The first two days of Osheaga’s 2019 edition are in the books, and already it’s been a memorable one. From the newly-expanded original site on Île Sainte-Hélène, to SQDC weed being allowed on-site, to the plethora of Toronto Raptors jerseys in the crowd, there’s a lot to say about this year’s Osheaga already — and we haven’t even discussed the music yet. Here are some takeaways from the first couple days of this year’s action.
- Interpol are still a well-oiled machine live. They might not have garnered the same recognition as they did earlier in the 21st century, which makes it surprising that only two songs from their classic debut Turn On the Bright Lights were played during their 5:30 p.m. set on Friday, but they’re a great early evening band to have regardless. The New York outfit treated festival-goers to a set that, although not much different from their studio recordings, was a testament to their legacy, and frontman Paul Banks sounded sharp on vocals even if his voice has shape-shifted with time. Carlos Dengler’s presence on bass is still missed, however.
- First being known as a popular YouTube celebrity, Joji (fka Filthy Frank) showcased his ability to transition to music quite nicely as the sun set. Playing the Honda Valley Stage in a tank top and cyclist-looking sunglasses, the American-based Japanese singer sang a moody style of lo-fi R&B that drew a big crowd and fit nicely with the time of day. He may not be a vocal wizard, but it works for that style, and the highlight was arguably first going from a stripped down piano version of his hit “Slow Dancing in the Dark” back to its original version — leading to a loud singalong from those in attendance.
- Air travel comes back to bite Osheaga once again, as J Balvin was forced to cancel his set after not being able to board his flight to Montreal from New York, leading to MSTRKRFT coming on as a last-minute replacement. This led to me running back to Joji’s stage area to watch a bit of Mitski, whose bass-driven songs and fantastic vocal control lended themselves greatly to her sad yet euphoric musical repertoire.
- If only she didn’t overlap with Flume. The Aussie producer has put quite a stamp on electronic music throughout this decade, and his set was as energetic and jovial as his records. Masterfully mixing his tracks while also bringing guest vocalists onstage to do his songs justice (including JPEGMAFIA for “How to Build a Relationship”), the producer born Harley Streten mainly performed newer songs from 2015’s Skin and his most recent mixtape, Hi This is Flume, but created a great atmosphere with pyrotechnics, futuristic backdrops, and plenty of flashing lights. A shame he wasn’t headlining instead of the Lumineers.
- One of day two’s earlier highlights was Toronto artist MorMor, whose mix of poignant vocals and lyrics with a somewhat psychedelic style of indie rock and R&B that has helped put him on the map was on full display at the Valley stage. Songs like “Heaven’s Only Wishful” sound even more complete in a live setting, while he channels bits and pieces of Prince on “Whatever Comes to Mind”. For the early birds, it was a definite strong start to the proceedings.
- Young Thug is arguably one of the most enigmatic artists in popular music today, and also one of the most captivating performers in hip-hop — and his mid-afternoon Osheaga set was no different. Playing an array of his biggest tracks alongside verses from his features like on Future’s “Killed Before” and Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone”, the Atlanta rapper has a wild flow, plenty of charisma and excellent stage presence. Might he stick around on Sunday to perform “This is America” with Childish Gambino?
- Speaking of excellent stage presence, Janelle Monáe. Oh my goodness. Literally the only gripes you could possibly have about her set is that her mic wasn’t always loud enough, and it wasn’t dark out yet. Otherwise, one of this year’s best sets. Between her sublime command of the Mountain Stage, to her outfits ranging from toy soldier to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, to sitting on a frigging throne, Monáe made one hell of a case to headline the festival someday. Playing her trademark fresh and funky brand of R&B with finesse and extreme confidence, she showed her chops as a performer alongside backup dancers and a live band, while also rapping, inviting crowd participation, and calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment right before “Tightrope”. Not bad for her first Montreal gig since 2012.
- Running back to the Valley and Green Stages brought me to Rüfüs Du Sol, the Aussie alternative dance/house trio who play a very DJ-centric genre with a full live band, and plenty of musicianship and panache to boot. Frontman Tyrone Lindqvist’s smoky vocals fit like a glove with the group’s synth and hi hat-driven sound, and a huge crowd watched them blend their tasteful, warm take on deep house with a great use of red and white lighting. Following them were Beach House, who unfortunately overlapped with the Chemical Brothers, but what I did see from them left me mesmerized and entranced. Their melodic and expansive style of dream pop has made them major indie darlings over the years, and their equally dreamy backdrops added depth and life to their sound. If only I could be in multiple places at once.
- If Childish Gambino wants to be the best set of this year’s Osheaga, he’s got his work cut out for him. The Chemical Brothers put one easily one of this festival’s best headline sets in recent memory, from the stage production to the mixing to everything in between. Although the bass wasn’t quite loud enough (minor sound issues seemed to be a pattern at the main stages on Saturday), it was rather insignificant compared to every other aspect of their show. Their backdrops and designs ranged from colourful, to psychedelic, to eerie, to downright terrifying, and their fantastic use of lighting made it pop even more. With a setlist ranging from all phases of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons’ career as a duo, including “Star Guitar”, “Hey Boy Hey Girl”, “Galvanize”, “Block Rockin’ Beats” and a hefty portion of newer songs from this year’s No Geography, the Brothers played their first Montreal show in 16 years to a large crowd who lapped up every second of it. The confetti and balloons weren’t a bad touch, either.
Words by Dave MacIntyre. (Featured image credit: Pierre Bourgault)