Recapping day two of Montreal’s Osheaga festival (Weezer, Devo, Metric, Gaslight Anthem and more)

Here’s one theory why Osheaga might be such a successful festival: no beer tent.

Actually, that’s really just part of a larger story. Big, multi-stage festivals are usually rife with stress: a need to get to the next stage, the next bathroom break, the next food line all leading to tensions in the crowd. But everything seems more laid back at Osheaga, from the ability to take your drink anywhere – oh, how this wouldn’t even come close to working here in Nova Scotia – to the ample shade on the Parc grounds to lay down and rest should you need it.

That said, Sunday was almost as busy as Saturday in terms of crowds, so it wasn’t quite as laid back and relaxing as it might have been. Clearly, many Montrealers (and travelers like me) don’t consider Osheaga a “pick a day” experience; it’s a weekend commitment. Though it lacked the star power at the top of the bill, there was still plenty of great music on the island on day two. Photos and selected recaps below:

Cotton Mouth

Still Life Still

Seu Jorge & Almaz

Alt-samba cover of Kraftwerk’s “The Model”? Yes please!

The Gaslight Anthem

Greeting a solid mid-day crowd with boyish glee, Gaslight frontman Brian Fallon seemed genuinely surprised by the enthusiastic reception. It’s like he’s only beginning to realize the extent to which the band’s brand of unapologeticly anthemic rock and roll has connected with people. Though one could worry about the sustainability of the band’s bag of tricks, American Slang, released in June, offers just enough stretching to suggest that these Jersey boys could be in this thing for the long haul. And thank god: rock and roll has never needed saviors, but it always has use for bands that remind you just how soul-stirring it can be. As Fallon belted out “The Backseat” at the end of an over-too-soon set, he might well have been talking to us fevered devotees at the front of the stage: “If you never let me go, I will never let you down.”

The Black Keys

As great as The Black Keys are as a two-piece, I was crazy excited to see two other players join Dan Auerback and Pat Carney for half their set. The band is starting to awesomely break out of their limitations on the last couple of albums, so it’s only fitting that their live show should start to echo that sonic expansion. Still, though, Dan’s guitar shredding is still the focal point: blistering, raw and riveting. (Also: the shorter beard is a big improvement.)

The Cat Empire

Credit to these Aussies – the crowd was really into their set – but wow, were they ever not my cup of tea. I had as little patience for their ska-esque sound as the rest of the audience had love for it.

Snoop Dogg

Easily the surprise of the weekend, in two ways. First off, the size of the crowd: the biggest second day in Osheaga history was largely Snoop’s doing, as he played to a massive audience that quickly thinned out when his set was over. Clearly, a lot of people were there just for the d-o-double-g. Secondly, he was really entertaining. I expected a performance that was more in line with Snoop’s casual, laid back demeanor, but he’s actually highly energetic on-stage. Whether he was rocking a new jam or breaking out classics like “Gin and Juice” and “Who Am I?” he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his skinny hand.

Sonic Youth

There were a LOT of confused Metric fans when Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and company took to the stage. When masked DJ Deadmau5 cancelled on the festival at the last minute, citing exhaustion, the schedule was rejigged so that Sonic Youth got moved from the Green Stage to the main stage in Metric’s slot, pitting them up against the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I’m seeing both acts again in October, so I stuck with Sonic Youth, who may not have excited the confused Metric fans but delivered an hour’s worth of noisy bliss. Maybe a bit too much new stuff for my tastes, but a) The Eternal isn’t a bad record in the slightest, and b) the set-closing “Cross the Breeze” was pure awesomeness.

Frank Turner

I did take a quick break from Sonic Youth to see a few songs from Englishman Frank Turner on recommendation from a friend. Playing with just his acoustic to a small-but-loyal crowd, Turner’s brand of folk is so committed to rock and roll mythology that it makes the Gaslight Anthem seem almost ironic by comparison. But Turner’s throat-busting vocal delivery is enthralling enough to make you a believer, even if only for a fleeting second.

Metric

The best word I can think of to describe Metric live is “reliable.” I mean that both as a compliment and a point of worry; I’ve never seen them put on a bad show, but I’ve never seen them put on a GREAT show either. There’s something that holds them back from taking the experience from “entertaining” to “wow-inducing.” Though I only managed to catch a few songs of their set – moved later in the day due to the Deadmau5 cancellation – it felt the same as the other times I’ve seen the band. The good news is that Fantasies is easily their best record, which promises that perhaps another record’s worth of growth might be the ticket to that next level.

Ra Ra Riot

The Orchard, Riot’s upcoming album, promises to be a minor breakthrough for these New York kids, so I was pleased to see its songs get such a great reception. Though I only could drop by quickly – they conflicted with both Metric and Devo’s sets – their breezy, string-centred pop translated better on-stage than I expected, thanks largely to the talents of their cellist and violinist.

Devo

Touring their first new record in 20 years, Devo brought one of the biggest multimedia showcases to Osheaga; only Arcade Fire could claim more bells and whistles. Playing front of a large LCD screen, the band went through several different costume changes, fittingly de-evolving through their various incarnations as they worked through their catalogue. The set was a blast: even when sticking to their oft-robotic performance techniques, Mark Mothersbaugh and company have charisma to spare, and their music not only holds up all these years later but may be even more relevant than ever. A shame that the crowd wasn’t more into dancing along, but after two long days, you couldn’t really blame them for being a bit tired.

Weezer

For all the words spent trying to explain how Weezer have lost their way artistically, it’s blindingly obvious when you see them live: the band went from writing songs about being rock stars to actually BEING rock stars.

In fact, one could argue that their entire output post-Green Album has been wrestling with this tension, and often producing rather dreadful records out of it (half of the Red Album excluded). Even the best songs are kicked down by mediocre lyrics that lack the wit, charm and playfulness of the Blue Album and Pinkerton era; themes seem to oscillate between fame-seeking and fame-owning, leaving a schizophrenic mess that offers nothing solid to grab onto.

But here’s the funny thing: live, the 2010 version of Weezer is kind of awesome. And that’s because instead of diving into their artistic tensions, the band just plays “rock star” for an hour and a half. And they’re really, really good at it.

The entire experience comes across like a geek’s victory party, the band’s championship parade that everyone’s invited to. Their setlist certainly puts a lot of weight on Blue Album material, but placed alongside their newer work you realize that there’s not much of a sonic difference; everything just kind of starts to blur together, equally worthy of jumping up and down to.

But Weezer’s show is really about the extracurricular activities. Moving drummer Pat Wilson to guitar (and using a touring drummer) and having frontman Rivers Cuomo go guitar-less for many songs may seem like cynical moves, but it actually makes the show more fun, especially in Rivers’ case. Performing with manic enthusiasm, he bolts across the stage, dives into the crowd and does nearly everything in his power to turn the show into a shared experience. Whether he’s grabbing an Expos cap, using his guitar as a bat to hit beach balls, donning a wig for the “Poker Face” section of their “Kids/Poker Face” mashup or running through the crowd to party with the folks in the VIP area, his energy is infectious.

So you forget how spotty – heck, often awful – Weezer have been for the past decade; you sing along, you throw your fist in the air and you relish in their teenage victory songs.

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