Sevana Ohandjanian takes one for the team and catches The Stone Roses at Norway's Oya Festival.
The sun has been beating down in a way that is distinctly un-Norwegian. Considering Oya Festival is held in Oslo's Medieval Park, a boat ride distance from fjords a-plenty, you might expect a nip in the wind. Yet with the picturesque backdrop of lush mountains, summer was showcasing itself in full force, perfectly mirroring the lineup on this first day of the festival.
Upon entry to the park, reached after what can only be described as a maze of streets all as unpronounceable as the next, the sounds of Norwegian pop musician Sondre Lerche become discernible on the main stage. He cuts a diminutive figure, and the songs are quite sweet, but it's all a bit twee. The parents who'd come out in droves with their kids seemed to be enjoying it though.
High contrast then came in the form of Willis Earl Beal, christening the Club Tent stage as the first act of the day. The Chicago singer/songwriter captivated with his self-confessed 'overdramatisations', involving everything from crooning seductively whilst dancing around his mic stand to climbing atop a chair to foist a black sheet with 'nobody' emblazoned on it in the air, then wearing it as a cape. All done with James Brown style showmanship and vocal range reminiscent of '60s crooners.
Unfortunately the next couple of acts encountered were less impressive. After forking out close to 6 Euros for a bottle of water (so the festival water price complaint is clearly a universal conversation topic, not strictly Australian), I arrived to the smaller Vika stage to watch Americans Oberhofer. Their band name is potentially the most creative part of their work, with songs that sat in that uncomfortable purgatory of feeling familiar due to the leeching of influences from others. Next up Mirror Lakes, a Norwegian indie rock band that have achieved some level of success in their home country, just fell flat, suffering the same fate as Oberhofer.
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Now for a fix of aggressive melody meets melancholia, you'd be a fool to have missed Bob Mould performing Sugar's 1992 record Copper Blue. While it appeared that only six people in the audience had any idea what was going on (yeah, I'm talking to you middle-aged man dancing like Mr Bean and chain smoking through the whole set. Go you), by the end of the ear-bleeding loudness of that set one can only hope there are converts in the works.
Someone who usually does mind-bending noise well is Thurston Moore. Maybe he was having an off day, or maybe the torturously hot sun was playing tricks on our minds, but Moore wasn't at his finest. As the first song dragged into an extended guitar solo – wherein solo means Moore vigorously strumming the same note with reverb – many began making the migration to Mazzy Star. Those who hadn't arrived earlier were greeted by a queue snaking out from the Club Tent and along the river, some 150 people deep. If this didn't attest to the band's popularity, the reactions once inside solidified it. Though Hope Sandoval's voice was so breathy it was barely a whisper at times, fans whooped and hollered after each song. There was a transformative air to the room, as the darkened surrounds provided the perfect location for their carefully crafted folk-cum-shoegaze style. Unsurprisingly, Fade Into You was the undeniable highlight, soft and delicate, with a hint of vulnerability in Sandoval's breaking voice.
Carrying on the theme of female performers, British songstress and inspiration to 16-year-old girls everywhere, Florence Welch and her Machine took to the main stage with pomp and circumstance. With wind in her hair, flowing through her dramatic dress, she looked every bit the singing diva she portrays on stage. With boundless enthusiasm and energy, Florence traipsed from one end of the stage to the other, endlessly calling on fans to join in, at one point encouraging people to put friends/relatives/lovers on their shoulders before diving into Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). Her stunning voice almost made up for being stuck in an audience made up almost exclusively of couples embracing.
Stone Roses' Ian Brown. Pic by Sevana Ohandjanian.
Yet the real excitement was reserved for the night's headliners and crowd favourites, if the number of lemon shirts seen was any indication. Four men, reunited last year, one incident of the singer calling the drummer a cunt recently; The Stone Roses are in fine form, if this outing is to be any indication. High off the back of their successful Heaton Park gigs, there's no doubt they could have easily phoned in this performance, but instead they delivered a huge, boisterous, crowd-pleasing show with each band member at their peak.
Stepping out and launching into I Wanna Be Adored, they wasted no time in hitting it out of the park. The Stone Roses' back catalogue is littered with sing-a-long opportunities, and the audience took it upon themselves to provide backing vocals on tunes like She Bangs The Drums and Sally Cinnamon. Ian Brown was all bravado and swagger, turning shoulder shrugs into dance moves. Mani mugged for the cameras while simultaneously flinging about those basslines he's so renowned for, and John Squire was all quiet confidence while his guitar melodies washed over the crowd as the sun finally set.
The setlist was a roll call of anthemic tunes. Drifting from the hazy Made Of Stone to Waterfall being seamlessly interwoven with Don't Stop, boisterous voices rose from the audience on Brown's command. This Is The One saw a sea of pointed fingers reaching towards the sky, before I Am The Resurrection swept through the festival, with all joining into the refrain of “I am the resurrection and I am a lie.” As Brown threw paper planes and his tambourines out into the audience, before joining his bandmates for a group hug and bow, there wasn't a face left without an unhealthily joyous grin painted across it. A stupendous headline set, good luck to all who must follow in the coming days.