After missing the past few years of Osheaga, I happily accepted the offer to cover the festival’s closing day. Reportedly, the attendance for the weekend topped 80,000, an impressive feat given that the festival is only in its sixth year. It certainly has grown since 2006, adding an extra day and a Piknik Electronic stage to further the exciting, diverse roster of local and international talent.
Photographer extraordinaire Chris Zacchia and I arrived just in time to catch the end of the Sheepdogs’ set. The hard working four-piece from Saskatoon deem themselves rock revivalists, drawing from the classic Southern sound of bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers Band, and giving it a modern spin on tracks like “I Don’t Know” and “Please Don’t Lead Me On.” Expect big things from these boys in the future: they just landed their bearded mugs on the cover of a little magazine called Rolling Stone after winning a contest to find the best unsigned band in North America. Check out ForgetTheBox’s exclusive interview with singer Ewan Currie!
For the rest of the day, we bounced between the main stages and the smaller stages, soaking up the blissful sunshine, which even received a tribute from American rockers The Eels, covering Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime”.
No matter where we were, the quality and range of the music was impressive. Not only did the bands I went to see deliver, I was also introduced to a number of other interesting sounds like the melodic harmonies of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the darkly magnificent rock of White Lies.
As with nearly any major outdoor event, rampant corporate sponsorship permeated the site, causing the singer from Scottish band Frightened Rabbit to ponder, “why the fuck is it Budweiser?” An interesting question, given the myriad of local and Canadian brews who could have been wetting the whistles of the thirsty party-goers.
A cloud of smoke wafted above the crowd as Cypress Hill took the stage at 4:20, banging out a selection of timeless stoner classics and crafty new cuts. Beirut proved that accordions have a place outside Weird Al albums and Polish weddings, and Crystal Castles crammed the Green Stage with a sea of pumping fists and clapping hands.
A straw hat-clad Gord Downie and company further cemented their place in the Canadian rock canon by proving that they belonged amongst acts with members who probably weren’t even born yet when the Hip started playing together. The highlight of their hits-driven set included an incendiary mash-up of “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Nautical Disaster.”
However, all of this was just the warm-up for the mind-blowing journey we would take with day’s headliners, The Flaming Lips. In town for the Just for Laughs festival, roast master extraordinaire Jeffery Ross took the stage and asked “Are you ready to go to another fucking universe?”
While their recorded music is always top notch in featuring layered strings and synths paired with silly yet poignant lyrics, where the Lips really shine is their live show… or should I say psychedelic wonderland which includes rainbow confetti, oversized multicolored balloons, giant hands that shoot green lasers, costumed dancers, and powerful strobe lights. To top it all off is lead singer Wayne Coyne’s infamous “space bubble,” a human-sized hamster ball that he walks triumphantly above the crowd in, allowing his fans close enough to see the puckish grin on his face.
All these gimmicks aside, Coyne has an incredible stage presence where he puts every ounce of joy, and in the case of Sunday’s set, melancholy into every moment of the performance. For Sunday’s performance, they played their 1999 masterpiece â€˜The Soft Bulletin’ end-to-end, with Coyne musing on the emotional task of reflecting on about overcoming the inescapable sadness of the inevitability of death, reflected in the lyrics. During an emotional rendering of “Waiting for Superman,” the mic cam captured tears in Coyne’s eyes.
Instead of dwelling in that sadness, the Lips and crew celebrate joy with their live performances. At the end of their set, Coyne called a young man and woman out from the pack of Wizard of Oz-themed dancers, and married the two of them right there at the front of the stage, proclaiming: “By the power of the Flaming Lips, the power of the universe, the power of Montreal and the power of LSD, I now pronounce you man and wife.” They followed this up with a most jubilant rendition of one of their most well-loved songs, “Do You Realize?”
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day, and I can’t wait to see what the Osheaga planning team has up their sleeves for next year!