Osheaga 2013: My Top 10 Performances

Now, to what really matters, the music. I’ll begin below with a short list of the bands I saw each day, along with who I did not see that I’d hoped to, because I haven’t quite transcended the whole one-body, two-ears, two-eyes thing.

To clarify, my definition of “seeing” a band/act is being present, aware, and lucid for at least 2 songs, preferably 3, so as to discern the vibe of the crowd, tunes, and band/act with some manner of confidence and clarity. So, for example, I wouldn’t say I “saw” Beck, as I only heard one of his tunes as I was making my way for the exit. After that, I’m including my top 10 favourite performances of the festival. Here goes:

On Friday, I saw: Capital Cities, Millimetrik, Guards, Hyphen Hyphen, DIIV, Ben Howard, Alt-J, Kidnap Kid, Two Door Cinema Club, Ellie Goulding, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and The Cure.

I unfortunately missed out on: Majical Cloudz, Beach House, Diamond Rings, Rich Aucoin, Jake Bugg, and Baauer.

On Saturday, I saw: Raine Maida, Grouplove, The Heavy, Jimmy Eat World, Cajmere, Soul Clap, Azari & III, Frank Turner, K-os, Imagine Dragons, Style of Eye, Jacques Lu Cont, and Porter Robinson.

I unfortunately missed out on: Tegan & Sara, Stars, Beck, Wild Nothing, Explosions In The Sky, C2C, and We Are Wolves.

On Sunday, I saw: MNDR, Atlas Genius, Frightened Rabbit, Jessie Ware, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Silversun Pickups, Big Boi, Grammatik, The Lumineers, Kendrick Lamar, Disclosure, New Order, The Neighbourhood, Hot Chip, and Mumford & Sons.

I unfortunately missed out on: Icona Pop, Father John Misty, Dusted, Hollerado, DVBBS, Tommy Trash, and Pretty Lights.

Honorable mention: Mumford & Sons (Marcus Mumford killed it on the drums during their final pre-encore song, and I got to see my favourite track from their latest LP, “Babel,” so I was pleased with what I saw from them), Jimmy Eat World (always reliable), Hot Chip (always danceable), and The Neighbourhood (their hits sounded great).

10. Cajmere/Kidnap Kid/Grammatik

Cajmere dispensing Chicago House tunes

Cajmere dispensing Chicago House tunes

The piknic électronik stage was consistently banging the entire weekend, but for me, there were 3 acts that stood above the rest. Cajmere delivered delicious house tunes, and his head bopping to the beat lifted spirits even higher. Kidnap Kid was similarly engaging, and the music was irresistible. Grammatik was different than the other two. Firstly, his beats were more varied. Secondly, what put his set over the top was the live electric guitarist who accompanied him and riffed in perfect symmetry with his songs. Even though his set finished about 10 minutes early because of technical problems, the damage had already been done. He slayed.

9. Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar on fire.

Kendrick Lamar on fire

I’m not a massive fan, but decided I’d check his set out as I’d heard good things about his live act. He did not disappoint. He was in complete control the entire time and had the crowd bowing to his every whim. His flow was precise and varied; his ability to shift the dynamic (pitch, volume) of his delivery was extremely impressive. Probably my favourite part of his talent is how he would seem to be telling a story (without a beat — this is a dicey proposition that can lose the audience’s attention very quickly if done for too long), but all he was doing was setting the crowd up with a lyrical tie-in to the song that followed. Also, he would often be silent for a few seconds at a time to take in the moment, to look at the crowd or whatever, and while that might not work for other artists, it seemed to energize the crowd even more. If he had more “hits” (I’m not too worried, I think they’re coming), it’d pretty much be a perfect live show. As it stands now, he’s already a vicious and extremely talented emcee. Impressive stuff.

8. Silversun Pickups

Brain Aubert postulating

Brain Aubert postulating

I’d seen Silversun Pickups live many times. Yet despite Icona Pop (I hadn’t seen them before) calling me from across the Parc, I stuck with my gut and hopped in the Pickup truck one more time. Boy am I glad I did. They played a rocking good set (as they always do). “Skin Graph” sounded brooding and menacing, while “Royal We” and “Panic Switch” proved to be additional highlights.

But, something happened in the second half of their set. Nature decided to pay us a swift, wet visit, and holy shit, am I glad it did, as what followed was utterly magical. During the latter half of SP’s set, the rain started coming down, and then it came down even harder after that. Did the crowd sulk? Nope. Did they bitch? Nope. They cheered. And how. The louder the pitter patter, the louder the cheering clatter, at which point, nothing else mattered. Sensing an opportunity to commune with the crowd, lead singer Brian Aubert decided to shred the fuck out of his guitar, and in a show of solidarity, move forward to the front of the stage so he could get wet too. As the rain poured, SP’s marquee hit (and one of the best songs of the last 10 years I might add), “Lazy Eye” exploded with ferocity, and it seemed like Aubert played the riff at the end of the song for an hour. Indeed, it was one of those moments where time stood still. As the song faded to a close, the rain seemed to dissipate, as if mother nature heard everyone’s prayers and was satisfied. As the set came to a close, people started to look behind them. A rainbow had formed.  It was an experience I’ll never forget. That’s why I go to festivals. That’s why I love music. That was transcendence.

7. Charles Bradley & The Extraordinaires

Charles Bradley getting the funk down

Charles Bradley getting the funk down

No biggie. Just a 65-year-old former homeless James Brown impersonator waxing sexuality and soul up and down the entire main stage. I don’t think it was physically possible to look away during his set. Charles Bradley is a bad, bad man, and he’s got soul to spare. Boy I’m glad I decided to check him out.

6. Big Boi

Big Boi on his throne

Big Boi on his throne

Big Boi, as a performer, was solid. His flow is still quick and hits hard in many spots, but the reason he was one of my favourites is because of the songs. To hear “ATLiens” and “Rosa Parks” and “Skew It On The Bar-B” live — songs I grew up with and obsessed over — was an unforgettable experience. Those songs were classics the moment they were released, they still are now, and they’ll always be. I can only imagine how it would be if ‘Dre 3000 were still in the mix. One day, we can only hope.

5. Grouplove

Grouplove rocking out

Grouplove rocking out

I had a feeling they were an act not to be missed, and they proved me right. They performed like they were fuelled by 50 cases of Red Bull, and they sounded great. Four members of the group sang, and they all held their own. Highlights were “Tongue Tied,” “Colours,” and the absurdly catchy new single, “Ways To Go.” They seemed to be having the time of their lives, and they’re smart enough to know that sort of thing is contagious. I think Grouplove are just getting started showing the world how good they can be.

4. The Cure

Robert Smith, Boss

Robert Smith, Boss

Last year, I attended Rock Werchter, a music festival in Belgium, and The Cure were one of the headliners. I was so stoked to see them. For reasons out of my control, I didn’t end up seeing them, and it ate away at me for a while that I may have missed my chance at seeing the Crawley legends. I knew they still toured with some regularity, but one can never assume that there will “be a next time” when a band has put in so many years; they could decide to hang them up at any time. So when I saw they were headlining this year’s Osheaga, it pretty much clinched my attendance. I was a little surprised that the crowd seemed a little sparse on the outskirts, but I get that The Cure are kind of an acquired taste, even though I think you have to be a fucking drone to not feel something when the opening riff of “Friday I’m In Love” plays. Alas, there are bound to be a fair number of drones gliding aimlessly around a festival of Osheaga’s size. Not my concern. I got to hear the aforementioned “Friday,” “Pictures of You,” “Lovesong” “In Between Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “A Forest,” and “Close To Me.” Indeed, that Friday, I was in love, and though the experience was fleeting, the memory won’t soon leave me.

3. Vampire Weekend

Ezra regaling

Ezra regaling

I think they could very well be the best band on the planet. I can’t verify this, but they’re on the short list. I’ve seen them before, but not since their latest, and for my money, best album, Modern Vampires Of The City, came out. It’s a magnificent piece of artwork, and despite it being relatively new, I already feel a deep connection to several songs on the LP. At this moment, I’m touched greatly when I hear one particular part of “Ya Hey,” the part where incomparable frontman Ezra Koenig laments, “Through the fire and through the flames, you won’t even say your name, only, I am that I am.” And just as I’d hoped, the song was a juggernaut live too. Rostam (Batmanglij) and Ezra are a formidable duo of composers, and the band as a whole are incredible musicians. They breezed through a hit-filled set, including opener “Diane Young,” “White Sky,” “Step,” “Oxford Comma,” Giving Up The Gun,” “Cousins,” and “Walcott.” Only 3 albums in, Vampire Weekend are already a behemoth of a band and live act.

2. New Order

Bernard Sumner, joyous division

Bernard Sumner, joyous division

The 80’s produced some amazing music. The best of Michael Jackson and Madonna. Depeche Mode. The Smiths. The Cure. Tiffany. Prince. U2. Wang Chung. Whitney Houston. And countless earwormy one-hit wonders. I have many favourite songs of the 1980’s. But there’s only a select few that I have considered and would consider to be at the top of the heap. New Order’s “True Faith” is one of those songs. I won’t get into all the things I love about that song, because this post would go on longer than Lindsay Lohan’s rapsheet. Knowing New Order would play it, and then having it be all that I hoped it’d be (they performed a super-dancey version of it and I loved every second of it) was a very special moment for me. To also hear “Crystal,” “Regret,” “Ceremony,” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” put the experience way over the top for me. New Order were a definitive anchor of my Osheaga experience.

1. Alt-J

Alt-J, The Magicians

Alt-J, The Magicians

Their set was my favourite performance of the entire weekend, and quite frankly, it wasn’t even close. Alt-J was one band I greatly anticipated seeing. I’d not seen them before, and I love An Awesome Wave, so one could say I was really stoked to see them. I had no idea what was in store for me. Firstly, Alt-J consist of 4 brilliant musicians. After their set, I heard a guy in front of me say that he was extremely impressed because Alt-J just issued a note perfect performance. If that’s what he said, I would wholeheartedly agree with him. I say “if” because I was still in shock, and I can’t be sure I heard him correctly; I don’t think I came back to this world very quickly after they finished their set.

Alt-J are, in a word, unique. They don’t sound like anyone else making music right now and each of their songs sound so distinct and different from one another. They tap into so many disparate styles, it’d be hard to name them all. Alt-J are also a bit mysterious and quirky. On record, lead singer Joe Newman’s lyrics are sometimes imperceptible, and live, the issue is exacerbated. Except it’s not really an issue. In fact, the sometimes unintelligible lyrics fit perfectly with the vibe that Alt-J have hitherto constructed. Alt-J are a vibe, or to fit even better with their work, a wave. An awesome wave at that. When I saw Alt-J perform, I was taken aback by the control, the precision, the subtlety of their presence. None of the four Leeds lads run around thumping their legs or pounding their chest. There is a reserved, quiet dignity about the band, and it makes them all the more special because sonic masterpieces like “Something Good” (Oh my god does this song soar live), “Fitzpleasure” (Oh my god does that deep synth come-in beat the hell out of the listener), “Matilda” (Oh my god is this one of the most haunting, beautiful songs I’ve ever heard live), and set-closer “Taro” (Oh my god, that eastern guitar rhythm) speak louder than any bravado or braggadocio could. (I’ve included a non-Osheaga link of one of their live performances below, and though it can’t mimic a live experience, it does give a good sense of their incomparable power.)

Lead singer Joe Newman is a magnet. His calming sways are hypnotic, and his delivery is beyond compare. Technically, his call-and-response vocals and harmonies with keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton are a joy to listen to. This is a band, one album in (one fucking album in!) that could already be one of the best in the world. That shit should not be possible. But it is. Thank god they’re real (and they’re spectacular).

Perhaps Alt-J’s style, delivery, and sound aren’t for everyone. No music does or should please everyone. What I do know, is that on the first day (in the afternoon no less) of Osheaga, the world-class festival with so many highlights, I was floored by a band I’d never seen before. The festival’s been over for several days now, and I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from their performance. That is why music is art. That is how art connects. When a circle of creativity invites you in, you shut up, give thanks, and enter. It’s how I always want to live.

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