Roskilde Festival

Roskilde Review Day 2: Punch Brothers, Lee Ranaldo, The Vaccines, The Cult, July 6, Denmark

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If a bluegrass band playing a note for note cover of a Radiohead song sounds like the geekiest thing in the world to you, you may be right. If you also think it sounds amazing and fun, then you’re probably already familiar with Punch Brothers. Sure, calling them a bluegrass band is a bit reductive as the band incorporates so many influences into their sound, from pop to jazz, even a hint of R’nB and much more, but when you’ve got mandolin, banjo, and fiddle onstage and you play a Bill Monroe number in your set, you’re basically a bluegrass band, albeit a very progressive and eclectic one. Chrile Thile led the band through a great set that totally got the crowd going and showed off their musical talents to the full extent. Besides the aforementioned Radiohead cover, other highlights included “Don’t Get Married Without Me” and a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia.”  I figured their midnight set would be the perfect way to end my Friday night.

Of course, as these things go, my night didn’t quite end there. It ended with a pretty raucous set by Amsterdam DJ collective Amsterdance (clever name, no?), which was not part of my original plan. My original plan was  to make my way to the train station where I would catch the train back to Copenhagen for the night.  Yup, too old and used to comfort for camping. Naturally, I had to wait nearly an hour until the next train would arrive and so I took it upon myself to explore the nearby campgrounds. So, arming myself with a can of beer so as to fit in, I ventured into the strange little society that is a European festival campground. Dudes having a mini dance party to Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years,” people chucking empty bottles into a pile in the middle of the pathway, others who had set up elaborate (and kind of impressive) soundsystems and even functioning bars at their campsite – these are among the sights I saw. It’s definitely a weird scene, but one that looks like a lot of fun in it’s own way. I can see why they set up the electronic dance music stage (which was inflatable by the way) outside of the proper festival grounds and near the campsite.  This is where the party happens. And Amsterdance brought the party. It was everything a late night dance party in a muddy field should be. Still glad I wasn’t camping though. That place kind of smelled like a urinal full of mud. 

Highlights from earlier in the day included Gossip‘s Beth Ditto going all disco diva on the crowd and learning the word “skol,” which she used throughout her set, Dorit Chrysler playing some late night theremin music, and The Vaccines rocking out with a totally fun set of tunes. Way more fun than The Cult, whose set overlapped with theirs. Not sure why I felt the need to checck out The Cult again, since I saw them just over a year ago at Hellfest, but hey, sometimes you just want to hear “Love Removal Machine.” When I saw them last, I noted that Ian Astbury seemed a bit weird.  Maybe he was just having a bad day i thought.  Nope, I think the dude’s just constantly cranky. That’s not to say the band didn’t rock out. They did (though I wasn’t really feeling the tunes off their latest, Choice Of Weapon). It’s just The Vaccines power pop tunes seemed more fun at the time.

The set of the day for me though, would have to have been Lee Ranaldo. The former Sonic Youth guitarist led his band through a solid set that was immensely satisfying. Playing tunes from Between The Times And Tides, his latest solo album and first with real, actual songs on it, along with covers of Neil Young and The Talking Heads, Ranaldo impressed the diehards up front, which included oldsters who probably started listening to Sonic Youth when they started in the early ’80s along with kids who may not have even been born in the ’80s. No matter.  As one t-shirt being sold on the fest declared, “music has no borders.” I would imagine that includes age as well.

Roskilde Review Day 1: Clock Opera, Today Is The Day, A$AP Rocky, July 5, Denmark

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Devotees of Denmark’s Roskilde Festival like to refer to the “Orange Feeling,” so named for the festival’s famous tented orange stage and referring to the overall vibe of the fest in general. I’ve got to say that I’ve come to understand said feeling, having succumbed to it’s charms after attending last year. For such a massive festival, it can also have a really small scale vibe to it as well, catering to the most obscure of tastes while also offering up the massive crowd pleasers. Back for another round this year, I was eager to take it all in again. And so, after skipping out on most of The Shins‘ set (sorry, Natalie Portman,they never really changed my life), I wandered over to the Pavilion Stage to check out Clock Opera.

Having heard good things about the London band, I was hoping to be impressed and they did not disappoint. The matching floral print shirts on three quarters of the band were kind of worth it alone, but their grandiose sounding electropop tunes also held up. Songs like “Once and For All” really got the crowd going and the band themselves were impressed with the reaction, with frontman Guy Connelly noting that many festival crowds would have partially dispersed for greener pastures by that point in their set. He also mentioned how they’d never been given that amount of time in which to play before, another nice thing about Roskilde being their dedication to giving each performer at least an hour onstage if they so choose. Clock Opera were definitely experiencing the “orange feeling.” And loving it.

From there I was drawn in to the arty noise metal sounds of Today Is The Day. Frontman Steve Austin’s an intense fellow, but not without a sense of humour, as evidenced by the band’s cover of Bad Companys “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” which the band played with their usual trademark intensity. “How to take a piece of shit and shine it,” noted Austin, before adding, “I hope you all get laid tonight.” Austin and co. continued on with this theme later in the set, adding another sex themed cover song, The Beatles’ “Why Dont We Do It In The Road.” They may seem like scary sorts at first, but these guys know how to have fun onstage, and festivals are all about fun.  Chalk this one up to orange feeling too.

Also fun was A$AP Rocky’s set later that night, a smart bit of counterprogramming for all the kids who didn’t get what weird old Uncle Robert and his mates in The Cure were up to on the main stage (for the record, it sounded great). Rocky really got the crowd going, leading them through chants of A$AP! (of course), asking how many in the crowd smoked weed (apparently a lot), and giving various people in the crowd a shout out, such as this gem: “Shout out to my boy in the back with his arms up and shit. I see you.” And luckily for those throwing their beers around, they weren’t throwing them in the direction of the stage or this show may have ended very differently. Rocky impressed with his swagger and high energy show. He definitely caught a bit of the orange feeling that night. However, for the duration of his set, I think all involved would agree to change the name to purple feeling for A$AP Rocky’s sake

Review: Roskilde Festival, July 2/3 – Bad Religion, Janelle Monae, Justin Townes Earle

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Bad Religion

Roskilde – Whoever does the music programming for the Roskilde Festival really must be commended.  Having already seen acts as diverse as Portishead, Kylesa and Shangaan Electro, the remaining days proved to be equally eclectic and perhaps even better. 

Things started out on an interesting note with post-punk/industrial/metal pioneers Kiling Joke.  Clad in a camouflage jumpsuit and often lumbering across the stage like Frankenstein’s monster, singer Jaz Coleman took on the role of an angry prophet of doom.  His between song banter consisted of a series of  Howard Beale-esque rantings like “the European Union is in trouble,” “there are no more fish in the ocean,” and more cryptically, “soon, they’ll attack the supermarkets.”  Each of these rantings segued perfectly into the title of the next song and worked to create a perfect mood to match their music.  In fact, Coleman seemed a little miffed when bassist Martin “Youth” Glover asked the crowd if they were having a good time between songs as if it were breaking the angry comspiracy theorist mood he was trying to create. 

The Ex

One of the most impressive acts I saw was Dutch art-punkers The Ex.  I had known the band by reputation and heard a bit of their music, but was not quite prepared for it to be quite as good as it was.  Known for their love of collaboration, the group was performing on this occasion with Italian jazz trumpeter Roy Paci, who played on their most recent album Catch My Shoe.  For a band that’s been going for 32 years (though admittedly not with all of it’s original members), these guys had an incredible amount of energy, jumping and flailing about the stage with the energy and enthusiasm of teenagers.  Also delivering an energetic set was Swedish electronic act Little Dragon.  Dancing, posing, and twirling (yes, twirling) across the stage, singer Yukimi Nagano is a totally engaging, charismatic frotwoman.  I expect to hear more from this band in the future.

One of the more unique acts of the festival was Congotronics Vs. Rockers.  It was essentially a massive jam session made up of 19 musicians from six different bands – Konono No. 1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Wildbird and Peacedrums, Skeletons, and Juana Molina – all of whom had participated in the Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers CD compilation.  It was really pretty impressive to see that many musicians from various musical backgrounds playing together and they all seemed to be having a lot of fun up there.  Of course, as would be expected with that many musicians, the logistics of organizing it all didn’t go 100% smoothly as it seemed that certain instruments were not always as prominent in the mix as they should be.  Still, this was one of the highlights of the entire festival, and well worth skipping out on most of The Strokes’ mainstage set.  Luckily, Julian Casablancas and company frontloaded their set with a lot of hits and I walked away after about half an hour satisfied that I had seen enough.


Due to the abundance of mud, I decided to stay at the Odeon stage after Congotronics Vs. Rockers to check out old school death metallers Autopsy.  The metal faithful were out in full force, eager to hear something heavy and brutal at 1:00am, and Autopsy did not let them down.  I enjoyed their set, but not being overly familiar with their stuff, I felt that I had had enough after 4 or 5 songs.  I do have to comment, however, on the fact that guitarist Danny Coralles seemed to be wearing trackpants on stage.  Sure, he offset this by wearing studded gauntlets onstage, thus upping the metal quotient, but to quote from Seinfeld, when you wear sweatpants, you’re telling the world, “I give up.”   I know death metal has never been the most glamorous of genres, but come on, put a pair of jeans on.  Or at least some shorts.  Shorts would be better.

By Sunday, lack of sleep had gotten the best of me and so a conscious decision was made to see less bands and take it easy.  California punk legends Bad Religion were on my list of must sees and put on a pretty solid set full of songs from throughout their 32 year career.  “This is a song from the 20th Century … back when we were good,” joked vocalist Greg Graffin and as with all good jokes, there was a good bit of truth to it.  This is not to say that their newer material is bad, but the older songs certainly got a bigger reaction from the crowd.

Justin Townes Earle

Also getting a big reaction from the crowd was Janelle Monae.  With a great band, a great voice, and a top notch stage show, it’s hard to fault anything she does.  She even managed to incorporate covers of Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five into her set.  Yet despite all this and despite the fact that a guest spot from Big Boi on “Tightrope” was pretty much inevitable (although according to this Pitchfork review, he didn’t make an appearance), I just wasn’t really feeling it.  What I needed instead was to close out the festival with something a little more intimate from an equally impressive performer – Justin Townes Earle.    While his stage show couldn’t compete with Monae’s in terms of spectacle, Earle is a talented guitarist and songwriter as well as an accomplished storyteller.  Accompanied only by another guitarist, Earle made it feel like a performance in a small club rather than a side stage at a massive festival.  He closed things off with a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”  The song was a perfect reflection of how I felt at that moment.  Roskilde was great, but after 4 days of music, mud and little sleep, I could hardly wait to get out of there and get some rest.

Review: Roskilde Festival Part 1: June 30 – July 1

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The Raveonettes

Roskilde – One of Europe’s largest music festivals, the Roskilde Festival is also one of it’s most diverse, featuring everything from traditional African music to old school death metal.  While it is perhaps most notorious for the deaths of nine fans during a 2000 Pearl Jam performance, it is probably better known amongst the people of Denmark and Europeans in general as having a solid lineup of music over it’s four days.  While this festival was originally my consolation prize for not getting tickets to the sold out Glastonbury Festival, it turned out to be just as impressive and definitely less muddy (though still quite muddy in it’s own right). 

Due to a series of increasingly frustrating complications that I’d rather not get into here, I arrived later than expected on the first night of the fest, thus missing Tame Impala and Foals.  I did arrive in time to catch most of Iron Maiden’s set and the metal legends did not disappoint.  Seeing them in a large outdoor setting in pretty much the perfect environment.  Like many metal bands, they have a larger than life sound that probably works best before a big crowd.  Singing along to songs like “The Trooper,” “Fear Of The Dark,” and “Number Of The Beast” with a huge group of Europeans, metalheads and non-metalheads alike, was a pretty incredible experience.  The band were obviously enjoying themselves too, with singer Bruce Dickinson commenting particularly on the colourful garb of the audience in contrast to the standard sea  of all black clothing seen at the metalfests they normally play.  Of course it wouldn’t be an Iron Maiden show without band mascot Eddie, appearing here as a giant, Swamp Thing-esque creature lumbering across the stage.  It was an enjoyable set, but I have to wonder what happened to “Run To The Hills?”  Come on, Iron Maiden, it’s one of your biggest hits.  Throw us a bone here.  On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised with the inclusion of a couple songs from their Brave New World album as I’m kind of  fond of that one.  It wasn’t quite the perfect Iron Maiden set I’d been hoping for but it was still pretty damn good.

Electric Wizard

After ending my first night at the festival with some metal, I also began the next day with some even heavier metal.  Taking in Electric Wizard’s heavy, sludgy set at noon made for an odd sensory experience as it seems like they would be better suited for a midnight performance.  However, it was still an impressive display of Sabbathy goodness.  Also, their drummer looks like he could do quite well in an Anton LaVey lookalike contest.  Awesome.  From there I went in the exact opposite direction musically (and sort of geographically – it was on the other side of the park) to check out Wang Li, playing his take on traditional Chinese music on the Jew’s harp and other  instruments.   He was an impressive and quite charming performer, although even playing on the smallest stage of the festival, he was sometimes in danger of being drowned out by talking from people who were not really there to see him.  

Definitely playing to a receptive crowd was Bright Eyes.  Rumoured to be Conor Oberst’s final tour under this particular moniker, there was a fair sized audience, eager to hear these songs performed for perhaps the last time.  Although something tells me that Oberst isn’t just going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  I somehow doubt that he’s never going to play any of the songs from his sizeable back catalogue ever again, unless his future musical projects take the form of electronic noise collages or jazz accordion compositions.  Regardless, they put on a solid set and Oberst seemed to have the crowd in the palm of his hand, as did The Raveonettes, who played later in the day as the first performers on the main stage.  Seeing the Danish duo playing a set in their home country was a no brainer.  Sure, I barely understood a word they said (OK, I literally only did understand one word they said: “Takk.”) but it was pretty cool to see them play before a pretty huge crowd as sort of hometown heroes.  

Acorn Falling  

I figured since I was in Denmark, I should take the time to look into discovering lesser known Danish performers and Acorn Falling fit the bill.  The band, led by Lars Kivig, caught my attention because of the pedigree of some of it’s other members, notably cellist John Contreras of Current 93 fame and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds percussionist Thomas Wydler.  Musically, they weren’t too far removed from the musical oeuvres of those bands, playing a form of drone based instrumental music that also brought to mind The Dirty Three and the white noise passages often favoured by Spiritualized.  Oh, and they had a saxophone player too.  Saxophones are cool.  Just ask Dan Bejar.


Bejar’s band, Destroyer, were the lone Canadian act playing the festival on this, Canada’s 144th birthday.  I figured it was my duty as a Canadian to see them and I’m glad I did.  Having seen mixed reviews of their live shows and being generally unimpressed with Bejar when I had seen him with The New Pornographers, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Bejar and company put on one hell of a show, due in no small part to the power of the saxophone.  Destroyer’s latest album, Kaputt, jumps headfirst into the world of soft rock and is in my opinion,  Bejar’s best work yet.  It wasn’t until hearing these songs in a live setting though, that it occurred to me how much Bejar’s voice and phrasing combined with this particular musical dressing remind me of Al Stewart of Year Of The Cat fame.  Bejar is a pretty interesting performer.  Often turning his back on the crowd, or crouching down to take a sip from his drink, he didn’t have much to say, his stage banter tending towards statements like, “Here’s another song.”  It seems though that the more he drank, the better and more animated he got (and his stage banter expanded to include shout outs to Jagermeister).  Speaking of drinking, as my one nod towards Canada Day, I was wearing  a Labatt 50 t-shirt and at one point, I’m pretty sure Bejar spotted me and raised  his glass to me in recognition of a fellow countryman.  Or he was just drunk and waving his glass around haphazardly, but the former makes for a better story, so I choose to believe that one.  Happy Canada Day, Dan Bejar.

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