Willis Earl Beal, Purity Ring, Oberhofer, Thurston Moore, Friends, Florence and the Machine, Feist, The Stone Roses, Sondre Lerche, Øya Festival 2012, Øya Festival 2012: Day 1
Øya Day 1: Sondre Lerche, Thurston Moore, Florence and The Machine, Feist, and More, August 8th, 2012
Welcome to the first official day of the Øya Festival—or as I like to call it: shock the American. At the risk of blatant cultural stereotyping, I cannot imagine a scenario where 15,000 American concertgoers + an event that takes place on medieval ruins would end in anything less than heartbreak. Repeated for emphasis: 15,000 concert goers. Medieval ruins. I’m here to tell you: there is a place where this sort of miracle occurs—not once, but fourteen times in as many years. I don’t want to build up the experience too much, but I’m 98% sure Norway may be the musical promise land. Tomorrow, I shall look skyward for deliveries of milk and honey. Oh yeah, there’s also quality music to be had, including today’s offerings of Sondre Lerche, Willis Earl Beal, Oberhofer, Thurston Moore, Friends, Florence and The Machine, Feist, Stone Roses, and Purity Ring.
Sondre Lerche kicked off the afternoon with aplomb. While hailing from a crooner background, the Bergen, Norway-bred, New York based singer/songwriter has always been best loud and live. Despite the fact I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying (you’d think by now I’d eaten enough Norwegian bread for something to stick…), it was clear the audience got a big kick out of his banter, and tunes—so much in fact that he performed an additional set later that afternoon on a small stage suspended in the water. Let’s just call him a national treasure.
I had heard of—but not heard—Willis Earl Beal. The again, even if I had, I probably still would have been shocked. A vivacious performer, Beal began his recording career homeless before being signed by XL. And while his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery may sound mellow, live he’s anything but. Beer clutched firmly in hand, he strutted his way through the set like a R&B madman, backed only by a reel-to-reel tape recorder. “You can write a song without knowing shit!” he reassured the audience. “I can’t reinforce that enough!” He also apologized for his dramatics—which included standing on a chair, wrapping himself in a cape, and flailing around on the stage. But really, no apologies necessary—it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable sets of the day.
After Beal, Oberhofer fell flat. Despite an attempt at playful, surf-influenced jams, the live gestalt felt overly simplistic. Likewise, Friends felt like a lazy retread of early 1990s jams. Frontwoman Samantha Urbani tried to save the set—largely made up of tunes from their debut Manifest!—with an extra dose of enthusiasm, hugging audience members and dancing wildly. But ultimately it was too tough of a sale.
Thurston Moore, on the other hand, had to do very little to sell the noise rock of new band Chelsea Light Moving. The newly minted four piece squealed through a set comprised of their forthcoming full-length (TBA). Next to Moore was a small music stand—which seemed a bit out of place for the iconacast. That is, until he started reading his prepared stage banter from it. Ladies and gentleman: this is punk rock. What’s also punk rock is Moore’s new album, recorded alongside ex-wife Kim Gordon and Yoko Ono. However, by the end of the tune I excused myself from the set, remembering all too late that I am not a punk.
Preparing to see Florence and the Machine was not unlike waiting for a rocket to launch. From the photo pit, one could feel the energy as the audience grew more and more restless while waiting for their favorite redheaded chanteuse. When they took the stage, it was to several audience members’ tears and shrieks of delight, as the energy boiled over. Frontwoman Florence Welch is a confident performer—and from midway through the first song it was easy to recognize where all the “witchy” descriptions came from. And while I cannot listen to more than a song or two from Ceremonials in one sitting (someone should have removed her producer from the mixing board long before he ceded control of the overstuffed album), I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the set gave me chills. That is—until her prancing became sprints across the stage, and her stunning vocal performance was sacrificed in the name of athletics.
Feist, however, was all polish. It was a gutsy performance. A note-perfect rendition of hits such as “My Moon, My Man,” or “Mushaboom” would have been appreciated. Loved even. Instead Feist and backing band Mountain Man twisted the familiar tunes into all new compositions, layering on voice, gritty guitar, and electronics until well-worn songs became new—and all together unexpected beasts. Crown her the queen of Øya. Or at least of the day.
Recently reformed Brit Pop stalwarts The Stone Roses strutted across the stage like they owned it. Or tried to, at least. Frontman Ian Brown’s vocals came nowhere near being in tune and the band seemed to be working incredibly hard to maintain their bygone-era swagger. Rather than hang around for what looked like a let down, I called it a day on the festival grounds…
…and left to find more music. One of the more interesting traditions of Øya is "Øyanatt," a series of late nightclub shows around Oslo. Despite jetlag telling me otherwise, I hustled over to catch Purity Ring. Now I’ve waxed poetic several times about what incrediable artists the Canadian duo are. But seeing them on a tiny stage, crammed mere inches from Corin Roddick’s control board, it occurred to me that he’s manning the musical equivalent of mission control—manipulating vocalist Megan James’ vocals in real time, cueing beats, and basically keeping the wheels from falling off the whole live show. The lights show? Heck, anyone working that hard deserves to appear effortless.
And so, night one came to a close. Tomorrow I shall feel the physical beating, but at this moment? It seems like such a small price to pay.
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