All that was missing was the Welcome Home sign.
The 14th Osheaga Music and Arts Festival eased back onto its new old site on Friday, returning to an overhauled Île Sainte-Hélène after two years on the adjoining Île Notre-Dame. Despite what seemed like less-than-capacity attendance and two notable cancellations — Toronto R&B singer Jessie Reyez, out with a herniated disc; and Colombian reggaeton star J. Balvin, sidelined at the last minute due to transportation issues — it felt good to be back.
Here are some snapshots of the day’s action.
4:08 p.m. – Denzel Curry, River Stage
The decent-sized crowd was amped up for the Florida rapper’s late afternoon set. Heads were bobbing to his funky trap beats, while people mouthed along to his rapid-fire lyrics. Water cannons sprayed over the crowd to cool off sweat-covered devotees near the front, and all hands raised in tandem when beckoned. Backed only by a DJ, the energetic MC bounded about the stage, bringing an adrenalin rush with every line. With one song left, he used his considerable power of suggestion to part the sea of the people before him, leaving a space in the middle which he ordered to be filled by general mayhem when the track started, and so it was.
4:42 p.m. – Rosalia, Mountain Stage.
“To create something new, you must first destroy.”
Thus read read the hand-printed message on the pocket liner of Rosalia’s inside-out cutoffs. In the Spanish singer’s line of fire is the flamenco of old, and in her bag of tricks are an array of contemporary beats, melodic twists and sonic tweaks, combining for a boldly infectious, subtly innovative sound and slick pop twist that both expanded and fit right in with Osheaga’s eclectic sonic palette. This year’s fest took a chance on two medium-high profile Latin acts, and this first one was a rousing success. (They got burned by circumstance on the other, the above-mentioned J. Balvin.)
“Osheaga, thank you,” Rosalía said, between songs. “I come from Barcelona. Maybe you know a friend of mine called James Blake. I would like to sing this for you.”
It was their hauntingly pretty collaboration, Barefoot In the Park. After professing her respect for traditional flamenco, she then dug into an a cappella song off her first album, her voice soaring with captivating passion. At other times she was flanked by her six dancers, who brought drama and flourish, stoking the fire emanating from their effortlessly charismatic leading lady. A revelation.
6:14 p.m. – Interpol, River Stage
Interpol is a quintessentially Osheaga band, having played the fest multiple times since the early days. But they sounded almost quaint, early evening on the River Stage, their brooding indie rock sound a throwback to bygone era. A modest and slanting-older crowd came out to greet them — Osheaga’s predominantly younger demographic presumably finding more enticing things on the site’s secondary stages: The band’s name was repeated in large red print on the screen behind, as if to remind the kids who the heck they were watching. For fans only.
6:39 p.m. Gucci Mane, Mountain Stage
Giving truth to the cliche that hip-hip shows are always late, trap rap elder statesman Gucci Mane was a whopping 12 minutes behind schedule for his early evening set, which in Osheaga’s Swiss-timed schedule is a lot. Things looked dire as his DJ emerged to hype up the crowd with a microphone that wasn’t connected to the main speakers (though his monitors were working, so he apparently had no idea). Then Gucci Mane came out and had the same problem for the better part of his opening song. When things finally got worked out, the party lifted off, somewhat. If the routinely misogynistic lyrics seemed a little out of step with Osheaga’s predominantly female demographic, so did his set. While entertaining enough, it lacked the crowd-rousing excitement of some of the bigger rap acts that have played the fest in recent years. Serviceable, but a little tired.
7:50 p.m. – Fisher, Island Stage
The clubby vibe at the intimate Island Stage felt a world away from anything else at Osheaga as sunset approached. Australian DJ-producer Fisher’s funky house beats had the crowd dancing away. A remix of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love went over like wildfire, even if most of the kids likely didn’t know the original. He then slipped in a pumping remix of Kanye West and Little Pump’s I Love It, taking it up a notch. His own thumping techno jam I’m Losing It brought cheers of recognition as things shifted into rave mode, setting the party off for real.
8:22 p.m. – Mitski, Green Stage
Sometimes a small audience can be deceiving. Japanese American singer-songwriter Mitski was undeterred by the modest attendance of her set on the Green Stage, checking in for a charmingly quirky, artful and engaging performance. Sporting black shorts, a white T-shirt and knee pads, she mixed utterly original dance choreographies with grunge-tinged balladry. Both the Breeders and Björk came to mind on Your Best American Girl. Before her last song, she promised to go out with a bang, and she was true to her word. The song, Drunk Walk Home, featured the punchy lyric, ‘F–k you and your money / I’m tired of your money,” over big guitar riffs. She put her knee pads to good use, crawling out from behind a table and chair she was using as props, and drawing a roar of cheers as song and set reached a thrilling climax.
8:35 p.m. – Kurt Vile, Valley Stage
Kurt Vile does Tom Petty with a dash of Ramones by way of 90s grunge. In other words, the dude’s cool. A surprisingly small but enthusiastic crew of converts stuck around, taking in his slacker country-rock sounds. Hidden behind a shaggy mane, Vile tossed off rockin’ riffs and enticing grooves like it was no big deal.
9:57 p.m. – The Lumineers, River Stage
By the time I reached the River Stage, the Lumineers were no longer on it. The American folk rockers had been playing for over a half-hour, and had moved to a small platform above the crowd, a couple hundred feet in front of the main stage. It was a brilliant move, making the band one with throngs that had amassed to take in their Day One-headlining set. When they dropped their signature hit Ho Hey, the heartfelt singalong extended from front to back. Innovative? Not so much. Effective? Hugely. The band’s feel-good acoustic anthems felt like summer at its easiest and breeeziest, and attracted the day’s biggest, most attentive and exuberant audience. They returned to the main stage for peppy ditty Ophelia, followed by steady-strumming hymn Gloria, delivered at a giddy country gallop. For a laid-back, hit-and-miss first day at Osheaga, it was an unpretentiously redemptive finish.
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