Sam O’ Grady was introduced to me as “knowing ‘Capital Punishment’ by heart, the only girl I know into MOP, and a damn fine writer.” That is something worth inscribing on a tombstone. This is her dispatch from a Canadian music festival that is apparently a very big deal in Canadia.
Osheaga is like a great band that you don’t want to tell your friends about, lest this great band gets a little too popular. Osheaga, I’m afraid, has gotten too popular.
Friday night was about one thing only – Eminem. An imposing line up of performers proceeded the rapper, and somehow none of them seemed pertinent. Despite the cancellation of KiD CuDi (ed note: reportedly due to a snapback malfunction), Friday night set record attendance for the festival, with 38,000 people mercilessly crammed inside Parc Jean Drapeau.
Booked last minute in place of KiD CuDi, hometown hip hop head Kid Koala hit the stage at 4 p.m. on the first day. By then, there were already thousands of merchandise clad teenagers waiting for Eminem, and pained at having to sit through acts like Janelle Monae (brilliant), Bran Van 3000 (old), and even Broken Social Scene (typical). And yet the teenagers persevered. Around 9 p.m., things started getting serious – bomb sniffing dogs, amped up security coverage, back stage closed to all event staff prior to Eminem arriving by MOTORCADE.
Thanks to great lighting, a Gladiator-like backing track and a relentless hypeman, Em started the show strong. Sporting a Bad Meets Evil tee and looking more like The Pack than the Real Slim Shady Eminem rushed the stage to the loudest roar I’ve ever heard. Despite some technical issues and it being only his third show this year, the almost middle-aged rapper was in fine form throughout his 90-minute set. He played a lot of recent collaboration tracks — hard hitting verses followed by anonymous popstar hooks, leading with the “rocking” “Won’t Back Down” featuring P!nk.
Shady followed with “3 am,” “Kill You,” and the Haddaway-sampling, No Love.,” punctuating it with “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “The Way I am.” Dropping some Bad Meets Evil material, the crowd happily sang along to “Lighters.” before a myriad of easily identifiable hits were preformed, including his verse from the Boi-1da produced “Forever.” After a mildly elongated and under-appreciated tribute to Nate Dogg, the crowd was treated to a medley of “My Name is,” “The Real Slim Shady,” and “Without Me.” Closed out with 12-step anthem, “Not Afraid,” there were the requisite encore chants, following by a very stagey performance of “Lose Yourself.”
I can’t say I loved the show, but it wasn’t necessarily Eminem’s fault. I blame the crowd. Sure, there were Eminem acolytes there, and I even met girls who called themselves Slim Sluts – clad in matching uniforms. There were also a subset of the cool parents who chaperoned their kids there so they could be a part of the experience. But mostly, there were just a bunch of assholes with smartphones trying to prove their own personal level of relativeness by ruining my view and posting to Twitter and Facebook in the middle of the show. At least some of them knew the words.
But why focus on the negative – Osheaga 2011 was not only a hipster goldmine but it only proved to have a great line up of mainstream and offbeat performers. Atlanta based indie rockers Manchester Orchestra hit a powerful chord in wtih festival goers early Saturday afternoon, their hit “Shake it Out” had everyone at the mainstages dancing, whether they could or not.
Following an afternoon set from Sam Roberts, Lupe Fiasco took the main stage. It was a typical big venue North American hip-hop scene – a bunch of white kids kind of into it, because they are under the impression they should be. But Lupe’s set was soft, and started late. The crowd was unresponsive when he anticipated a roar of applause for playing ‘Superstar’ and the performers looked embarrassed when given the opportunity to contribute, the audience couldn’t come up with the words. Add an ill-fated attempt at ripping off a t-shirt and the apparent requirement of camo pants for the backing band and I had seen enough. With just enough time to get a reasonably priced beer, I was able to catch the beginning of Death From Above 1979 who came out hard, and stayed that way over the course of their banter filled 50 minute set.
Next was Bright Eyes, no thanks. Ratatat it was. They took the stage promptly at 8:15, an advanced time that ensured there were no sober people left within Parc Jean Drapeau. The duo from New York entertained a crowd largely waiting on the highly anticipated performance of Bassnectar. Despite Elvis Costello being billed as Saturdays headliner, the largest crowd was certainly at the performance of the electronic DJ whose set ran at the same time as Costello.
Intrigued I stayed for the Bassnectar set, surrounded by thousands of people in drug induced trances. People crammed side by side at one the smallest stages of the venue to see a man who looked mildly like Andrew W.K. play with some knobs. Despite my lack of appreciation, it was well received — with the crowd swaying and grinding without any sort of rhythm, letting the bass punch them in the gut and strobe lights stab their eyes.
As Saturday concluded and I regained my vision I headed for the metro and a bed. Sunday was going to be an exciting day for the 16 year old version of me, thus the 25 year old version needed the rest.
Armed with a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels I set out the next day. Once inside the gates I decided to check out the Aussie indie duo of An Horse. An Horse was as expected, very Tegan and Sara-esque but with a dude. Singer Kate Coopers banter was as awkward as she can sometimes seem. However, the set was strong and An Horse was kind enough to chat quickly with some fans at the gates.
The best show of the entire festival happened mid-afternoon on Sunday, Scottish folkers Frightened Rabbit killed a short 40 minute set, closing out with a raucous rendition of “Keep Yourself Warm,” a song aptly titled regarding the benefits of fucking strangers.
The indie vet Eels followed, backed by one the best dressed bands a girl has ever been privileged to. Their look was sharp; piped blazers, bow ties, and skinny ties adorned the sun glassed band, who filled their performance with entertaining banter and instrumental intermissions.
That night, Cypress Hill emerged to throngs of drunk shirtless white dudes rushing the stage. The duo played the expected hits and won big with the crowd, dropping ‘How Could I Just Kill a Man’ and ‘Insane in the Brain’ early on. After a brief bit of banter and an attempt to teach rhythm to the middle-class crowd, the obligatory joint was sparked, and the set was closed with “(Rock) Superstar.”
I tried to check out Ellie Goulding, however left overly disappointed as the Brit spent more time unenthusiastically vibrating her crotch than singing.
The night was closed off with quick hits of the Tragically Hip – who taught me about Canadiana and belligerence in a drunken performance from lead man Gord Downie. The always adored indie kids Death Cab for a Cutie and and a much anticipated show by The Flaming Lips, left more than a few on a serious trip.
Overall, Osheaga was largely a good time. It was carefully planned and the lineup was eclectic enough to fit tastes of all stripes. Even the Slim Sluts seemed happy.