Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photos by Cindy Lopez (see the full gallery here)
Reflecting on Osheaga 2018 as our crew recover from a weekend of raging in the heat and dirt of Parc Jean-Drapeau, it’s a little sad to say goodbye to the temporary site that has housed the festival for the last two editions — it’s been a bit of a trek to the entrance, yes, and we aren’t big fans of main-stage astro-turf, but something about the layout of the stages worked wonders. Bye-bye Île Notre-Dame; next year we’ll be taking in the reconstructed Île Ste-Hélène and all the improvements that come with a $72-million facelift.
But let’s not get ahead of it just yet. Here are some of the most notable bands at Osheaga 2018, for better or worse.
Annie Clark is from the future, and none of us are worthy to be there with her. Rocking an outlandish orange outfit, St. Vincent introduced the city to songs off of her marvelous MASSEDUCATION album, her first record in the Billboard Top 10. Clark is still slowly creeping her way into the mainstream, and has undeniably come a long way in this regard since her 2012 POP Montreal performance alongside David Byrne in a dainty church. The last time I saw St. Vincent at Osheaga, I was admittedly also busy photobombing the cast of Suicide Squad. This time around, I paid close attention to who was, with no doubt in my mind, the most important rock performer of Friday’s line-up. (Mr. Wavvy)
More on St. Vincent
Generally speaking, this type of psych-pop is none of my business. That is not to say I don’t like it, but I have long since handed over my sensory appreciation of chord-play and effect-experimentation to producers and DJs fuckin’ around in darkened rooms. But that all changes when the freaks come out in daylight, and St. Vincent and her sound, style and attitude stick all the way out from the festival-fabricated aesthetic of many of her contemporaries. You don’t have to “get” this shit, you either take it all in and appreciate the beauty of the whole thing and vibe with it, or you relax and chill and appreciate that while maybe a little mono-rhythmic, St. Vincent play every note like they mean it. Curiosity brought me in and the smiles on their gathered devotees kept me there. (Darcy MacDonald)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It’s been nine years since Yeah Yeah Yeahs played Osheaga, and five years since their last album, rendering the NYC trio’s performance a bit of a nostalgia set. If they’re supporting any product with their recent round of gigs, it’s the vinyl reissue of their first album Fever to Tell. Though I’ve seen more spark in singer Karen O in the past, they still put on a great show, playing all the big singles and beloved deep cuts from their first couple of records, like “Y Control,” the immortal “Maps,” “Zero” and “Date With the Night,” which had me pogoing and yelling like a fool in a food-stand line-up of all places. One would hope that a band with such songwriting talent and live ferocity would continue to produce new music, but even if they don’t, their legacy as one of the great danceable art-rock/post-punk bands of the aughts is pretty much sealed. (Lorraine Carpenter)
The 21-year-old Miami rapper took his place at Osheaga’s Friday afternoon line-up on what seemed like a single-minded mission to make sure of one thing: that we like trap. “Y’all like that trap shit?” Let’s see. Okay, that tall, chubby, shirtless ginger in a green bandana half-asleep on his feet seems to still be liking trap, yes. That circle of 16-year-old girls over there may still like trap, Purpp, but right now they are trying to mix vodka from water bottles into juice bottles and until that’s done, we won’t be sure. All those people over there blowing trees and pretending to mumble the hook along with you aren’t even sure what you mean when you say “trap,” but they seem happy. And me? Well, let’s just say I’m an old man yelling at Soundcloud. Ask us all again every two minutes. (DM)
Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals
The Californian musical polymath and his band are experts in moment-creation, and with the co-operation of the elements delivering a pretty sunset, and the main stage area at capacity with satisfied fest-goers prepared for the last leg of the day, their repertoire of soul-fused funk, rock and hip hop struck the balance necessary for a party. Maybe they don’t have the hits, yet, to keep the energy of thousands all the way up after a long, hot and talent-splashed day, but their diverse dynamic filled a lot of those gaps. A sexy piano solo that melts into “N****s in Paris” is not gonna happen during Arctic Monkeys, loves, so soak it all in. Old fans had every reason to be pleased (especially with our chance to hear new single “Bubblin’” for the first time, live) and new fans were certainly conceived. There is, so far, only everything to love about the upcoming talent on his rise to greater things. (DM)
De La Soul
After their last-minute cancellation at the festival’s 2017 edition and a flight delay that pushed their scheduled Saturday set from early afternoon to 10:20 p.m., the NYC hip hop trio, who’ve been bending the rules of the game for nearly 30 years, finally set down their skills at Osheaga. For the faithful fans gathered, it was a perfect — if a little short — end to an extra-funky Saturday. Even if we only got a handful of staple jams from their ridiculously extensive catalogue, De La’s presence and charisma is and always has been the crux of their live performance, and you can tell after all this time these are still three homies out having fun doing what they do best. And I could be wrong but I think this was the first time Dilla got a shoutout at Osheaga. Thanks for the memories, guys. (DM)
On a day that will include both current pack-leader Anderson .Paak and rap originals De La Soul, it’s funny to consider that Debbie Harry, whose verse on “Rapture” represents the first rhyme the rest of the world outside New York ever heard, is the most iconic hip hopper on today’s line-up. And as the only bald, white 40-year-old male in a sea of fans born mostly at least 15 years after Blondie’s last chart hit, I can safely tell you that no one else gives a shit about that factoid, and rightly so, because this set ripped from beginning to end on enduring legacy power and the astonishing energy of a 73-year-old megababe in sensible shoes. The band have to take their share of credit, some of them a little more visibly war-torn than Harry. Was that a thousand-yard stare over the crowd from the bassist, or was he trying to figure out which food stand at the back he was gonna eat at later? (DM)
More on Blondie
Having seen Debbie Harry at La Ronde back in 1990 (when she was touring solo and sprinkling her set with Blondie hits), this was a bit nostalgic for me, but isn’t that what a greatest hits set is all about? Though there were a couple of new songs in the mix (one of them written by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, who would perform at the fest the next day), the set was 90 per cent oldies and goodies: “One Way or Another,” “Atomic” (which didn’t get nearly the crowd reaction I expected), “Call Me,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Rapture,” “The Tide Is High,” “Dreaming” and of course “Heart of Glass.” The latter got a little extra twist towards the end, seguing into Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” a nod to the disco context of Blondie’s biggest hit. (LC)
It felt early in the day for a set by Dua Lipa, who probably could have been a headliner (or a near-headliner at least), but there was no stopping the big-show vibe at the River stage, where loads of girls and guys assembled to see the British pop star in action. Flanked by dancers and backed by big screen projections, this was a pop set all the way, and while the crowd was consistently stoked throughout, the closing trifecta of hits sent everyone into singalong, wave-along, scream-along hysteria. Her recent Calvin Harris collab “One Kiss” (the song is little generic, but still pretty memorable) and her bonafide mega-hits “IDGAF” and “New Rules” were played with panache and drew an impassioned response from the crowd, especially those who can identify with the lyrics calling out all the bad guys out there. (LC)
More on Dua Lipa
My 12-year-old daughter freaked when she saw the “IDGAF” singer on the line-up. She’s come with me to Osheaga in the past and always loves it but this was the first time she was independently excited for a specific artist. I guess most parents’ first bouts with anxiety about letting go in such matters come on a first date or a dance or whatever. Mine was escorting her (with her arm in a cast, mind you) to a good spot near enough the front of the crowd, making sure she was comfortable, and stepping back just enough that she didn’t look like she was there with her dad, leaving her with an awkward “Have fun!” Little does she know I was losing my shit dancing and loving Dua Lipa’s grandiose pop vibe as much as she was. Or she knows and that’s exactly why she’s happy I let her be by herself a bit. The memory of seeing her cast up in the air from 40 feet away and just knowing she was signing the chrous to “IDGAF” (the girl anthem every shitty boy deserves) loudly and wholeheartedly will forever bring a tear of joy to my eye. (DM)
Dev Hynes, performing as Blood Orange, walked out on to the Valley stage on Sunday with a coolness and confidence that, along with his ’80s-inspired dance-pop melodies, has led to comparisons to Rick James and Prince. Hynes’s breezy, funky riffs on tracks like “Desireé” and “Charcoal Baby” proved this through-line correct, and had the fair-sized audience awkwardly, but admirably, triple stepping. The greatest common denominator between Hynes and his R&B progenitors, however, is the use of their androgyny to establish mood. Hynes’s vulnerable falsetto rang out over the simple claps of Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing,” adding to the melancholic but groovy vibe. And for his encore, Hynes played a yet-unreleased acoustic song, straining his voice in the process. When he received cheers in support, he broke down in tears. “Sorry,” he ended. Still the applause continued, and remained even until a sign appeared encouraging festival-goers to stay hydrated. (Brandon Kaufman)
The problem with Future Islands’ Saturday performance at the Mountain stage is the problem with their music more generally: every song sounds the same. Frontman Samuel T. Herring has seemingly made a career out of trying to distinguish the songs by bizarre dance move. “A Dream of You and Me” can be remembered as the one he danced the drop kick; “Beauty of the Road” the one he slapped himself repeatedly on the neck. (Unfortunately, I forget which one featured him shoving his fist into his mouth.) These antics feel forced, as if only done to make one audience member turn to the other and say “This guy is wacky!” Blondie, who took the opposite stage an hour earlier, could teach these guys something about how to make interesting, distinctive indie pop. (BK)
Franz Ferdinand seem to be on a quest to prove that they have more than “Take Me Out,” which still echoes endlessly throughout the world’s hockey rinks. Their Sunday evening show at the Green stage was energetic, with jangly guitars and banter by singer Alex Kapranos combining for a dance-filled hour. Highlights included “Feel the Love Go,” “Walk Away” and “This Fire,” the last of which closed the set and left everyone around me panting. Still, though, scores of people exited after “Take Me Out,” the show’s penultimate song. Such are the perils of indie bands with one mainstream hit. (BK)
“Odesza,” I heard in the lead-up to their Saturday performance, “puts on a great show, man.” As it turns out, they do. But their spectacle is just that, and nothing more. After the admittedly great build-up — the light show, the visuals — the American duo fell flat. Five inert, indistinguishable songs were played, each of which sounded like they’d soundtrack a car commercial. Devoid of energy and any sign of individuality, Odesza sounded like their entire reason for existence is to be placed in some Spotify playlist called “Summer Beach Chillout.” (BK)
The self-proclaimed “best boy band since One Direction” are a sight to see. Much like Harry Styles and company, these six spitters double as teen heartthrobs. Decked out in matching black and white outfits, the Texan boys navigated through tracks off of their 2017 Saturation album. There was no awkwardness on the group’s part since kicking out member Ameer Vann after sexual assault allegations, though fans seemed flustured at times, forgetting that his parts were now omitted from the songs. It’s time for Wu-Tang Clan to pass the torch because Brockhampton are definitely for the children! (MW)
Alright, look, I got no time for Post Malone, love him all you want. He’s a rapper that doesn’t rap, I got it. He’s an okay singer, check. I don’t care if he’s singing in front of 25,000 people, he still looks and acts like the only kid in an all-white school that liked rap music. All that said, it was fine. Brockhampton, meanwhile, are a boy band who rap. I hadn’t quite nailed it down until seeing it with my own eyes. They rap about absolutely nothing with a panache you can’t deny, but they have all the danger of a plastic fork. One of them actually asked how the white people in the audience were doing. Like, I dunno, dude — why don’t you ask the ones with you on stage? The only thing cutting edge here is the gel in their hair. Once again, all that said, they are entertaining, at least. (DM)
Rex Orange County
Rex Orange County is essentially Steely Dan for a new generation. He’s jazzy, easy listening, with the right amount of edge if you’re paying attention to the lyrics. Surprisingly, Rex OC turns into Rex MC on the live stage, with many songs infusing more hip hop flavour than they appear on record. Following collaborations with everyone from Tyler, the Creator to Randy Newman, Rex draws plenty of live influence from his musical peers. (MW)
Portugal. The Man
Rock music is at an awkward stage in 2018. It is harder than ever for artists of the genre to score radio hits, with many of them relying on festivals to help them gain a fanbase. This was the case for Portugal. The Man for the bulk of their career, until they struck gold with last year’s “Feel It Still,” the biggest rock-to-pop hit since Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
It’s interesting to see how far the band has come since their 2014 slot at Osheaga. On some levels, it doesn’t necessarily feel like they have all that many more fans. The band is self-aware enough to navigate through these waters, projecting tongue in cheek messages to reflect on the notion of them selling out. “Don’t worry, we’re playing that song right after this,” the screen behind them reads on their second to last song. It took Portugal. The Man 11 long years to get to this point in their career. For a band I’ve followed since high school, there’s nothing better than seeing them reap the benefits of their hard work. (MW)
No Flex Zone? Apparently “No Effort Zone” either. On what was Friday’s most packed Green stage set, the Mississippi duo “Powerglided” through hits from the past four fruitful years of their career. Unfortunately, sound was bad and results were even worse. Rae Sreummurd delivered another classic case of karaoke: letting their track play with vocals as they half-assed around the stage. For one of rap’s most popular duos since OutKast, we expected more. (MW)
These days, the term “rock star” is tossed around rather carelessly when giving rappers praise. But when it comes to Friday headliner Travis Scott, he is a true embodiment of the title.
The evening started out as an absolute mess. People have been late at Osheaga, but never quite like this. Troubles at the border had the festival writing live updates on the stage screen, alerting attendees about Scott’s whereabouts and, more importantly, ensuring he would show up.
Finally the rapper took to the stage at 11:01 p.m., an hour and 20 minutes past his original start time, one minute past the festival’s noise curfew. This was no ordinary Travis Scott show. Friday also marked the release of his third album Astroworld. Fans were treated to the debut performances of soon to be smashes such as “Carousel” and “Sicko Mode.”
Scott’s newfound fatherly instincts came into play when a fan passed out a few songs in and he stopped the show to make sure she got medical assistance. “We want everybody to have a good time,” Scott exclaimed.
Perhaps the only silver lining to his cut-down 40-minute set-time was that it was all killer, no filler. From “Mamacita” to “Antidote” to “Goosebumps,” there was something for fans of just about every Travis era. After many apologies, Scott said he hoped to return to the city during his full-fledged and seemingly imminent “Astroworld Tour.” (MW)
This past February, Chronixx deserved a Grammy Award that he didn’t receive. The recipient of Best Reggae Album instead went to Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, for his first solo record in over a decade. Though Marley’s Stony Hill was certainly a solid body of work, it seems plausible that voters were keen on awarding the trophy to an artist with such a coveted last name. Luckily, Osheaga paid close enough attention to the reggae scene to notice one of the genre’s most important rising talents.
Chronixx’s music is universal, something all festival attendees can enjoy. However, there were only about two people who knew the words. This was the case until the singer’s finale, his EDM-laced Major Lazer collaboration “Blaze Up the Fire.” The song’s heavy trap sound felt out of place for a traditional-leaning set, but it was nice to finally see people recognizing something. With Montreal’s Reggae Festival on hiatus in 2018, I was happy to see Osheaga make strides to keep the genre alive and well in the city. (MW)
My take on Kali Uchis’s live show bears plenty of similarity to how I felt about her recent Isolation album: amazing, but she could do better. When I say amazing, I mean it. A sultry voice and dance moves to back it up is no small feat. Though I can’t help but feel as if she is able to experiment more with the true potential of what her voice has to offer. Her approach to tunes was generally the same as how she sang them on the album — she’ll have to elevate herself if she hopes to keep such a steady audience. (MW)
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator has come a long way from eating bugs in music videos. Besides, there’s no need for such antics when you could make music great enough to throw away the goofs. Tyler has moved so far past this phase of his career, to the point where no Goblin cuts even found their way into his set list.
Tyler’s growth finds his music becoming more colourful and, dare I say, more wholesome. Of course, if you dig deep enough, you can always find the darkness. “I can’t even lie, I’ve been lonely as fuck!” an angsty crowd chants as the Flower Boy plays “911/Mr. Lonely,” a Gap Band-sampling song about solitude. Tyler has found a way to grow up while staying forever young. (MW)
Trombone Shorty is one of those artists who may not have many diehards, but always draws a receptive audience at any festival he plays. “The most known unknown,” as fellow Southerners Three 6 Mafia once coined. Sunday was no exception. For such fun music, it was impressive to see such technically intricate horn solos throughout. As a New Orleans entity, the group are reaping the benefits of the recent resurgence of bounce music (partially thanks to Drake’s recent hits “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings,” which interpolate elements of the Louisiana sound). A mash-up of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Juvenile’s “Slow Motion” is unapologetically true to their roots, no matter how wonderfully strange that may sound. (MW)
The last time GoldLink played Osheaga was in 2016. He played two sets, one in the day, and one at a Théâtre Fairmont afterparty. Both were exactly the same and, frankly, both were underwhelming. His problems two years ago were a lack of energy to match his dance-like flow, as well as an overall lack of sustainable material to perform for the time slot he was assigned.
Luckily, Sunday’s return to the Green stage was a third-time’s-the-charm for young Linky. Last year’s At What Cost was clearly crafted with touring in mind. The choruses are mainly huge singalongs. Particularly, runaway hit “Crew” rings off best, with the DC rapper closing the set with not one but two performances of the track. (MW)
For the final bow of the Mountain stage, emotions run deep. And there wouldn’t be any other way for the National to perform. Though an older group, the band is nowhere near being dubbed a “throwback,” yet was one of the shows with the largest influx of older attendees. Montreal’s own Little Scream joined the band for a haunting rendition of “I Need My Girl,” her earthy vocals adding unique new layers to the now certifiably timeless ballad. Of course, lead singer Matt Berninger brought his infamous long mic cord into the audience, taking the term “crowd work” to brave new heights. (MW)