Published Aug 16, 2009Over two days of rain and shine, the fourth annual Osheaga festival kicked off on Île Sainte-Hélène to become one of the most successful editions to date. With Coldplay headlining, sun blazing and 30-degree heat on Saturday, the weekend began at the MEG (Montreal Electronic Groove) stage. There British synthpop duo La Roux showcased brilliant pop tunes reminiscent of the '80s without being unbearably retro. More impressive was singer Elly Jackson's signature orange quiff, perfectly erect despite the scorching heat. Later, Sweden's Lykke Li busted big moves to bigger pop tunes in a short hippie shroud. Her look may have evoked Steve Nicks, but her girlish voice, fiery spirit and electro/rock ratio was rather Björk, whose tenure as pixie-pop queen could be under threat.
"Coldplay sucks! Coldplay sucks!" chanted the audience for the night's other closing act, Girl Talk, aka copyright-infringing DJ Gregg Gillis. His formula for success has been packing mega mash-ups with Top 40 gold, feeding a little something to nearly every musical taste and creating equally stupid, seductive party vibes. Both hype man and front-man, Gillis rocked his laptop, leapt on his table and eventually into the crowd. On top of the already excessive visual stimuli - video montages, balloons, giant inflatable tubing, a stage overflowing with dancing fans and fireworks going off simultaneously - two accomplices armed with leaf blowers launched dozens of TP rolls into the crowd and surrounding trees.
While day one ended with a blinding, deafening bang, day two came in like a lamb. Manchester's Ting Tings took the main stage on a soggy Sunday afternoon, playing pop songs so catchy they verged on cloying. The duo filled out their arrangements with lots of looping and just the right amount of cowbell, which was briefly satisfying but not quite satiating the ears.
The rain ended just in time for Rufus Wainwright and, as he predicted, started again soon after he left the stage. His was a solo set, aside from a piano/vocal cameo by his mom Kate McGarrigle during a rendition of one of her songs co-written with her sister Anna, a Quebecois classic called "Entre la jeunesse et la sagesse." Between some of the best tunes from his decade's worth of albums, Wainwright was friendly and funny with his hometown crowd, recovering quickly when he flubbed lyrics here and there, including those to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Towards the end of the set came a new French composition, the final aria from his opera, Prima Donna.
Another local boy done good, Tiga, drew party people to the MEG stage, the kind who didn't care about being soaked to the skin during a heavy ten-minute downpour. The sound of the DJ set was cosmic, but the atmosphere was grounded, resembling a pagan ritual. Tiga himself stood out with his preppie attire and blasé demeanour, barely grooving while friends shook their thangs all around him.
Capping Osheaga '09 was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, fronted by arguably the only female rock icon of the aughts, Karen O. She emerged in a lucha libre mask with a strip of red lighting coiled around it, pulling it off at the end of "Heads Will Roll" to huge applause. Her characteristically busy outfit was beset with tassels and text, her dress prominently featuring the words "Scientology," "Judaism" and "vampire," but few were reading as she bounded around the stage and struck superstar poses to a tight selection of tunes from the band's three albums. The sweaty masses staggered away from Parc Jean Drapeau safe in the knowledge that Osheaga is here to stay.