4:21 p.m. – King Princess, River Stage
Mikaela Straus cut a cool figure on the River Stage. Better known by the moniker King Princess, the openly queer, tomboyish Brooklyn native strutted the stage sporting a Raptors jersey. A protégée of former Amy Winehouse collaborator Mark Ronson, she has a sinuous pop sound infused with groove and soul, and racy, heartfelt lyrics that had seemingly everyone within earshot singing along, as they did on swaying torch song 1950. The singalong got louder on the anthemic Talia, as she sang about being wasted after four drinks and how “I can taste your lipstick / I can wake up next to you / But it’s all in my head.” Katy Perry, eat your heart out.
5:48 p.m. – Schoolboy Q, River Stage
It was a hip-hop love-in as Compton rapper Schoolboy Q held court in a late-afternoon set. No gimmicks or tricks, just rugged, rousing rap songs that sound huge when spewed by an intensely focused MC and echoed by an on-board crowd that knows every line. Dope Dealer became a galvanizing chant, in which even the white boys couldn’t help rhyme along to the line, “I’m a dope dealer n—a,” to somewhat disconcerting effect. He’s got beats and flows galore, which changed up with every track. Hell Of a Night lit up the crowd with its rapid-fire chorus, turning the pit into one big party.
6:22 p.m. – Janelle Monáe, Mountain Stage
If there was any doubt as to whether Janelle Monáe could and should have headlined one of Osheaga’s three nights, it was dispelled less than 30 seconds into her commanding, utterly dazzling set on the Mountain Stage.
She opened with Crazy Life, clad in a futuristic, red and black toy soldier outfit. Singing and rapping with authority, she commanded the stage while dancers bounded around her. Screwed was a mischievous mix of sex and politics that managed to be at once sexy and righteous. She changed outfits and sat on an elevated throne, centre stage, for Django Jane. Rhyming up a storm, she paused with her hand on her crotch after the line “Let the vagina have a monologue,” before punctuating the tour-de-force with a sharp salute.
On song after song, Monáe delivered the kind of authoritatively mesmerizing performance of an artist in complete control. Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Public Enemy, Prince and heck, even James Brown came to mind as she sang and danced up a storm – let’s not forget a cheers-eliciting flash of a moonwalk – exuding joy at every turn.
Electric Lady was a funk-soul shakedown. Pink found her shimmying in the anatomically evocative pants seen in the song’s eye-popping video.
She issued a rousing call for the rights of women, minorities, people with disabilities and immigrants, decried corruption and called for the impeachment of Donald “Thrump,” before dipping into her early career smash hit Tightrope. From start to finish, it was a wildly fun, flawless performance that blew everything else seen so far this weekend out of the water.
8:07 p.m.– Rüfüs du Sol, Green Stage
Sunset was the perfect time to catch Rüfüs du Sol. The Australian dance music act combines shimmering synths, bleeding-heart vocals and pop-tinged melodies into a gently soaring, feel-good combo on the Green Stage, where a few thousand fans were on hand to take it all in.
9:05 p.m.– Logic, Mountain Stage
It seemed like an odd choice, for the pre-headlining slot. Logic is an agitated, increasingly popular American rapper who relies on lyrical dexterity and heavy word flow to prove his mettle, a bit like a little-known MC named Eminem (one of the guests on Logic’s new album Confessions Of a Dangerous Mind, alongside Gucci Mane and Will Smith). Now Slim Shady isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and neither is Maryland native Logic, born Sir Robert Robert Bryson Hall II. He earned his keep, Saturday, prowling around the Mountain Stage and spitting rhymes backed only by his DJ. But behind the impressive flurries of syllables and ample amounts bluster, there wasn’t much to really engage with. It’s as if while trying so hard to impress, Logic forgets to connect.
9:20 p.m. – The Chemical Brothers, River Stage
And then it was time for some block rockin’ beats. Choosing The Chemical Brothers as an Osheaga headliner could have gone either way. The British big beat pioneers are not exactly on the tip of the tongue of your average Osheaga fan – 70% of whom are between the ages of 18 and 34, meaning many attendees weren’t even born when the electro giants took clubland by storm in the mid-’90s. To wit: the duo is not headlining any other major North American festival this summer.
So there was every reason to fear that this would be a case of an Osheaga headlining set fizzling due to the generational divide. (See Elvis Costello and the Imposters, who had young fans heading for the exits in 2011.) But Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons’ mythic reputation has apparently carried on through the past two decades. A lengthy absence never hurts – the bros had not been to Montreal since 2003.
There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the minutes before they took the River Stage. People staked out their turf, the crowd swelled. And then came those beats – big, pumping. And lights, blinding lights. And projections – state of the art, artful. Like their own generational peers Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers understand that they’re not much to look at; so they hovered over their machinery in obscurity while unleashing a torrent of sensorial bombardment, pummelling Osheaga into submission while creating the desired effect of epic electronic grandeur.
And these guys know how to build a set. Almost an hour in, they dropped their 1999 hit Hey Boy Hey Girl, and the crowd went wild. As they segued seamlessly into their recent single Eve Of Destruction, the link was made: past, present, future, big beats, happy feet. By the time they brought out a pair of giant robots with lasers shooting out of their eyes, for Dig Your Own Hole, off – you guessed it – 1997’s Block Rockin’ Beats, Osheaga’s bold wager was won.
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