Highlights from first weekend of festival
With the afterglow of the previous weekend wearing off, it still feels completely surreal to remember standing in the photo pit while watching bands like the Wu Tang Clan and the Black Keys play to tens of thousands of people on Québec’s Plains of Abraham.
It’s also hard to believe that with so many friends who are into music festivals that I had never previously attended Festival d’été de Québec. Road trip next year anyone?
Huge thanks to all the wonderful people I met, including journalists, photographers, festival organizers and volunteers, and band members.
Belle and Sebastian, Born Ruffians and Here We Go Magic woo Québec City
“Where I come from in Glasgow, Thursday is the middle of the weekend,” said Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch mid-set.
And if the crowd assembled in front of the LOTO-QUÉBEC Stage in Francophonie Park was any indication of what day it actually was then clearly no one had any intentions of heading to work the next day.
Their first time visiting Québec City, the multi-member Glaswegian group pulled out gems from all over their expansive back catalogue. And despite the rain that cascaded throughout the majority of the show, the packed crowd stood transfixed, swaying to songs that included a mini-string orchestra and rampant instrument swapping.
A few years shy of their 20th anniversary, Belle and Sebastian have proven that they remain as vital as ever. Now, if only we could convince them to visit Canada more often.
Ontario group Born Ruffians managed to impress while playing several cuts off their latest album, Birthmarks. However, clocking in a set that came in just at the 45-minute mark, it seemed like the four-piece were just getting warmed up when they walked off the stage.
Opening the day was New York’s Here We Go Magic, who cranked out a number of mild-but-catchy slowcore anthems. The band were in top form, and managed to coax in the audience despite the cloudburst that erupted during their set.
Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors bring on the old timey dance party
For those who have never visited, the core of Québec City essentially straddles a fairly steep hill. That said, it didn’t take much to wander down to catch the after-hours show at The Cercle where Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors, who were one of the major surprises of the festival, put on a dizzying, sweat-soaked performance. Taking their cues from ’50s rock, the group absolutely tore the place apart, with the audience caught in a perpetual bob-and-twist.
On the way back up, of course, I got properly lost. My heart gives thanks to the lady at the local poutinery who knew enough English to help me on my drunken way. My heart, however, is not happy about the excessive cheese and gravy.
Bad Religion still going strong after 30 + years
Having formed in 1979 and released 16 full-length albums, stalwart punks Bad Religion are without a doubt completely legendary in their own right. Having said that, the group still deliver the goods live. With a set-list comprised of newer material mixed in with the classics, the five-piece bore down on the crowd with vigour despite the impressive collective cluster of grey hair being sported on stage.
The Hunters similarly impressed the audience, playing high-octane punk with gruff-but-melodic vocals. The audience similarly ate it up, with several more adventurous members catching a wave of non-stop crowd surfing.
Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing to Miss Out On
Quite likely one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, the legendary Wu Tang Clan did not disappoint. Bringing together RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa – of course, the group managed to give several shout-outs to Ol’ Dirty Bastard throughout the set, the Wu brought the ruckus with every song.
And every song was a hit, with notable standouts including “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Protect Ya Neck” and “Gravel Pit”.
Other openers included Wiz Khalifa and several Franco-hip-hoppers, along with Halifax’s Classified aka Luke Boyd. Still flying high from winning a Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year for his song “Inner Ninja”, Boyd spat rhymes with reckless abandon. The most telling moment of his set? Even Classified was clearly stoked to see the Wu.
Black Keys lead Saturday night line-up
Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a fan of The Black Keys. However, their Saturday night headlining slot was and completely devoid of any filler. The group was absolutely in top form as they pummeled through songs from their massive back catalogue, both as a full band and as a stripped-down two-piece.
Even so, despite their mammoth performance, I found myself waiting impatiently for the big hit. Thankfully it was worth it. Ever wonder what tens of thousands of people singing along to “Lonely Boy” sounds like?
Eagles of Death Metal have always been a favourite of mine, and watching front man Jesse Hughes twitch, howl and rock his way across the entirety of the stage, including a visit out to the audience, was a goddamned pleasure. The group sounded absolutely ferocious live, and wasted no time whipping the crowd into a frenzy with opening number “I Only Want You”.
The quote of the weekend easily goes to Father John Misty lead singer Joshua Tillman who, at one point during one of his many onstage diatribes, said “I feel like a dove of weird bisexual folk rock instead of an eagle of death metal.”
Playing high-energy folk anthems that were heavy on both melody and brood, the band was an appropriate, and exciting, opener for the raucousness that followed. Easily one of my favourite sets of the entire festival.
The Joy Formidable rock Impérial de Québec
Unfortunately, due to waiting for the Black Keys to play the hit, I managed to only catch the final 20 or so minutes of Welsh band Joy Formidable. Which was really a shame, since the three-piece were clearly having more fun on stage than any other act that played. Playing shoegaze-y pop songs that literally burst at the seams with energy, Joy Formidable recalled the best parts of the ’90s without falling into complete retro worship. The Hawaiian shirts worn by the rhythm section were pretty hilarious though.