Some people will be dedicated to the Francos. Others are loyal to Jazz Fest. But Osheaga is the festival that speaks best to Montreal’s young generations of music fans. During two years of pandemic lockdowns and cancellations, music festivals were a less-than-fulfilling experience. Thinned out crowds with highly regulated passport checks, appreciative local acts, and just an overall mood of subdued “Will this be forever?”
But Osheaga 2022 makes the past two years feel less like a memory and more like something to stand up against. The thirst to live, to celebrate, to be with others, and appreciate every moment of every experience almost feels like a religious conviction. By showing up and participating, one states proudly, I am still here and I will be defined by my capacity to enjoy all this life has to offer. The vibe was defiantly positive.
The crowds, which were definitely as much a part of the festival as the music, were full of first timers and smiling faces bedecked in glitter and jewels, arms and legs covered with fine lined, small tattoos. The ferocious embrace of gender fluidity and body positivity by Gen-Z is evident in the fashions people wore, but also in how accepting and open individuals in the crowd were to complete strangers. Every body is a crop-top-short-skirt-gold-jewelry-coloured-nail-polish body. And if that’s not your thing, that’s cool too.
The music, of course, is what Osheaga is about and the artists, many of whom have had quite a few months playing in front of audiences but seem more appreciative than ever to perform, showed much love. There are many standouts.
On day one, Arcade Fire’s homecoming was like an enormous hug. Their carnaval-esque, on-the-pulse, self-directed artistry is the sound of this city. Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade is now in the band, so it’s kind of a more Montreal than ever experience to see them. Playing songs from across their career from their genre defining Rebellion (Lies) to discoesque Reflektor to End of Empire I-IV from their new album We, it was a deeply satisfying performance. Win Bulter delivered a valentine as to how Montreal was the creative centre of Canada and a place where one could meet all the people of the world. As he tossed his tambourine to the crowd to keep the chant going (and it did all the way to Berri UQAM stop), the rain began to fall almost as if they planned for a magic finale.
Of course, earlier in the day, other acts proved just as compelling. Charli XCX probably didn’t need to remind anyone she was hot or to cheer for her. In her red outfit, her huge stage personality seemed to take over both the Mountain and River stages. The crowd for Kid Laori was sprawled so long and far as they jumped to TikTok-ing Austarlian rap tunes, I didn’t try to do anything but spectate from afar. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on stage as one might expect — in helmets and ribbon bedecked capes — and played some songs that will be on their new album, as well as the much requested Heads Will Roll.
Day two began, for me, at any rate, with the return to Osheaga of Mitski. Having seen her emote sad/angry girl songs with her beautiful voice before was not something I wanted to miss. She delivered on the big stage this time to swooning fans.
However, I was even more pleased with the performances of 100 Gecs. The hyperpop duo of Dylan Brady and Laura Les is like a neverending thread of Reddit, Discord, TikTok, and Instagram combined with solid musical abilities. They’re hyper-aware, way past the cutting edge, and simply magic. Because Laura is trans, she’s an icon for everyone, everywhere who wants to live life on their own terms. And while most of the songs are performed with autotune and vocoders and a great deal of audio manipulation, the final acoustic song was like levelling up to the next platform. There’s a whole other sound this duo could be making.
Another magic duo, Polo & Pan, brought in their Buddha Bar meets Hôtel Costes vibes. Their sound is French luxe, like spending a week on a private yacht in Bora Bora. And, clearly, lots of Montrealers (this reporter included) love dancing to this stuff. What I especially like about the two is how their songs are each so distinct and uplifting at the same time. Vocalist Victoria Lafaurie has that effortless sexy chic as she stepped out in classic outfit after outfit while siren singing. Last but not least, a long time musical fave, Caribou was on the EDM stage. Having recently seen him at MTelus (my first post-pandemic show?), it was great to see him again.
Third day — two acts in particular that merit special note. Inhaler, fronted by Bono’s son Elijah Hewson, is going to be big. Bigger than Jesus? Let’s hope they don’t make that claim. But these Irish lads are gorgeous and have a serious energetic sound and a tight, tight band.
Another band from the British Isles, Wet Leg, has the most rabid fans I have ever known. Do not be fooled by their petite size and lacy clothes. Wet Leg fans will tear you to shreds with their bare hands. And if you hear Wet Leg play, you’ll know why. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers play off each other with perfect sympathy, with Teasdale’s strength and presence giving lots of space for Chamber’s more nervous, soft personality. It’s a perfect mix, especially with the rest of the band, and though only 45 minutes, the two delivered a rousing and inspiring set.
Osheaga’s tremendous, joyful return under perfect skies was an exhilarating, uplifting, religious experience for those who worship in the temple of music. It’s easy to say “This is the best year ever” every year, but on the heels of being reminded that being together isn’t something we can take for granted… being together with others will be a hard act to follow.
Osheaga takes place every summer in Montreal. Watch HERE for details about next year’s festival August 4-6, 2023. Upcoming festivals held in the same location on Parc Jean Drapeau are Île Soniq (details HERE) and the Lasso Festival (details HERE).