Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Osheaga – July 31 at Parc Jean-Drapeau

Another year, another almost-worth-it lineup at Osheaga. A formerly back-to-school event held in early September, I have fond memories of watching Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play at noon like it was midnight in 2006, and of Explosions in the Sky doing their blissful best on what's now the Green Stage the year after. But for the past few summers, I haven't quite been able to justify the expense for the daytime extravaganza.

Osheaga lacks the hour-plus set times and late-night wonders of festivals like Bonnaroo – an unfair comparison, to be sure, since noise restrictions are probably a little different in rural Tennessee than close-to-downtown Montreal – but there must be a way to bring that $160 weekend price tag down a notch. True, no other Canadian festival has been able to accomplish what Osheaga has in the past five years, so after what seems like a successful year, maybe the organizers could examine other city fests, like Seattle's Bumbershoot – which this year introduced smaller stage tickets starting at $22 per day, or $40 if you want to see the main acts – and make the festival experience more accessible.

Not being one to sneak into things, I was still able to enjoy many of the shows for free, standing on the other side of the fences in plain view of the stages. What I'll call my "p'tit blog pass" only lasted until Saturday evening, however, at which point security clued in to this glitch, and either moved the fences back or asked me not to stand directly behind them. A couple metres seemed to suffice – it was like the 5-metre rule at the G20, only more arbitrary.

Owen Pallett
From my view beyond the Green Stage's fence near the water overlooking Old Port, the violin fiend formerly known as Final Fantasy sounded crisp and comforting as he played his loop-heavy, warm-voiced arrangements for the afternoon crowd. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the Curse of Festival Sound: Pallett complained about the monitors on his penultimate track, and ended the last song half-way through, saying he couldn't hear himself at all on stage.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Positioning ourselves on the other side of the big hill behind in view of the main stages, I asked my fellow free-festival-goer what the deal was with this particular ampersand band. "They're like a 70s band only not from the 70s." Turns out that's a pretty accurate characterization, especially in the festival setting, where they were to Osheaga what the shared-vocal, big-bandiness of Jefferson Airplane were to Woodstock '69.

Jimmy Cliff
It's nice to get a sense of what concerts your parents have just seen – and with The Harder They Come having just come into life this past year, I was interested to see the resurrected reggae hero. Though I didn't recognize the tunes, I believe Cliff's anti-war message was the only one of the day, making wonder why indie music doesn't often broach such topics. After all, we're too busy coming up with justifications for not paying for music.

Japandroids
Touring behind the second of their five-part single series, Brian and David from Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada once again seemed to be wrapping up a string of shows in Montreal. I suppose all their "We love it here" banter is true, because they did everything they could to make their set in the midday sun work with their late-night shenanigans – building things up with what seemed like two intros before launching into "The Boys Are Leaving Town" and "Rockers East Vancouver", the Post-Nothing fist-pumper that started the pit that lasted the whole show. Does the lack of said shoving at their Club Lambi last summer show suggest Montrealers are more rowdy outside? Probably not, but it might help that the newer songs are more post- than pop-punk, while still incorporating their simple guitar-only moments and stepping things up on the drum front.

Again, the sound on the Green Stage was surprisingly good – you could feel the low 'E' as Brian built up the gigantic "Heart Sweats". As evidenced by the impeccably cued pause before yet another outburst – filled only with the a light-hearted "David?" to signal the return of their wall of sound – the chemistry between these two is palpable. Let's just hope they don't have the same luck with girls, so we can keep hearing more of their rebound rock.

Avi Buffalo
Darn security, not letting me stand behind the fence in front of the smallest stage. The experience was much different five, rather than one, metres from where paid entrants were standing. I'm new to Avi Buffalo, so I won't offer much other than to say that they're workin' that lo-fi alt-grunge thing pertty well, with gender-bending vocals and dynamics to boot. I felt bad for them, though, when the soundguy forbid them from playing their last song – despite the fact they had just given the crowd the "we have two songs left" warning, and that they actually had a couple minutes remaining before their 6:30 finish line.

So, a message to soundpeople everywhere: bands think very carefully about what song they will end with. Don't fuck that up for them.

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