I knew that Coldplay was probably the biggest pop-rock band on the planet, but I didn't know that they had the power to control the weather. Montreal has had a tough summer weather-wise this year with lower than usual temperatures and lots of rain. This was not the case on the first day of the two day Osheaga Art & Music Festival. Blue skies, plenty of sun and high temperature ruled the day. It almost seemed like the first day of summer and you had to wonder if headliner Coldplay's presence had anything to do with it. We'll leave that to be pondered by those more inclined to that line of thinking.
Arriving at 3:30 at Parc Jean Drapeau I was really looking forward to Day 1 of Osheaga. The weather was terrific with not a cloud in the sky and there was a great slate of performers scheduled. Immediately upon my arrival I noticed that the crowd was larger than previous years, I guess good weather and music is all that Montrealers need to attend a festival. I planned to take in seven acts and it ended up that there was not a weak one amongst the bunch.
I hurried over to the MEG stage, one of the smaller, more intimate stages, because I wanted to catch the set of British act La Roux. This electro-pop duo (vocalist Elly Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Ben Langmaid) have been dubbed by the British press as the next big act to come out of the U.K. They are also one of the acts who won the prestigious Mercury Award, an award given to the Top 12 British or Irish albums of the year. No small feat. A buzz this big meant that plenty of Osheaga attendees wanted to come check the act out. Standing near the back of this sizeable crowd I was still able to feel their groove. Lead singer Elly Jackson has a cool voice, but it did not get warmed up until about half way through their 35 minute set. Once it did kick in though you could understand what all the fuss is about. The music is highly contagious, filled with great 80s influences like New Order and Depeche Mode and Jackson has an interesting stage presence.
Next up was Parlovr, a three-piece Montreal band comprised of Louis Jackson (guitars/vocals), Alex Cooper (guitar/keyboards) and Jeremy MacCuish (drums). They were performing at 4:00 on the Tree Stage right next door. It was another big crowd around their stage to take in their high energy brand of pop-rock. Their sound is an ode to 90s power rock with the twist of pop melodies added in. There is plenty of anthemic styled rock amongst their repertoire and nothing not to like about them. Add them to the evergrowing list of good bands that call Montreal home.
At 4:45 back over at the MEG stage Somalian-Canadian rapper K'Naan was slated for a 45 minute set. Growing up in war torn Somalia, coming to the United States as a refugee and then fleeing in the 90s to Toronto, K'Naan has packed plenty of life experience in his short time on Earth. His music reflects that. This guy's profile has gone through the roof over the last year. His latest album "Troubadour" features the likes of Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Damien Marley, Mos Def and Adam Levine from Maroon 5. During the month of July he has been touring with Jason Mraz. K'Naan is on many a person's radar. He started his set by thanking people for coming out and saying that his songs are from a place between the line of beauty and hardship. His mix of rap and singing got the crowd's heads bobbing and hands waving. Managing to get the crowd to sing along with his hit song "Wavin' Flag", he has taken the Canadian hop hop/rap torch from k-os and run with it…for the moment.
I then headed over to one of the two main stages (Mountain stage) to catch Elbow's, from Manchester, England, set that began at 5:30. Despite the fact that they are another Mercury Award winner (2008) they are not that well known over on this side of the Atlantic. Together for 18 years, Elbow has amassed quite a repertoire of melodic prog rock. Fronted by gregarious lead singer Guy Garvey, who sounds oddly like Morrissey at times, the crowd seemed to appreciate this U.K. band they were not previously familiar with. Elbow is a large band complete with two violinist who helped provide some of the soaring nature of their music. Garvey, engaging with that typical Brit wit, commented several times about the heat of the day, but a few drinks were brought up on stage and the show went on. By the time they reached their final song "One Day Like This" (a soaring arena anthem) you could see how well they fit in as an opener for Coldplay on the European leg of their present tour.
Next door on the River stage and right on time (which was the case for most of the acts on this first day) was Jason Mraz. He too has exploded onto the public consciousness with the release of his last album which garnered him hit singles like "I'm Yours" and Grammy Award nominations. This is my fourth time seeing him perform live and every time with this guy you get great musicianship and a cute on stage persona. He might not be everyone's cup of tea (especially men's), but his music certainly is contagious and he knows how to work a crowd. Mraz, backed by a large band that included a horn section, spoke French to the crowd and was smart enough to add a Marley song into his set. Some might criticize him for going for the easy mark with a Marley cover, but it ended up winning the crowd over totally for him. The Geek is having the last laugh on all those who thought he wouldn't make it big.
An interesting and different thing happened before the next act went on. Actor Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge made a parachute jump to promote his next film, "Les Pieds Dans la Vide". He got a big reaction from the crowd.
Next up was my discovery of the day. The Roots (Mountain stage) made quite an impression with their 80 minute set. Hailing from Philadelphia this large musical ensemble (which included an energetic tuba player) fuses 70s and 80s sounds with modern day hip hop. Working now mainly as Jimmy Fallon's house band on his talk show they do find some time (I don't know how) to tour. They bring the party to whichever venue they play. Whereas Jason Mraz's set was poppy and easygoing, The Roots brought power and party to the first day. Though they are essentially a hip hop band they are not your typical hip hop act. Lead rapper Black Thought name checked acts like Carl Perkins and Fela Kuti and the band sampled music from Michael Jackson to Black Sabbath to Guns 'N Roses to Sly and the Family Stone. They cemented their reputation as an incredible live act and also opened many eyes and ears to their talent.
By the end of The Roots' set there was a huge crowd. I believe all of the reported 30,000 first day attendees were there to see the headliners. Coldplay is probably the biggest band that Osheaga has ever brought in. You would think that the pressure was on them to perform up to the huge expectations. Watching their set you would have never suspected they felt pressure of any type.
This is Coldplay's second time through Montreal on their Viva La Vida world tour. It seems to be one of those neverending tours and the band is still wearing those gosh-awful pseudo Sgt. Pepper uniforms. Chris Martin is still playing his beat up, tiny guitar. Still dancing like a spastic marionette. This is a band, that despite their huge success, has stayed true to who they are.
Keeping up the trend of the day the band took the stage a little early. The show is a big one with huge coloured balls above them, a huge screen in back, lots of lights and lasers, butterfly-shaped confetti being shot out over the crowd, and many huge yellow balls being released during (of course) "Yellow". Geez, there was even the added eye candy of the fireworks show going on on the other side of the island. Somehow they are still able to make their shows feel intimate. By doing little things like joking with the crowd about coming in late during a sing-a-long or coming out in the middle of the crowd to perform an acoustic set on a smaller stage. They still think of their fans despite all their success.
This type of everyman feeling you get from the band is genuine and the crowd feels it. Their music while being unabashedly anthemic pop-rock connects with fans of all types of music. I was standing beside a fan of hip hop who told me he loved Coldplay. Their melodies will ensnare even the most doubting of Thomases. Wide appeal, folks. It was lapped up by all 30,000 who, for most of the evening, sang at the top of their lungs along with the headliner.
1) As If By Magic
2) I'm Not Your Toy
3) Colourless Colour
4) In For the Kill
1) In the Beginning
4) Voices in My Head
6) Take a Minute
7) Somalia (acapella)
10) If Rap Gets Jealous
11) Wavin' Flag
2) Station Approach
3) Ground's for Divorce
4) One Day Like This
2) The Dynamo of Volition
3) Anything You Want
4) Saturday in the Park (Chicago cover)
6) The Remedy
7) Make it Mine
8) I'm Yours
9) Three Little Birds (Bob Marley cover)
1) Here I Come
4) Mellow My Man
1) Violet Hill
3) In My Place
6) Fix You
7) Strawberry Swing
8) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
9) The Hardest Part
10) Viva La Vida
12) Green Eyes
13) Blues ditty
14) Death Will Never Conquer (Will Champion on lead vocals)
15) Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)
17) Lovers in Japan
18) Death & All His Friends
19) The Scientist