Osheaga 2012

Last summer, I was lucky enough to experience one of the country’s marquee music and arts festivals, Osheaga, in beautiful Montreal. Between three-days’ worth of compulsive sunscreen applications and water bottle refills (I don’t deal with heat well), I managed to take some notes and do some interviews, which then manifested as a handful of reviews for Exclaim! Magazine. 

Friday, August 3

Florence + the Machine

Following up a Toronto performance the previous night, Florence and the Machine took to Osheaga’s River Stage just in time to have their set bathed in the hazy glow of the setting sun. The effect added significantly to the aesthetic on display, as the group’s statuesque frontwoman, appearing as a veritable indie priestess, took centre stage framed by a simple, symmetrical backdrop.

To see Florence Welch and co. perform is to see the term “cult following” take on new meaning — their sophomore album,Ceremonials, is aptly named, and at many points, the show took on a ritualistic air.

Welch’s demure posture throughout opener “Only If for the Night” was quickly replaced by an ambling energy that sent the songstress bouncing from one end of the stage to another, and when stationary, the orb-like backlights encircling her head, almost halo-like, created the effect of a Klimt mural made flesh.

Before launching into crowd favourite “Rabbit Heart,” Welch reached out to the audience, shouting “We need human sacrifices.” Apparently more than willing to acquiesce, fans held one another aloft on their shoulders as the band kicked off what was one of the evening’s most spirited numbers.

By the time the set moved into “Dog Days Are Over,” the mass of fans, both old and newly converted, was firmly situated in Welch’s gauzy, black pocket, hand-clapping its way towards the song’s rousing chorus. Of course, in the end, Welch’s herculean pipes were the stars of the show, but it was the intimacy she and her cohorts managed to conjure, even in this immense venue, that made this performance a highlight to be remembered.

MGMT

Wrapping things up on the Green Stage, MGMT made for a fittingly feel-good end to the festival’s first night, rolling through a set alternating between bubbly radio favourites and lolling deep cuts. Jumping into their second number, “It’s Working,” the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser prompted the audience to approvingly launch a host of benign projectiles — hats, flip-flops and toilet paper rolls — into the night. Backed up by three additional members, and a light show infused with a Lisa Frank colour palette, the pair chatted amiably throughout the set, VanWyngarden’s chirpy outbursts tempered by Goldwasser’s comparative baritone.

The band moved into hit territory with their third song, the mid-aughts staple “Time to Pretend,” as neon versions of their members were projected against a backdrop of throbbing technicolour eyes and undulating waves. The visuals, replete with spirograph-esque patterns, complemented MGMT’s math-geek sensibility, and were punctuated by well-timed fireworks (a fortunate coincident) during a particularly inspired finale to “Weekend Wars.”

Soon after, VanWyngarden picked up an acoustic guitar, leading the group in an eerily faithful cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” before moving into a decidedly mellow rendition of 2008′s “Electric Feel.” The tune earned appreciative applause and enthusiastic swaying, sentiments that the band reciprocated, thanking the masses for a warm reception at their first show since March.

MGMT closed with “Alien Days,” from their forthcoming third album. VanWyngarden’s announcement of the final song was met with a collective groan, most likely due to the notable absence of crowd pleaser “Kids.” Still, the initially pensive number, which once again saw the singer wielding an acoustic, was accompanied by laser-beam synths and an escalating fireworks show beyond the trees, making for an appropriate close to one of the most warm and fuzzy sets of the night.

Saturday, August 4

Kandle

Barely a year since posting the songs that would eventually constitute her self-titled debut EP, Kandle Osborne, and the band of Canuck talents she now works with, strode onto Osheaga’s sun-soaked Tree Stage in the heat of the afternoon. In the two months since the record’s Canadian release, the Montreal-via-Victoria chanteuse has been busy crafting a video and laying the groundwork for her first full-length.

After opening with the smoldering rebuke of “Not Listening,” the band moved through a series of numbers that gingerly walked the line between eerie and upbeat, stopping between songs to adjust to the sunlight (and, inexplicably, spotlights) beating down on the stage. “My guitar is on fire,” called out a seemingly unfazed Osborne. “And not in a rock’n’roll way.”

Before leaping into new track “She Don’t Want Me,” Osborne gave a nod to her sister and former bandmate, saying that she’d suggested they include the song in the day’s set. It turned out to be a strong addition to the set list, as the crowd surrounding the stage continued to swell throughout the rock-tinged tune that allowed Osborne to demonstrate her increasingly resonant vocals.

The singer and guitarist held her own in a band featuring plenty of established figures, including Broken Social Scene guitarist Sam Goldberg, who spent part of the set sporting a white rag-turned-headdress as protection from the sun.

The group closed out their half hour slot with the haunting reverberations of “Demon,” a lyrically cautionary cut that quickly built up to a foot-stomping climax, ending the performance on a high note that may have come too soon for some in the audience, but probably just in time for the sun-beaten band.

Garbage

When the revived Garbage emerged on the River Stage, they proved to be more than simply a ’90s nostalgia act, despite a crowd populated by a few more middle-aged faces than usual. The group, led by Scottish firebrand Shirley Manson, came out of the gates with the seething “Automatic Systematic Habit,” from this year’sNot Your Kind of People, igniting the audience as effectively as any old standard might have.

Their set was a deftly balanced mix of new and old, and as the familiarly poppy opening synths of 1998′s “I Think I’m Paranoid” washed over the crowd, they responded warmly. Manson, clad in mod-red shorts and black everything else, slinked from one end of the stage to the other like a black widow, and was in fine form throughout the performance, delivering each song in her ever-smoky timbre.

Guitarists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker put on an impressive show as well. Outfitted completely in black, both could easily have been reduced to shadows on the wings during Manson’s theatrics, but they remained animated throughout, especially when their frontwoman lay down on stage through the bridge of “Why Do You Love Me.”

Addressing the audience in both French and “Scottish” between songs, a grinning Manson gave a nod to Snoop Lion, who would take the stage hours later, before receiving a letter onstage from a fan. After a husky rendition of “Cherry Lips,” dedicated to the letter writer in the crowd, Manson invited everyone present to join in on the opening verse of a slowed-down “Only Happy When It Rains.” However, as a curtain of moody clouds accumulated behind the stage, the band picked up the pace, ending the tune, and their set, with as much energy as any of the fledgling bands on hand throughout the day.

Sunday, August 5

Zeus

It’s never easy to open up the day, especially on a stage set to house a near-perfect lineup. Yet when Toronto indie darlings Zeus materialized in all their mustachioed glory, it was to the affectionate applause of a none-too-modest congregation. As the ominous clouds that would plague the festival all day drew closer, the foursome jumped into their first few tunes, a well-oiled machine operating within arm’s length of one another.

Warming up with the crisp guitar of “Anything You Want Dear,” the group hit their stride when they spread out and slowed things down on an energized rendition of the slow-burning “The River by the Garden.” The audience clapped in time to the bluesy number, ending just as the rain started to come down in earnest. Carlin Nicholson, at this point playing bass (as usual, the band did a fair bit of instrument swapping throughout the set), reached heavenward as it began to pour and the group launched into their rollicking take on Genesis’s “That’s All,” demonstrating their considerable prowess in the song’s finale.

That tune gave way to the more sinister but no less engaging “Love/Pain,” from this year’s Busting Visions, as the group’s buoyant riffs and impeccable vocal harmonies distracted from the increasingly muddy venue. Although they may have been dealt a difficult slot, Zeus went out with a bang, signing off with an impassioned version of “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” before handing things off to labelmate Dan Mangan on the stage next door.

Bloc Party

If anyone in the Green Stage crowd was worried about the deluge coming down leading up to Bloc Party’s early evening set, it didn’t show. And as the band took up their instruments, their always magnetic frontman, Kele Okereke, made certain of it. “We’re not going to let a little rain screw up our fun, are we?” he called out to the colourful hordes of poncho-wearing and umbrella-toting stalwarts.

As the banners on either side of the stage billowed threateningly, the Brits started the evening off with “Octopus,” the first release from their upcoming Four, and as they moved into more familiar tunes, it became clear that Okereke’s initial statement had understated things a bit. Instead of fleeing from the rain, the crowd continued to grow, stretching beyond the stage’s grassy amphitheatre, the sea of hands waving in unison and passing along a series of soggy crowd surfers.

Throughout the performance, it became clear that Bloc Party’s two-year hiatus has done nothing to dull the band’s sound, or their fans’ fervour, as each of their dance-rock standards added fuel to an already electrifying set. Bursting into their closing track, the buzzing intro to “Helicopter” sent the audience into a delighted frenzy, with Okereke having the soaked masses belt out the song’s entire first verse. Sing-alongs don’t get much more impressive than that.

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