Crowds flooded into Parc Jean-Drapeau for the 7th annual installment of the Osheaga Music and Arts festival. With 5 stages, roughly 40,000 people in attendance, and over 100 bands playing over the course of three days, Osheaga is the summer music festival to go to in Quebec or just Canada in general. The stages include Scène de la Montagne and Scène de la Rivière, the two headlining stages separated only by a metal barrier; the EDM friendly Piknik Electronik stage; the Green stage; and finally the small, isolated Trees stage.
PONCTUATION, TREES STAGE, 1:10
The day kicked off on the Trees Stage, with a short 35 minute set from Québec based garage rock duo Ponctuation. Playing to an unusually small audeince (probably due to fact that Montréal locals, Majikal Clouds, were playing on the neighbouring Green Stage), they managed to keep the crowd’s heads bobbing, playing a breed of stripped down yet extremely catchy psychedelic tinged garage rock. Much like the music, Ponctuation’s performance proved to be a rather simplistic affair; with little to no lights or guitar effects. They worked with what they had and ended up playing one of the most raw and sincere sets of the day. To top it off, their setlist was stellar, picking songs from both their debut EP Lèche-Vitrine and their brand new LP 27 Club, while throwing in covers of Link Wray’s “Rumble” and The Dabsters “J’en Ai Assez,” two songs that sounded like they were meant to be played by the duo. The 2 piece setup, however, didn’t seem like it was quite cut for the festival stage, since the lack of bass gave them a thin sound and left the audience wondering whether there could have been more.
DIIV, GREEN STAGE, 3:00
Frontman Zachary Cole Smith hates playing festivals and made it quite clear in dream pop band DIIV’s mid afternoon set. It’s not that he wasn’t moving, far from it: he spent the majority of the set either wandering around the stage or headbanging in a Kurt Cobain fashion. His movements just seemed artificial and insincere, and his vocals lacked emotion, almost as if he were performing simply for the sake of performing instead of for the love of his music. Despite Cole’s disappointing performance, the rest of the band managed to put together a fantastic performance, all bringing a unique personality to the stage. Bass player Devin Perez stood still with hair covering his face, Colby Hewitt wore an emotionless mask as he drummed vigorously, and second guitar player Andrew Bailey looked like the happiest man alive, constantly beaming at the crowd with the type of look a child would have on Christmas morning. The band was also sporting a new keyboard player, whose droning synth sounds added some extra flavour to their already dense tracks. The show’s set list was comprised mainly of songs from the band’s 2012 critically acclaimed debut Oshin, but also featured two new songs, one of which hasn’t been released. DIIV’s dreamy “nugaze” tracks, drenched in more delay and reverb than on their records, were exactly what the mid-sized crowd needed on this sunny Friday afternoon.
PALMA VIOLETS, TREES STAGE, 5:45
The Trees stage is infamous for its recurring technical problems, and this day was no exception, causing a majority of the billed bands to start late. Amongst their numbers were British pub rockers Palma Violets, who, after 15 minutes of ridiculous mic checks, finally began their set. Starting off with an extremely british rendition of Joe Jones’ “California Sun” and rapidly transferring into a cut from their debut album 180, it was obvious that this set was going to be have some of the highest energy of the day. Not only did the Palma Violets play with unmatched enthusiasm comparable to that of a 1970s punk show, but their chemistry was amazing. Every note they played or sung together sounded so tight it could’ve been computerized. On top of it all, their stage presence was unmatched, and their onstage antics could go anywhere. Guitar player Samuel Fryer, moshed with the sound guy, keyboard player Peter Mayhew jumped into the crowd, and bass player Chili Jesson sweetly serenaded a front row fan. What really made the show was the music they played. Boasting a raw yet polished sound on record, they proved to everyone that it could be translated extremely well in a live setting. Their retro minded punk anthems were a perfect fit for the festival environment, keeping the tightly packed Trees Stage crowd excited and singing along for the duration of the unfortunately short set.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND, RIVER STAGE, 6:45
Vampire Weekend are undoubtedly the quintessential festival band, as their sound can cater to a wide array of people. They manage to be weird enough to appeal to alternative music fans, but still make music that’s catchy and hooky enough to gain serious pop appeal. They were, therefore, the perfect band to play on the gigantic River Stage. It isn’t everyday you see a band perform with such poise and elegance as Vampire Weekend. The stage featured a flowery backdrop with a giant mirror, and the band members were placed in very symmetrical way: lead singer Ezra Koenig, flat in the middle, keyboardist/occasional second guitar player Rostam Batmanglij on his left, bass player Chris Baio on his right , and drummer Christopher Tomson directly behind him.
There was even a sort of shine to they way they played their instrument: Batmanglij’s hands fluttered on the keys the way a classic pianist’s would, and Koenig’s unique singing style made the words bounce around, rapidly taking over the audience and sending them into a daze. The world around them was forgotten and the focus was solely on the music that was playing. It was amazing how much of showman Koenig was, without even moving around the stage. Even though he didn’t headbang, his arm movements and just the way he held his guitar kept the audience’s eyes glued on him the whole time. When the crowd wasn’t watching the frontman, they were probably looking at Batmanglij. Shifting from playing beautiful choir voices on his synth to modulating the tone of Koenig’s voice in “Diane Young,” from soloing on guitar to playing slide guitar, he was easily the hardest working member of the group.
One of the most fascinating things about their performance, is how clean the sound managed to stay in such a large setting. Tomson’s drums stayed snappy and tight the whole time, never reverberating, and Baios bass was never overpowering. Even though they sound similar live and on record, it was just the little twists that brought a new light to their songs. There are some things can’t be captured on an album.
THE CURE, RIVER STAGE, 8:45
With rain on the forecast for the weekend, it’s a shame that the showers never came. If there was one band that would strive playing under stormy skies, it would have to be the Cure, whose headlining set was the only two hour slot of the entire festival. When the lights dimmed and wind chime walk-on music came on, the audience knew what they had in store. The Cures simple but effective intro stood in heavy contrast to a lot of the the other band’s heavily overdone introductions. The band itself, led by lead singer/rhythm guitar player Robert Smith, all looked like they had been frozen in time, sporting denim vests and leather boots. Smith himself looked the same as 30 years ago, proudly adorning the classic Cure look with smudged lipstick and racoon eyes.
After kicking their set off with a triple dose of Disintegration (“Plainsong” followed by “Pictures of you” followed by “Lullaby”), they ventured through their vast discography, performing hits and deep cuts alike. Even though the set was sculpted perfectly for a festival crowd, the two hour stretch wasn’t for the faint of heart. By the time the seven song encore kicked off, the crowd had shrunk a noticeable amount and left only the core audience there to watch. Perhaps a 30 song set had been too long, but the Cure don’t tour often, so it’s always a treat to see them. The encore itself was an event of sorts, starting off with a half-goofy, half-serious rendition of “Lovecats” and following up with (most notably) “Close to me,” “Hot Hot Hot,” “Why Can’t I Be You” and finally finishing off with “Boy’s Don’t Cry,” in which the sound was cut off at the very end.
Soundwise, they did not disappoint. Unlike a lot of old 80s bands that comeback with a “modern approach”, the Cure managed to recapture exactly what made them so appealing to begin with, whether it be the textured synths, the eerie reverb drenched guitar, the upbeat bass lines, or Robert Smith’s gloomy voice. At times, it was hard to tell whether you were watching a set from 1980, 1989, or 2013. Smith also proved that his sense of humour was still intact, cracking jokes about the hoard of moths flying overhead (“If I were Spiderman i’d be having a fucking ball up here”) and showing the audience his “doom and gloom” face. It was hard to imagine anyone anyone leaving this incredible set disappointed.