We skipped across Montreal’s music community for two weeks before we finally got to watch it all converge in one place. Returning to Parc Jean-Drapeau, Mikala and I emerged from the Metro to see the island transformed into a single happening across five stages: Osheaga. Locals and visitors poured by the thousands into the gates under the sun; in fact, this year’s fest boasted a record 135,000 attendees, up from last year’s 120,000. Across the three-day lineup, heavy hitters like Vampire Weekend, The Cure, and Phoenix played between quieter gems like Humans, Bob Mould, and Palma Violets. The festival was a joyful sprawl at the end of our wild journey through the city. It wasn’t easy to narrow it down, but here are our favorite moments from Osheaga.
Photography by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com
Majical Cloudz play for their friends
What belongs on a festival stage? Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto of Majical Cloudz have pushed at the edges of performance norms in every space I’ve seen them, from a tiny Chicago record store to Lincoln Hall to Osheaga’s Green Stage. This time, the Montreal duo began their set by stretching a friendly silence right to the edge of discomfort, then breaking it with “This Is Magic”. Three of their friends flanked the pair from each end of the stage. Just before “Notebook”, Welsh subdued his comic demeanor as he pulled his friend Nick from the sideline.
“This is serious,” he assured us. Nick kept hesitating; we watched as Welsh gently convinced him to stand up toward the front. The song’s about him, Welsh explained before he sang it directly to his friend. A few lines in, Nick started crying. I gripped the stage barrier; I couldn’t stop shaking. Once he had finished the song, Welsh hugged his friend for a long, long time. Sometimes instead of flashes of enthusiasm, festivals can work as windows into healing, kindness, human compassion. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need.
Vampire Weekend posh it up
Some bands don’t click until you see them in the flesh. I had passively appreciated Vampire Weekend’s spritzy afro-pop for years, but it wasn’t until we finally stood in the same headspace that I connected with what drew thousands to the River Stage on Saturday. It’s not just the impeccable melodies and off-kilter drumbeats off the new record Modern Vampires of the City that keep these guys rocketing forward. Ezra Koenig’s skew-eyed stance drew me right back to my Monty Python childhood. He’s the Graham Chapman of indie rock: smug, affable, a straight man to the madness around him, bent on attacking power with humor. Vampire Weekend aren’t the straight Ivy-league pop that they’re often dismissed as. They’re more interested in toying with the places they came from.
Jessie Ware sings in the rain
The sky dropped down just as the London chanteuse popped onstage, but obviously rain wasn’t enough to deter a crowd from a Jessie Ware set. Still armed with our ponchos from Friday, we hooded up and watched Ware launch right into “Devotion”. No matter her venue, Ware always shows an outpouring of gratitude for whoever’s watching her. She might dress the part of sophisticate, but I’ve rarely seen anyone giddier to be singing to a crowd, grey skies and all.
The Breeders’ Last Splash mosh pit
I was excited that Kim Deal and kin were laying down the entirety of Last Splash at recent sets, and The Breeders matched the hype by performing the classic LP start-to-finish with aplomb. After one fan broke the ice with a kind of inverted catcall (“You don’t need Black Francis, Kimmy!”), the band cracked right down on “New Year”. By “Cannonball”, the middle of the crowd had caved into a full-fledged, good-natured pit. I bounced into a girl who had driven up from Dayton to see the band play, while a gaggle of former ’90s alt rock kids a full head taller than us kept the center churning.
Jimmy Eat World watch Bob Mould’s set
One of the better sights at festivals is musicians paying respect to those from previous generations who paved their way. Veteran punk Bob Mould laid the groundwork for more than a few younger bands in attendance at Osheaga, and we caught one of them scoping his set at the leafy Tree Stage. A fair distance back from the boisterous crowd that stuck near the barrier, Jimmy Eat World politely watched (in press photo formation) as Mould ripped through a mix of Silver Age cuts. It’d be hard to find one act more directly descended from another at the fest; you can almost hear the narrator of “The Descent” as an aging version of the speaker in “The Middle”. They may have been playing earlier at the main stage, but Jimmy Eat World still know whose wisdom is worth pausing for.
Chill space and outdoor art
In a tree-lined pocket between the bigger stages and the smaller ones, hammocks and free wi-fi let us weary festival-goers lie down and tweet out a brainwave before rushing to the next set. The spot was clearly marked: “Espace Chill Wi-fi”. Osheaga made sure the legwork was nice to look at, too. After dark, red lights lit up the path while wide silver ribbons wove between trees. Huge outdoor sculptures glowed. During the day, we marked up chalkboard figures with lyrics and doodles. Volunteers handed out post-it notes and highlighters for us to paper a huge wooden block with our passing thoughts. An art/hammock/internet oasis should be a requirement for any high-stress, high-volume space.
Tricky invites the front row onstage for “Ace of Spades”
Of his whole band, Tricky might have been the least focused for his set at the Green Stage, but that didn’t stop him from reaching out to those who rushed the front. During an extended cover of “Ace of Spaces”, the UK producer ushered some 20-odd audience members onstage to dance. The song was almost incidental at this point, although the band wound through it competently. I was too busy absorbing the joy of everyone who was suddenly looking at us from the opposite side of that barrier, waving streamers, clapping along.
Beck covers “Tainted Love” and “I Feel Love”
Under a wide-brimmed hat, Beck might have been dressed for a gothic drama, but he steered away from his gloomier cuts. Instead of Sea Change melancholia, “Devil’s Haircut” kicked off the Saturday evening set. Soon enough, though, Beck leaned back past his own pop history as his idiosyncratically spiky synths chimed the unmistakable leads of “Tainted Love”. Later, his own “Think I’m In Love” mutated into a choppy take on the Donna Summer classic “I Feel Love”. We got love across all colors from this pop chimera.
The Cure plays for the moths
I’m not going to be tough about it. As soon as The Cure crashed into the first chord of “Plainsong” I got leaky around the eyes. That Disintegration tape I’d been carrying around like a totem did its magic; pretty soon we were treated not just to “Pictures of You” but also “Lullaby” and “Lovesong” over at the River Stage. We got our “Friday I’m in Love” fix, tooit was Friday, how could they help it? Robert Smith might be doing his best glam-rock grandma look at this point (all glitter sweaters and lipstick), but his voice still sounds like it was embalmed in ’89. Artificial fog rolled up into the looming clouds and hundreds of moths swarmed the purple spots onstage. “I’m getting my protein tonight,” Smith quipped, but the bug effect was more living confetti than nuisance from where the audience swayed. It felt like goth-pop homecoming, like perfect candied gloom.
Hot Chip closes us out
After two-and-a-half weeks of hopping from show to show to Osheaga, we couldn’t imagine a better send-off than a set from Hot Chip. The festival-goers around us might not have been in quite the same mental pit of exhaustion as Mikala and I, but most looked like they had been hopping around for all three days of the fest. We were tired. We didn’t care. While Mumford & Sons played out the main stage, we found ourselves over at Green for the kind of dorked-out electro-pop that affirms most kinds of life. Hot Chip put motion back into our spent joints. I can’t think of a better finish to this chaotic half-month music romp.