Concert Reviews

Osheaga: Jack White, Lorde, Outkast, The Kooks, Bleachers and more

Photograph by David James Swanson.

While rumours are swirling around about the addition of a Toronto Lollapalooza stop to rival Osheaga, I don’t think the city has the venue or the liquor laws to bring a vibe that matches the Montreal festival.

In its ninth year, the three day Osheaga Festival features over 100 bands spread across three days on six stages at the beautiful Parc Jean Drapeau.  The park itself is quite scenic and the main area features Montreal’s skyline in its periphery.

The energy of the Montreal crowd is palpable.  Even before hitting the park, the crowd on the Metro was cheering like the headliners were playing on the train itself.  The roar when the Metro stops at the park served to melt the hearts of those most jaded.


Bleachers kicked off my third Osheaga with a fun set that made those who arrived early quite happy.  A side project for one of the guys from Fun had an enthusiastic crowd for their new wave pop songs including a cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” before closing their set with their own hit “I Wanna Get Better”.

Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra started off very loud and impressive on their first song, but seemed to lose the energetic support of the crowd and quickly turned into loud background noise.  The band themselves seemed to notice and sauntered off stage without many words.

I’m not too familiar with Old Crow Medicine Show, but their folk-roots sound, seemed to be an odd detour on ramping up the vibe.  They created their own vibe for sure that impressed the many amassed to watch them, but it was just different for me.

I’m also not familiar with Awolnation, and they made it easy for me to flee the main stage area to catch Pusha T on the Green Stage.  Their first song was not offensive, but the Sebastian Bach like wail and banter that followed just seemed to be more aligned with a Skid Row show.

Once half of Clipse, Pusha T was the first big party of the festival as he rapped through his debut solo album and even threw in a couple of Kanye West tracks he worked on, which the crowd lapped up.  He worked the entire stage tirelessly ensuring everyone was moving.

From Pusha T it was back to the main stage to catch the end of local boy Sam Roberts’ set.  Shockingly, the hometown crowd was more rowdy on the Metro.  Maybe the locals were driven away by the influx of people from Toronto?  Not to say Roberts was a washout, I was just expecting a very loud crowd.

Conflicts are a way of life at these multi-stage events so it broke my heart to have to leave Childish Gambino’s set two songs in.  Gambino kicked up the energy a bunch of notches and the crowd woke up from whatever sleep it was having for most of the day.  I had never heard the man before, mostly because he’s an actor, but the two songs I did hear and the crowd’s response was enough to make me debate my heading to another stage.  I’ve since picked up his album on my returned home.

It was London Grammar that pulled me back to the Green Stage.  The three piece is still touring behind their 2013 album If You Wait.  Illness have had the band cancel shows recently and they were one of the bands I was looking forward to most, so I was relieved there were no notifications of them cancelling.  Her voice was the star of the show for sure and was in fine form, although her stage banter was very minimal probably due to said illness.  The quieter songs were almost swallowed up by the noise bleed from the nearby Tree Stage.  But tracks like “If You Wait” and “Hey Now” were mesmerizing and “Strong” brought me to tears, quite literally.

Back to the main stage to catch the last bit of Foster the People’s set who pulled in a huge crowd that looked to be continuing the vibe Childish Gambino started.  Touching on both their albums, they had one of the most receptive crowds of the day and thanked them with a set-closing with“Pumped Up Kicks”.

I hadn’t planned on catching Skrillex, but the heat kept movement around the park to a minimum.  For 90 minutes this Skrillex man baffled me.  As someone who used to do a lot of dancing, I found Skrillex’s slow and ever changing tempos frustrating, and most importantly, not danceable.  Maybe it’s an old age thing, but I just had to sit down as my guilty feet had no rhythm for this set.

Friday headliners Outkast brought some serious funk to Montreal on their 40 festivals reunion tour.  Opening with an explosive “B.O.B.” the duo, backed by a full band, touched on all their albums.   Andre 3000 and Big Boi also had some solo time in the spotlight to impress with their Speakerboxxx/The Love Below contributions.  The bass was bone pulverizing and the energy coming off the stage was infectious.  The whole set was filled with highlights with no filler.  Easily my #3 highlight of the weekend.


Day 2 brought more sun and even more heat which made wandering up to the front of the various stages a blood boiling experience.

I caught the last song of Kevin Drew’s set which was an acoustic Broken Social Scene song and an urge to the crowd to drink lots of water.  Good advice for sure, but I couldn’t help laugh at seeing the vendors walk through the crowd selling shots of vodka, but not one vendor with water!

Back to the music.  Kongos drew a large crowd that knew a lot more about the band than I.  Good early in the day music that had the crowd on a collective high.

Against Me! Played like it was their last show ever – defying the heat as they blistered through their 40 minutes.  I had to escape the front of the stage to find some shade and hated having to retreat from such an exciting set.

Toronto’s Serena Ryder focused most of her 40 minute set on her newest hit album, also drawing a large enthusiastic crowd.  Her “encore” was the most impressive to me but “Stompa” is what the crowd really ate up.

I knew nothing of Local Natives before they took the stage, and once they did I was shocked I hadn’t tapped into this Los Angeles band earlier.  Their atmospheric songs were a nice tonic to sit back and enjoy the shade in.  First pleasant surprise of the day.

The second surprise of the day came when my buddy dragged me to see Phantogram, another band I didn’t know and their almost gothic electronic sounds drew a massive crowed to the Green Stage.  I’ve since picked up their album, Voices.

I’ve never been shy about my love for Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock and that was enough for me to drag my carcass into the heat to get up as close as I could, as he and his band powered through their 60 minute set that touched on early fan favourites and hits like “Float On” and “Dashboard”.  At times Brock was pouring so much into his set I thought his head would explode!  Well worth the bucket-loads of sweat that poured from me.

Nick Cave brought his Bad Seeds for an hour of apocalyptic preaching.  Cave paced the stage like a man possessed as the intensity of the music grew.  At times my mouth was agape at what I was witnessing.  While I’m sure most of the younger set was “who?” before he began, after one blistering and intense set, everyone knew who he was.  He could have headlined the day and nobody would have felt ripped off.  Easily my #2 highlight of the weekend.

Initially I was hesitant about Jack White headlining Day 2.  I find his solo albums a bit underwhelming but reviews from his Lazaretto tour so far have been legendary, so Mr. White was a must-see.  Minutes after taking the stage, he wiped any doubts about headlining.  The man didn’t disappoint, playing solo material, White Stripes songs, Raconteurs and anything else he could get his hands on.  I tried to get up front, but his set brought all the naysayers down for a closer look and it was hard to even get slightly close.


Sunday, the final day sold out in advance with most showing up early to get their money’s worth, so it took a bit longer to clear the gates and get to the gigs.

Bombay Bicycle Club on the Green Stage, were the first band I saw two years ago at my first Osheaga.  This year they graduated to the main stage.  Most of their 45 minute set was pulled from their latest album and the new songs benefitted from the live added muscle, but they didn’t play “Your Eyes” which would have slayed the massive crowd, as they did two years ago.

I’ve never listened to The Kooks before, but when they hit the stage they were surprisingly impressive and shockingly groovy.  I’ve read about a stylistic shift in the band’s sound and if the result was their Sunday set, then call me converted.

Portugal, The Man also played two years ago on the Green Stage and graduated to the main stage this year.  Again, not super familiar with this band, they piqued my ears sounding great, energized and making the most of their time in front of such a large crowd.

Scotland’s Chvrches pulled in one of the bigger crowds of the day.  Opening with “We Sink”, the trio sparked the biggest dance party of the day on the main stage, as they played most of their debut album.  Spunky with irresistible songs, it was hard not to be pulled into the Scots’ dance party.

My one adventure away from the Main area was back to the Green Stage to catch Australia’s Cut Copy, whose newest album, Free Your Mind, has been on constant replay since being released last October.  Their set was heavy on In Ghost Colours and Free Your Mind, but very  large on getting hips wiggling, feet leaping and sweat pouring.  The Green Stage swelled into one euphoric, sweaty dance party that was easily my festival highlight.  The band plastered a grin on my sweaty face that I still find difficult to wipe away.

Having seen The Replacements at last year’s Riot Fest in Toronto, I wasn’t totally bummed by missing most of their set.  They sounded great, slightly better oiled from touring since last year and they had Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong playing guitar with them.

Lorde was one of the big names of the weekend despite having only one album.  Pure Heroine is a strong album from someone her age and her set was surprisingly subtle.  Minimal lighting that accentuated rather than overwhelmed her songs, made her set that much more enjoyable.  Chatty at times, Lorde had to use up the hour somehow, but she was the perfect ending for those who wanted to leave after the sun went down.

England’s Arctic Monkeys gave the main stage one final party and everyone was up for it, summoning the last bit of energy for one last grasp.  Even though they started with their biggest hit “Do I Wanna Know?” they managed to avoid the mass exodus by sticking to a set list heavy on their latest and biggest album, AM.  My third time catching the band this year, with them largely sticking to the same set-list, I decided to end this year’s Osheaga experience just before their encore.

With a burnt face, sore feet, new friends and one happy heart, I eagerly start counting down the days to next year’s 10th anniversary.

Thank you Montreal, you know how to throw a party.  Thank you Osheaga for throwing such a massive feel-great weekend.

About author

Concert reviewer at Live in Limbo.

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