounding dance party offered a break with a largely female representation. Her sprightly summer-like tunes were catchy, and she makes an endearing, shyly confident lead lady. And few could avoid grinning at the hand clapping session that accompanied ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’, well, everyone except her backing band. C’mon guys, smile. You’re in Montreal!
We Are Wolves
I used to listen to We Are Wolves back during their Non-Stop Je Te Plie en Deux days, so I thought I would check out the local band in their element. They emerged wearing bizarre black kite contraptions strapped to their backs, concealed by black capes. This must have brought their internal body temperatures up to feverish points in the midday heat. Aside from the costumes, there’s nothing too complicated about the band. Fun but simple rock songs.
There was a lot of confusion surrounding these ’90s legends’ set. Deadmau5 – one of the weekend’s headliners – cancelled last minute (he was hospitalized after suffering from exhaustion and vomiting in Washington, D.C.). This prompted a poorly announced series of stage switches: Metric to Deadmau5’s slot, and Sonic Youth to Metric’s former time. Most of the people gathered near the stage were unaware of the rescheduling, abandoning their posts after discovering the news and wondering who Sonic Youth were. Evidently, not everyone figured it out in time: as Kim Gordon reached for her guitar, I overheard someone exclaim, “Whoa, Emily Haines got old!” Sigh.
I caught the band play last year at Primavera Sound, and they’re still pretty awesome. Thurston Moore still goes through several carefully-mistuned guitars during a short show. They still play from the no-wave archetype Daydream Nation (although unsubtly avoiding ‘Teenage Riot’). But looking around at the skeptical crowd, some visibly disgruntled with the set-ending drones, I wondered: do we deserve Sonic Youth? What do you think, CVC readers?
Emily Haines was strung out and clad in shiny clothes, as usual. I begrudgingly admitted during her frenetic singing that Fantasies has grown on me. But in a pop album way, not in the daring rock way that Metric used to resonate.
Finally, a band named Weezer played. You say you’ve never heard of them? How cool is that?! Cuomo hammed it up, both on and off stage. He jogged wildly through the press pit and perched on the fence, reaching out and touching the hands of fans. Fans who were largely born in the nineties: the same decade in which Weezer’s prime material became legendary. As I watched the mass of teens screaming along to ‘The Sweater Song’ and headed toward the exit, I contemplated the start of my quarter-life crisis, or facing the fact that I’m hardly old enough to feel truly nostalgic about Weezer material anyway.