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Friday, August 8, 2014

Letting off the Happiness in Stankonia

In the past, I've been somewhat critical of the line-ups playing øyafest, Oslo's premier music festival (I'm not linking to it... go fish).

Of course, there were exceptions (2011 = Kanye, Fleet Foxes, Janelle Monáe, Explosions in the Sky, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes :D:D:D:D), but, generally, there haven't been a cluster of acts close to getting me to drop the inordinate fee to attend.

This year was shaping up to be more of the same (Queens of the Stone Age, The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, Todd Terje...), until the mid-March announcement.


That Outkast.

ATLiens and Aquemini Outkast.  As I'm sure most people know, Outkast, who hasn't released a new album in 8 years, is touring world-wide(ish) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their landmark debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.  Additionally, they're the third, most influential artistic entity on my life (The list: 5) Counting Crows; 4) Aldous Huxley; 3) Outkast; 2) Joseph Heller; 1) Oscar Wilde).
Sorry, Al... "Point Counter Point" was genius, but it isn't cooler than a Polar Bear's toenails

So, it was a must that I had to see them live (as I'd failed to do so during their hey-day for a myriad of reasons).  When the news of their initial tour was announced and it was confirmed that they'd only be playing festivals, I briefly dreamed that I'd get a chance to see them in Norway, but quickly laughed off the notion.

Why the hell would they come here?

Conversely, I started trying to combine a home trip with a close enough festival.  No dice.  I was set to return to the mid-atlantic in late July for my wedding (Oh yeah... Thanks!) and the only shows within an irrational, day drive were in June (Governor's Ball on my birthday, no less and Firefly).

I was bummed and figured it wasn't meant to be.

Alas, I was wrong.  Norway was right.  Or Outkast's management team saw an opportunity for silly lucrative paydays in Europe.  Whatever.  More dates were added and one happened to be Øyafestivalen.

They were booked for Thursday.

I received a day pass for Thursday as a birthday gift from the best sister-in-law on planet earth and I was set.

And then the day got even better.

One day, while looking over Øyafestivalen's craptastic, English site, I discovered that a new artist had been booked for their day.

Conor Oberst.

Now,  let me explain because I realize that name is a little bit more esoteric than Two Dope boyz in a Cadillac from the ATL.  Oberst is a lot of things, but one of them was the lead singer of a little outfit called Bright Eyes, the purveyors of indie rock/folk/emo/electronica.  Oberst/Bright Eyes have released a lot of albums, but, for me personally, their seven year run from 1998 (with the release of Letting Off the Happiness) to 2005 (concluding with the era-defining, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning).

Like Outkast, he was another artistic entity that meant a lot to me (slightly ahead of Robert Cormier and behind Chris Rock).

So yeah.  I was pretty stoked.

It was pretty epic.

Conor Oberst mostly played music off his brand new album, because, that's what solo artist do when they embark on new, artistic avenues.  Which, I didn't mind because his new album was more in the vein of indie folk that I like and not in the vein of some of his other, creative endeavours.  It was full of all the great songwriting that caused a major magazine to invoke the "Next Bob Dylan" moniker and, seemingly, backward, he sounds better in-person than he does on record.

As for the rest of the performance, well... it was coldly professional.

See, a lifetime of concert-going has caused me to create a three-tier rating system of performances...

Tier I:  "I'm counting down the minutes of the minimum set length requirement"... These are artists that are either not enthused to be on-stage or are having an off-day and not able to "fight through it".  I often say their performance comes off listless or like they're on City 43 of a 65-city tour.  This category was most exemplified by Fleet Foxes in 2011 at Øyafest and The Killers

Tier II:  "I've done this before.  In fact, I've done this so much, I don't know how to do anything else"... While the artist puts on a great show, everything feels stale/overly rehearsed.  Down to the "speaking bits in-between" songs.  I remember when we went to see Fun. and, while Nate Reuss, definitely went Jeff Bebe, but he could've been in Hamburg or Houston.  "When the plane was landing here in Oslo.  I thought.  'Man, if I could live anywhere else, I'd choose here... in Oslo, man!'".  Which, while it's a nice sentiment, could be said about anywhere.  There's nothing that personalises why he'd choose Oslo.  But, it's enough.  People go to concerts/shows for a performance, not always for that personal connection, especially with pop music.  

This is where Conor Oberst fell.

He never took off his sunglasses.  He had the same routine for each song, wander over to another musician and play facing them.  Sing into the microphone while swaying slowly.  Finish the song.  Bow.  Take a long drink from one of his cups.  A short drink from the other.  A short sentence about the song.  Even his jumping and jamming riffs seemed pre-orchestrated.

Note.  This isn't a complaint.  Lord Knows that when I go to a show, I'm just hoping for a Tier II.  I think in order to become that big kind of band you need to string together your Tier II performances.

There's a reason why Mumford & Sons is bigger than Fleet Foxes.

It's just that, based on the nature of Conor Oberst's music, I figured he'd be more natural.  In fact, his only unscripted part of the show seemed to come toward the end when he blasted the organizers for not allowing his touring band their own set.  

What's a Tier III?

Well, that's what came next...

To kill the time before Outkast (Conor Oberst came on at 3:40, 'Kast wasn't due until 9:10), me and the wife went to see St. Lucia.

I've recently noted that the early-80s, soft rock/R&B/post-disco sound seems to be coming back with a vengeance and nowhere was it more evident than with Jean-Phillip Grobler, the South African-born Brooklynite who had only one speed.


Well, alright then.

Afterwards, it was food (awful... let's move on) and time for Janelle Monáe.

I'll say this about the lady from Atlanta with the odd hairdo, she is the definitely of a Tier III.

Back in 2011, before she became a superstar here, she forced an indifferent crowd waiting around for the Edward Sharpe set to become her fans.  Some of it was expert choreography (dancing and getting the crowd to get low and then jump up) and part of it was just her sheer cult of personality.  She pushed notes and teased others.  Suggestive looks were thrown into the crowd and random people were pulled on stage.  

It was pretty intense.

This time around, with her Electric Lady album having furthered her mythology, the crowd was all packed for her.  I'd say around 5-6,000.  

We were near the front and all around us, people were singing and dancing along.  It was almost like a religious experience.  She was even more magnetic than the prior time and threw caution and adherence to Norwegian rules aside and crowd surfed to end her night.

I enjoyed the set, but my mind was firmly focused on what was to come.

No pictures from here on out will be clear as I: suck at taking pictures, was using an iPhone, being consistently jostled from people packing forward, and maybe had tears clouding my vision.

I forced my way to the front and was promptly abandoned by the wife.  It was probably for the best because she wasn't comfortable boxing out to get/hold on to spacing in a crowd.  I was ready.

Which was good because they were late.  20 minutes to be exact.

But, after the delay, the exploded on to the stage powering through the first, five songs on their set list slowly gaining steam with each one... "B.O.B", "ATLiens", "Gasoline Dreams", "Skew it on the Bar-B", and "Rosa Parks". 

Andre3000 made his intentions/feelings plainly known.  He prowled the stage with sunglasses and a white wig delivering his lyrics while balancing on one foot in like a Warrior III pose and dressed in all black with a t-shirt that said "Loners get Lonely Too" and an oversized sales tag sticking off him that simply read "Sold Out".  Well, alright then.

Conversely, Big Boi was... well, here's the picture:

Yeah.  He was dressed for the occasion complete with an Atlanta Falcon hat.  Though, as usual, his effervescent presence and delivery made up for his famously more recluse partner.  It was clear which of the two was still actively performing and releasing music.

As for their sound, one of my concerns going in to this based on previous reviews, was shockingly true to recordings that had been laid down more than a decade prior to the show.  It sounded and felt like I had always imagined it would.  

I think the majority of the crowd felt the same.

I didn't really look back into the crowd much for several reasons.  One, this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and I wanted to take in as much of it as possible.  Two, in newspapers, on message boards and having talked to all the people around me made a clearly indelible mark on me that their catalog outside of "Hey Ya!", "Roses", and "Ms. Jackson" would be new to a lot of the attendees.  Three, I didn't want #2 to ruin #1, which would've happened if people around me weren't as equally in to what was happening on stage as myself.

But it was ok.

I rapped along, virtually word-for-word, for everyone.  Before the show, I was pretty sure I was the biggest, Outkast fan in Norway.  Now, afterwards and after reading this embarrassing review in one of the major newspapers here (To save you non-Norwegians from too much Google Translate, the writer compares the bass to "hardcore sex"...), I'm positive of it.

The people around me kept looking and asking how I knew all the words (well, this is Norway... I was also the only black person not on stage within the few hundred or so around me).  My volume must've started coming out because both Big Boi and Andre3000 stopped in front of my multiple times motioning me to be louder (or possibly shut up) and holding the mic out to me.  Even Sleepy Brown (who looks EXACTLY the same), he came out to do an abbreviated version of "Spottieottiedopalicious" along with a few other hooks,  showed me love, tapping his chest and pointing at me.

Their DJ was on point and mad props must go to the "hardcore sex metaphor enducing" sound team for Øyafestivalen for a truly great sound job.  Their background singers were mainly for decoration as I really only heard them during the outro to the final song ("International Players Anthem").

Though, it was a night to remember and I'm sure Outkast gained some new fans and/or got others to look deeper into their catalog.

I walked out to the sound of drunk, Norwegian singing "I know you would like to think your shit does not stink, but it smells like Puuuuuu-puuuuuuuuu"

Well, you can't blame them for trying.


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