In 2010, Montreal’s Osheaga Music Festival made a major statement with one of the best two-day line-ups of any festival in North America (QRO recap). In 2011, Osheaga upped their game by expanding to a shortened third day (QRO recap). And last year, the festival expanded again, making that Friday as big as Saturday & Sunday, not to mention expanding the actual festival grounds (QRO recap). For Osheaga ’13, the festival could only add a bit in size to the actual festival grounds, but managed to keep the top-tier line-up that its become known for by this point. And QRO was there, August 2nd-4th.
Friday is still the ‘new day’ of Osheaga, having only been added two years ago, and only made a full day last year, but in 2013 it was stacked, including many, many acts coming in with serious new hype, for perhaps the best line-up of any of the three days.
Just at the start of Osheaga ’13, the festival had it going with a number of buzzed-about bands, such as Guards, Oberhofer, K-OS (who stormed off his stage in a dispute with the soundman), and Capital Cities, but two of the nicest buzz-bands hailed from, where else?, Brooklyn, in DIIV and Wild Belle. They were both on the ‘side stages’, Green Stage & Trees Stage, respectively (or rather, ‘Scéne Verte’ & ‘Scéne de Arbres’), though the Green Stage really only felt ‘side’ when measured up against the twin main stages, River & Mountain (‘Scéne de la Riviére’ & ‘Scéne de la Montagne’), which were right next to each other in front of a massive audience space – and Green & Trees had the advantage to the crowd of standing on grass, not gravel. It might still have been a little early in the day & big a stage for DIIV, but Wild Belle were as sunny and relaxed as you’d expect from the act on such a nice day, playing off this year’s debut, Isles (QRO review), and ending, of course, with breakthrough single “Keep You”.
The buzz then moved to Britain on nearly all the stages, though it didn’t exactly overwhelm. Ben Howard was nice but hardly gripping, while Lianne La Havas was charming in a London girl sort of way (reminiscent of Kate Nash – QRO spotlight on – and not just because La Havas played a song about an ex-boyfriend, “Forget”). The success and acclaim of alt-J is still puzzling to many, but if you liked them, they were there. Two Door Cinema Club’s success isn’t such a shocker, but the newer material from last year’s Beacon (QRO review) struggled to excite in the daylight.
But both the best & worst of British buzz came up a bit later, in Jake Bugg and Ellie Goulding. Not since James Blake introduced ‘post-dubstep’ with his self-titled debut (QRO review) has an Englishman engendered such overnight interest as fellow ‘JB’ Jake Bugg has with his own self-titled debut (QRO review), with girls squealing his name – and Bugg managed to even more disappointing. At least Blake’s subdued synth tones sound good on record, even if seeing him live, just hunched over a keyboard, is nothing to write home about (QRO live review) – Bugg was annoying all over, from his ultra-affected vocals to simplistic country style. Think Conor Oberst’s ill-fated country outing with his Mystic Valley Band (QRO live review), but without either Oberst’s pedigree or voice (basically Mr. Bright Eyes’ two main strengths).
But on the positive side of the pound coin at Osheaga was Ellie Goulding. Returning to the festival after absolutely packing the then-smaller Green Stage in 2011 (QRO photos), Goulding had earned her promotion to the main stage before even setting foot in Canada. And she lived up to that hotter slot with a hot show – and not just because she performed in a sports bra and leather hot pants. Goulding herself started as overnight sensation, including playing William & Kate’s wedding, but has kept it up with last year’s follow-up Halcyon (QRO review), and looks to keep it up as long as the ever-growing royal family.
Special note must also be made of the more intimate Trees Stage, which kept up its own strong performance on Day One. After Wild Belle came The Head and the Heart, an actual Yankee act who came to Osheaga before the release of their new sophomore release Let’s Be Still in the fall. Their alt-folk collective ways worked well beneath the leaves. Up next under the Trees was Palma Violets, another Brit act, yes, but playing party-garage in a wild manner (especially bassist Chilli Jesson) making them like an Anglo Black Lips (who rocked that same stage last year – QRO photos). They’re another act with some hype behind them, but this time it just might be justified.
6:45 PM brought the ultimate white-collar vs. blue-collar divide of Osheaga: Vampire Weekend vs. The Gaslight Anthem. While the hipsters and kids watched “V-Dubs” do their Ivy League afro-pop thing on the main stage, the workingmen and punks saw New Jersey come to Quebec on the Green Stage. Similar to their recent shows on their tour (QRO live review the Saturday prior), there was no reason to add to their already-powerful and evocative “American Slang”.
As the sun set the main stage took over with two of the biggest & best acts at Osheaga ’13 (sorry DJs like A Tribe Called Red or Baauer on the ‘Piknic Electronik Stage’, or Beach House on Green Stage – but you’re all kind of boring live, anyway…). It was particularly special, Versailles’ Phoenix playing in Francophone Canada (even if Thomas Mars sings in English) – but the band will get a huge welcome anywhere, as they’re one of the rare acts that pretty much impossible not to like. Mars ran into the crowd early and often, including crowd surfing to close.
It was a little odd that Phoenix wasn’t the evening’s headliner, considering they’d been one at the even-bigger Coachella earlier this year, but how can you put anybody on a bill above The Cure? Yes, since the band’s eighties heyday Robert Smith has aged (and gained weight), but he still has his voice (and still really pale, still dressed in all black). And The Cure still have a lot of great songs – if also a lot of songs you might not remember unless you had also once been pale and dressed all in black. In a way, Smith almost reminds one of J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. (QRO live review) in his ‘ultra-veteran’ status (and not just because Dinosaur Jr. have long done a great cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”…).
[note: It has to be mentioned that there was some problem with the new wristband system for media and VIPs, as each wristband this year came with a computer chip that was to be scanned by iPhones with a special app at each security checkpoint – only for it to not work. One of your correspondents literally went through four wristbands – and he wasn’t alone in this – before staff gave up and just told security to ignore the chips. The staff did try very hard, and everything worked fine the next two days, but QRO missed acts like Oberhofer and Guards because of it]