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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Osheaga Days 2+3

Sweating Days Immeasurable

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 8:44 PM

My singular reason for attending day two was Bright Eyes.

Who I have somehow missed live in my love affair with Saddle Creek and Barsuk bands. After saying whatup to my girl Kinley Dowling of Hey Rosetta, who were busking for War Child after an early mainstage slot, I waded into the crowd for Conor Oberst and co., who included Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds (check out What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood) on keyboards. (Gross, gross things were said about her by the shirtless lout behind me. It was 8:30 at night, there was no need to be shirtless, or any of the rest of it.) The band played only three tracks off the excellent new The People's Key, sticking mostly to old favourites like "Lover I Don't Have to Love" and "Four Winds" plus copious I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning cuts: an awesome "Road to Joy," quieter highlights "Land Locked Blues" (no Emmylou) and "Poison Oak" (Shirtless lout: "This song is sick!"). Oberst is a frenetic showman—I was surprised since he looks so sullen in photographs—whirling around in circles with his guitar and acting out lyrics with sharp hand gestures. For the closer, "One for You, One for Me," he hopped into the pit and went down the front row hugging people.

Hugs not drugs: Bright Eyes meets his people
  • Hugs not drugs: Bright Eyes meets his people

The third day was low humidity but high heat, so I held back on heading out earlier to catch some young buzz bands. I never really got you anyway, Smith Westerns! Your stance on licensing is infuriating, Pains of Being Pure at Heart! I'm jealous of you, Luyas!

Anyway, me and my stupid hat went back to the ant-filled Tree Stage—after passing Cypress Hill closing out one of the mainstages with bad weed jokes and "Rock Superstar"—where a small crowd lounged on the grass waiting for Brit trio The Joy Formidable. Last time I was in Montreal, me and my friend Denise listened to their EP like eight times in a row during a beer binge, and I was excited to see how the vibe transferred.

Chillin at the Tree Stage
  • Chillin at the Tree Stage

Well. You know how there’s a crazy performance spectrum these days, like either you’re unsmiling, disaffected and could give a fuck, or you are an explosion of spectacle and energy? Here I present the bridge in the spectrum, one Ritzy Bryan, the personification of joy formidable. The Tree Stage doesn’t have a lot of dignity—bands do their own set-up and sound check right in front of the waiting crowd, and that specific stage seemed to be the most besieged by equipment problems. "She's so cute and sexy" said a dork behind me, which is the nicest thing I heard from the crowd about any performing women all weekend, as she set up her guitar amidst many problems while shitty Ellie Goulding vocal lines drifted over from the Green Stage. The delay cost them some songs in the end—they only did five—but as soon as they were ready to go, Ritzy walked to the front of stage and looked into the crowd: "Yeah?" She asked. We responded in the affirmative. She nodded. "YEAH!" The trio kicked into a blistering set of soaring indie-pop, trading off vocal lines and solos and singalongs, Ritzy flailing all over the stage, into her mates' faces, into our faces, until at the end of the truncated set when she bashed her guitar butt-first into the stage and set about some feedback-inducing knob-twiddling. It was entrancing and wonderful, with no distracting stage wizardry needed or wanted.

Ritzy!
  • Ritzy!

YOURE WELCOME
  • YOU'RE WELCOME

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Delays are a festival's worst nightmare; TJF was followed up by Americana sensations The Low Anthem, who recorded their new record in an abandoned pasta sauce factory in Rhode Island (the new "isolated cabin"?). Singer Ben Knox Miller was walking around with a paperback in his pocket—they're that kind of band. Sad the Decemberists may be done? Well here you go, minus the bombast. The crowd was sparse but appreciative of the lovely harmonies and slow-creeping folk numbers.

Horns, organs, ponytails: The Low Anthem
  • Horns, organs, ponytails: The Low Anthem

I took a break at a picnic table in the press area as The Tragically Hip pounded out a greatest hits set that included all of your (but not my) favourites. A savvy move for this festival, in my opinion—the Hip is not cool, but the Osheaga peeps must know that some of the hardest hipsters soften at the opening notes of "New Orleans is Sinking."

Gord Downie came down from Muskoka for the day.
  • Gord Downie came down from Muskoka for the day.

I fought my way to the middle of the crowd waiting for Death Cab for Cutie, who I haven't seen since the Transatlanticism tour, where Ben Gibbard stood deliberately out of the spotlight. Now he's a legit frontman, running between mic and keyboard, throwing guitars aside when they stop working—"It's been like this for four fuckin' days" he groused during the extended fix-it period—and thinking it's totally fine to open up with the eight-minute "I Will Possess Your Heart." (Wonder if Gowan's ever heard the bridge?) Like all the other headliners, Death Cab did a mostly hits parade set, trotting out just a pair of tracks from the new Codes and Keys, and sticking another long number, "We Looked Like Giants," near the end. It's great to see a band ascend to this level and not come off like assholes about it—"It's one of the highlights of my professional career to follow The Tragically Hip," said Chris Walla—and still write awesome pop songs, elegantly played, even with a tossed guitar here and there.

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