Osheaga 2011 – Saturday review with Death from Above 1979, Karkwa, Ratatat

August 7, 2011

Parc Jean-Drapeau, Osheaga music festival, 1 August 2010 - photo by Brian Banks, Music ViceParc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal – site of Osheaga

The Gig: Osheaga 2011
When: 30 July 2011
Where: Jean Drapeau Parc, Montreal, Quebec
In One Word: Enthralling

It is impossible not to notice the flux of visitors who have traveled to Montreal for the fest. The city’s main subway terminal is full of confused anglophones trying to buy tickets to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Originally built for the site of Expo 67, the island is just one subway stop away from the city’s bus terminal, and I can’t help but admire the accessibility of the location.

I only have one day to spend at the festival, and I want to make the most of it. With the exception of seeing Death From Above, my biggest priority is to just to see as many bands as possible in that limited time. Tokyo Police Club are playing on the main stage when I enter the park. They sound good- but admittedly, they’ve always put on a tight show everytime I’ve seen them perform locally. But I already know that schtick and the scene is bit young for me, so I move on.

I figure that before the headlining acts take the stage is probably a good time to check out Piknic Electronik. The Piknic is a regular party in the city, on it’s 12th year running. Egyptrixx is just starting their set- spining lush, mellow sounds which are slowly bringing the hipster Piknicers to their feet. The set is a minimal juncture of the sounds which seem to compliment the idea of the benign metropolis as viewed from the island. It is sometimes hard to dance to, but not to a fault. I find myself lingering.

I catch only a few minutes each of the sets by The Mountain Goats and Twin Shadow. My taste of Twin Shadow definitely leaves me wishing I’d caught more, so I head over to the main stage to make sure I have a good spot for Karkwa’s set. The 2 main stages are set up so that while one act is playing, one act is sound checking, so there’s always someone playing. The soundchecks are somewhat audible if you happen to be in front of that stage rather than the performers, which annoys some- but it’s a small price to pay for instant musical gratification.

Sam Roberts is playing while Karkwa sets up. It’s been about 4 years since I saw him play The Magic Stick in Detroit- around the release of Chemical City. In the smaller club around the height of his career, the Montreal native really shone. However, today on the big stage, something seems off. The boho cool which dominate the start of the new century has been absorbed into the greedy, subculture eating maw of the larger hipster culture. The singer’s trademark beard and long hair are gone. Is it just because of the hot weather, or perhaps the pressure to change with the times? The last record released on Universal lacked the listenability and humanity of the last. Some ground is made up on crowd favourites “Where Have All The Good People Gone” and closer “Brother Down”- and Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell is a nice surprise. But overall the performance came off a bit hollow.

Karkwa’s performance which followed was in comparison, one of the best performances of the night. The first big accolade has to go to the sound crew because the sound was absolutely crystal clear in the open air venue, allowing me to pick up on subleties in the music I’ve never heard before. I wasn’t sure how well the francophone rockers would fare in a live performance, given that their music has a thoughtful bedroom rock edge to it- But the French rockers took it to the next level, contrasting airy flights of the mind’s eye with alternative rock heaviness. Their Polaris Prize winning album “Les chemins de verre” made up much of the night’s material, and a personal highlight was “Marie tu pleurs”. The band addressed their English audience by saying “we sing in French, but don’t worry if you don’t understand anything. Just sing and smile.” To their French audience- “Nous venons d’ici. On est tres important!” (We come from here, we’re very important. I was particularly impressed with the wild energy and power behind the performance (the keyboard player looked like Animal from the Muppet Show at times), the versatility, and the band’s use of volume to set tone. Oh, and of course, that the second drummer’s kit was equipped with cowbells.

I intended to watch Lupe Fiasco’s performance after Karkwa, but he was really off his game. The vocals were just a mess and the whole performance was really out of sync and just completely unlistenable. So I wandered the grounds, pondering the industry’s incongruities as I passed some proficient amateur rappers at a sponsor’s booth. I drifted by an acoustic set by Hey Rosetta and the 2 man riot of PS I Love You, but neither stuck. Too mounting was my excitement for Death From Above 1979.

If there was one act that I had travelled to Montreal to see, that act is Death From Above. When I thought about making this trip months ago, it was purely because of the announcement that DFA were back from the dead and touring (and not making any stops in their hometown Toronto). I have been waiting for this for 6 years- and boy did I get my money’s worth having also got to see the band at Bluesfest 2 weeks earlier at Bluesfest in Ottawa. I was totally thrilled by both performances- which were virtually the same. Only this time Sebastien Grainer decided not to start the set by announcing how high he was, preferring instead to tell everyone how cool he was in French this time and trying to pump the crowd by singing Costello’s “My Aim Is True”. It was charming in the way that only Grainger can make being an asshole charming. Musically the performance was a delightfully intense assault to the ear drums- simultaneously rousing the crowd to dance, fight, make out! It really didn’t matter that Sebastien was missing lyrics as the anger and unprofessionalism behind the act is really what makes the act so enthralling. Unlike some other bands who can’t stand each other’s company, the duo handle themselves well on stage. I desperately would have liked to see the MSTRKRFT Sunday performance if I had time- but as it is, my neck hurts from all the “dancing”.

Ratatat was completely new experience for me, and I really enjoyed the set, although I spent the set well outside the thick of all the dancers. But the perfect end to an already really fantastic lineup of music was getting to watch Elvis Costello perform while fireworks exploded somewhere nearby- the pyrotechnics part of a serendipitous unrelated festival. I’m not well listened in Costello’s catalogue, but if there was ever a moment’s worry that the set would be inaccessible, or that the singer was washed up- it was quickly dispelled. It was a wildly entertaining set with rock and roll flavour that set the entertainer in a class of his own. It easily would have been worth the day’s $75 entrance fee on it’s own. (And he even played “My Aim Is True” to the crowd’s delight).

Overall, it was a wonderful festival experience- even if the feel was rather commercial at times. The line-up was solidly, the sound was really excellent, and the site was so excellent and easy to get to. The fact that the music ends at 11 and that you can then go out and enjoy the rather excellent city of Montreal is also an enticing draw. My only regret was not staying the whole weekend, but then, there’s always next year.

© Natascha Malta, Music Vice

n.b. sorry, no live pictures from Saturday – our photographer was not admitted.

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