Friday, August 10, 2012

Osheaga Music Festival: the music - Saturday and Sunday

Looking back at the music on Day 2 and 3 of Osheaga Music Festival on the island of Parc Jean Drapeau in Montreal 
see my post about Day 1 of Osheaga
see my post about the non-musical, survival-related aspects of Osheaga

Memoryhouse made great morning music, the kind of music you can listen to while sipping your coffee staring blankly ahead, trying to motivate yourself to face the rest of your day.  Memoryhouse was dreamy and perfect to listen to while I lay under a tree, trying to understand what made me drink a carton of chocolate milk before climbing Mont Royal the morning. Maybe I wasn't thinking right because I'd been abruptly awoken in the dead hours of the morning by shouts and cheers from the Congolese bar below the room where I was sleeping. Either way, my stomach was feeling curious and I was happy to lie down and listen to the mellow music of this Toronto indie band.

I like this move towards a band arrangement that involves just ambient synths, an electric guitar processed with heavy reverb, and a drum machine (or a drummer playing along to a drum machine), in the style of Beach House, Coco et Co, or the Secret Love Parade. It's a simpler band arrangement, and yet the sound still remains quite full. It's also an arrangement that my own band has been experimenting with lately, so maybe that's my bias.

Karim Ouellet
Karim's bio described his music style as including reggae, so I was going to skip this act. I have a mild allergy to reggae music. However, I caught some of the Senegalese musician's show on my way back from the other stage and found myself drawn to his sound, which was full of some mad conga playing and didn't sound all that much like reggae. It was a million times more pleasant than the shouting from the Congolese bar downstairs that I had woken up to at the crack of dawn.

I like Calexico.  I fell in love with their Feast of Wire album, and I also particularly like the EP that Calexico put out with Iron and Wine, In the Reins - as you might imagine, that's a fantastic musical combo.  Their performance that day seemed somewhat underwhelming however.  Calexico has a wide range of musical styles that they skilfully blend together in their records, a odd mix of country, Mexican mariachi, rock, experimental indie - but it seemed like their performance only consisted of the Mexican side of it. I enjoyed the trumpets ornamenting the melodies, but I felt like there was so much more that I wanted to hear from Calexico, whom I'd never seen live before.

Or maybe it was just the heatstroke that I was feeling at the point. I found myself lying in the dirt again, humming along to the horns, watching the wind create little tornadoes with the garbage on the ground.

The Black Lips
The Black Lips may have been one of the most underrated bands of the festival. They clearly could have used a larger stage than the Tree Stage and a longer set than the half hour allotted, given the reception that they got from the audience.  The crowd was too big for the stage area to hold - people spilled out past the lawn, on to the bridge, and behind the vendors' tents just to be able to listen to the band rocking out. People were crowd-surfing in the middle of the day.  There is something amazing about watching a band start up a moshpit at four in the afternoon. My sister and I squatted in the dirt, enjoying the sounds, because with that crowd, there was no chance we were going to be able to see the band on stage.

The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes were one of the bands that I was looking forward to the most at Osheaga, but like Calexico, I was personally less enthusiastic about their choice of set list.  It being a sunny summer festival, I was looking forward to hearing a number of tracks off their last album Raven in the Grave that fight each other for a spot on my "Best Song of the Summer" list, including "Recharge and Revolt", "Forget That You're Young", "Ignite", or, off their older album In and Out of Control, "Bang!" or why not even "Boys Who Rape", which, despite its dark content calling for the destruction of perpetrators of sexual assault, still has a catchy pop feel to it.  And that's what I like about Raveonettes.  They have dark lyrics in songs like "Suicide" and "DRUGS", but they execute it with a bright melodic touch with wonderful musical throwbacks to bands from the 60s and 70s.

Unfortunately, instead of playing these particular tunes that I liked, they performed the tracks that were more grungey noise rock than catchy.  It's not that I didn't like those tunes, but a more balanced mix would have been nice, since they do other styles so well.  But again, it was really hot - the Green Stage somehow felt like a stuffy furnace, despite being out in an open field.  The bright summer sun made the dark gothy stuff seem all the more out of place.

The Raveonettes' set time seemed to work well as a prelude to the main event that would be headlining later that night at the same stage - the Jesus and Mary Chain, whom the Raveonettes openly admit to having as a major influence.  But more on that later.

Dumas is one of my favourite Francophone discoveries, and I wish I could have caught more of his act. His album Fixer le temps is phenomenal, full of melodies that will stay in your head for ages.  Sort of a Quebecois version of Bon Ivers, but not always quiet, he put on a great show that had the crowd responding with more enthusiasm than I expected, given the anglophone majority of festival goers.

Brand New
I never really listened to much of Brand New when I was younger, so I felt like this whole show was someone else's nostalgia.  Someone else older, or younger? I'm not sure. The Emo Game is now ten years old, so certainly emo bands like Brand New should fall right within my timeline. But a lot of people were happy to be able to catch this band after all these years.  I was personally impressed that the frontman can still sing/screech like that.  The last time I saw Pavement, Stephen Malkmus had hired out his screaming parts to another singer in an attempt to preserve his voice.

Garbage! I was excited to see Garbage! I was also interested in seeing the kinds of people that would line up hours beforehand to see Garbage. Besides me, I mean. The answer was interesting. A lot of girls with silly tattoos and home hair dye jobs that they maybe should have sprung the extra cash get done at the salon.  Who were all these men? Who was that big Asian guy with glasses that looks like my friend Jonathan Park, but with a Canadian cannabis flag draped over his back and girls' signatures all over it?

The band came on stage all looking a little bit older and weathered, but enthusiastic as ever.  Shirley Manson was as awesome as I’d remembered her. She greeted the crowd in French, apologizing for her French.  I love that musicians at Osheaga try their best to conduct their stage banter in French, even though the majority of the crowd are actually anglophones commuting from Ottawa.  Shirley Manson probably speaks better French than a lot of Canadians.

Although Shirley Manson played a different style of music than mine, I have always been grateful that she was one of the few women in rock that was there in my adolescence. As a teen, I listened to Garbage and loved it even though none of my hip friends disdaining radio did. I was so glad that she was there to balance out the one-sided bullshit images of femininity in the media, on the covers of magazines and in Britney Spears music videos.   Shirley Manson was confirmation in my eyes that a girl can wear a lot of dark eyeliner and attitude instead of platform heels, and still rock out looking amazing.

I love Garbage.  I love their unabashed attitude, unpretentious sincerity, their industrial rock sound, and Shirley's positive enthusiasm on stage that acts as an interesting contrast to her sulky teen girl lyrics. If music history represents a pendulum between bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, who stand with their backs to the audience and mumble inaudibly between songs, and bands like Justice, who put on a big light show to distract and entertain the crowd, I like where Garbage stands the most.  They don't do the shoegazer's disengagement from the audience: they openly appreciate their fans. They don't do the hipster irony thing either, which serves as a different kind of mask to hide from the fans. They just put on a good show.

Both Shirley and I were amazed and then immediately suspicious of the drone copter hovering at the back of the festival, watching us all with its little camera.

Guys...why didn't you tell me about this awesome Brooklyn band before? Why have I been living so long without "Middle Eastern psych snap gospel" music?  Also, why were there so many groups of men with coordinated outfits at this concert? Is this a thing now?

Jesus and Mary Chain
By this point, due to the long lines to the portapotty, I had not peed in 8 hours. This was potentially problematic because of my anticipation for the Jesus and Mary Chain show, but luckily I'm pretty sure I'd sweated out all of the liquids in my body, what with all the hot sun and dancing.

I find it interesting to watch shoegaze bands that have gotten older. When you're young, your sulky facial expression and lack of stage banter and lack of body movement during songs is seen as cool - nihilist, angsty, and cool. When you're fifty years old, that sort of stage presence comes across more in the style of grumpy old men. With Jim Reid's Scottish accent, all I can understand in his mumbling is the occasional "fuck". The best portion of the night, though was:

Drunk Happy Guy: "You guys are sick! You guys are killing it right now!"
Jim Reid: "I'm what?"
Drunk Happy Guy: "You guys are sick! You're killing it-"
Jim Reid: "What?"
Me: "Stop telling him he's sick and that he's killing it. That means something else in the normal English language. Can't you just tell him he's good?"

It somewhat reminds me of the inability of my friends in their mid-thirties to distinguish the important difference between something being "shit" (bad) and something being "the shit" (awesome).

Still, the crowd was riveted by the band's performance, which is always nice to see given that the young girls at the front were not even born when the band's best albums came out. Actress Jessica Paré joined the band to sing the female vocal parts for "Just like Honey" (which is also on my Songs of the Summer list).  This meant nothing to me, because I don't watch Mad Men, but everyone else was really excited about this. It was also really neat to see the Jesus and Mary Chain perform "Happy When It Rains" when Garbage had earlier that night performed "Only Happy When It Rains". How often does that happen in one night?

There was no encore. Jim announced it was going to be his last song. Obviously everybody, including Drunk Happy Guy, begged for ten more songs.  Jim looked longingly in the direction of his tour bus and I knew that there would be no encore.

Austra was an interesting morning dance party.  They were actually playing at four in the afternoon, but it still felt like the morning for most of us.  There were girls dancing with hula hoops and playing with poi, arms in the crowd raised and bouncing in unison, all pretty impressive for the Furnace Green Stage in the middle of the day.

Austra is a symbol of the direction that music is moving toward. There's less of an emphasis on live performances, and more backtracks - it's just easier to get a machine to play your parts than a live human (which is why we need to watch out for the rise of Red Robot). There's less guitar solos and distinguishable instruments and more synths, especially expensive synths.  There's less of a focus on poetic lyrical story-telling in the style of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, and more repeated catchy lines that form part of the beat.  There's less literal shoegazing and more showmanship, flashing lights, smoke, and bizarre costumes. You see it in shows like Rich Aucoin, who plays videos and throws parachutes and silly string into the audience, or Justice, who played the first night of the festival.  

There are pros and cons in my view - I like the blended instrument sound which emphasizes the collective rather than the individualist style of blaring guitar solos. As a pianist, I am loving the revival of the synthesizer, which was pretty much absent during the grungey 90s, and I really just like the electro-pop sound. But I could also do without the flash and smoke, because really, I came here to enjoy the music, not to be baby-sat like a child with ADD that has to be entertained constantly (I love Sigur Ros after all, which is slow as heck). And while I understand the practicality issues of backtracks, I want to see how the sounds are made, which you can't with a laptop. But you know, I might just be an old fuddy-duddy. Either way, I really enjoyed the Austra set, not because the girls were dressed like bizarre fairies, but because I really love their sound.


The M83 show felt like a thousand wet open-mouthed bisous (kisses) from a lovely Frenchman. My French Canadian friends know that I hate being greeted with a kiss (Asians, you know, are used to bowing from a respectful, non-germy distance), but this display of love and affection at the show I actually appreciated.  Every couple of songs, the guys would step to the microphone and gush in their beautiful France-French-not-Quebecois-French about how much they loved us and how much they loved being here with us in Montreal. It was like spending the night being spooned by M83, except instead of strong loving manly arms I received kicks in the head from crowd surgers, who really did look like they were floating on the surface of the sea that was the crowd, a look on their face so serene they seemed like monks at a temple in prayer. We own the sky!