By Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published August 9, 2012
While most University festival-goers opted for the much-loved Lollapalooza in Chicago this past weekend, I headed east to francophone-filled Montreal for Osheaga. The three-day festival, held on St. Helen’s Island at the verdant Parc Jean-Drapeau, was definitely the underdog in its rivalry with Lolla. The two festivals had a remarkable degree of lineup crossover, though the Chicagoan veteran had a wider, or at least more popular, variety of artists.
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But Osheaga posed some stiff competition. Parc Jean-Drapeau was truly an idyllic place to hold a festival. The crowd was immaculately-dressed and, more importantly, polite. And poutine — Canada’s gravy-drenched, cheese curd-sprinkled transformation of French fries — was deliciously abundant. As Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch summed it up, “We fucking love Canada.”
I spoke to Pat Sayers, the drummer of the Montreal pop rock band Les Breastfeeders’, about the music scene out east. He seemed to embody the unassuming attitude of Osheaga.
“Montreal’s a pretty small city with a small music scene,” Sayers said. “I guess when you are in it and you live in it, you don’t notice it that much … I’ve been playing music a long time and I don’t feel like there’s more of a scene now. I think people are just noticing it more.”
Osheaga, with its share of local bands mixed in with the international lineup, certainly helps to catch the attention of those less familiar with the Montreal music scene.
“I’m sure right now there are a bunch of cool music scenes happening in a bunch of cities,” Sayers said. “It’s just, people don’t know about them.”
Entering the festival, I was greeted with the well-established Walkmen, who were opening with “We Can’t Be Beat” — appropriate given their remarkable popularity at festivals. The song was a wonderful introduction, and the group seemed to build in energy throughout the set. Singer Hamilton Leithauser was particularly emotive, appearing as a soliloquizing actor performing a show with presence and poise despite the fact that his button-down was tie-dyed with sweat stains. The men included a few favorites from their new album Heaven like “Heartbreaker” and “Song for Leigh,” but mixed in some older material — easy given their impressive selection of albums to choose from. The result was a well-done, album-quality performance.
Following the Walkmen came a massive shrieking from the neighbor stage — oh God, it’s fun. I headed into the woods to the Scène des Arbres for Atlas Sound, the solo project of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. He opened with a calm message of gratitude to Delta Airlines for losing all of his equipment, and an un-sarcastic thanks to the band Wintersleep for letting him borrow their guitar.
“I have no idea what I’m gonna do right now,” he added, then requested a drummer from the audience. A good-humored man jumped on stage, and Bradford proceeded to come up with a few impromptu tunes, with lyrics pertaining to “flying in an aeroplane” and being at a festival.
He played a few solo, extremely stripped-down Parallax favorites like “Mona Lisa” and “Terra Incognita,” along with a cover of Roscoe Holcomb’s “Moonshiner.” People were filtering out of the already small crowd throughout the show, unimpressed given the music’s lack of a loop pedal and therefore lack of complexity. But the set offered a rare glimpse at the skeletons of Atlas Sound’s highly-layered songs, and Bradford displayed how impressively easy-going he can be, even when a very necessary aspect of his performance is taken away. After 45 minutes, Bradford thanked us for our patience, offering a sappy, “We’re all in this together. I love you very much.”
Heading back to the main stages, I caught bits of The Weeknd screaming at audience members to “make some fucking noise” and to “fuck this shit up,” but the crowd didn’t seem particularly compliant.