Festival Review: Squamish Valley Music Festival 2014

After an obligatory day of rest Kevin Vanstone is back from the Squamish Valley Music Festival to review the best of the fest beginning with the weekend’s headliners of Bruno Mars, Arcade Fire, and Eminem.

The Squamish Valley Music Festival brought together music fans of all stripes over the weekend, enticing listeners with a trio of heavyweights that covered a variety of musical niches. Bruno Mars, Arcade Fire, and Eminem would never be caught on the same bill in traditional touring circles, but that is the nature of all-you-can-eat festivals such as Squamish. While the central concept of musical discovery is a positive one, this approach to curating a festival can create some odd circumstances to enjoy live music.

Bruno Mars’ Showmanship Overshadows Musical Talent

Bruno Mars closed the Tantalus stage on the first full day of concerts with an energetic and exciting pop set that featured a number of tracks from his latest album Unorthodox Jukebox. Throughout the set Mars demonstrated the energy and moves we saw at Superbowl 48, traversing the stage with the ease and grace of a professional. His band followed suit, mixing in a variety of choreographed dances and hip shaking to liven the show, however no one was swinging their torso like the flamboyant frontman.

Bruno’s hip thrusts could stop a L.G. in her tracks, however they also seemed to get in the way of him displaying his true talents. The best moments of Mars’ set came when the star found himself alone onstage, either with a guitar in hand or alone with a microphone, crooning his heart out. While the showmanship was greatly appreciated, a man of Mars’ musical talent appeared to be wasting energy on what is ultimately a gimmick relative to his musical ability.

Mars puts on a show, but the more he dances the more you begin to realize you aren’t meant to pay attention to the music for too long. If you did, you might have noticed the pseudo-reggae track ‘Show Me’  that stuck out like a stroller at The Blueprint Arena, or the tacky lyrics, or the blatant play to smokers via red, green, and yellow smoke displayed onscreen. The more I paid attention, the more I started to notice cracks in his set. But then again, as a 24-year old male I was never meant to like his music. I can sure appreciate his voice, though.

Arcade Fire Burn It Down

Where Bruno Mars leveraged dance moves and stage presence to woo the crowd on Friday night, Arcade Fire took to the Tantalus stage on Saturday with the clear intention of delivering their brand of beautiful, intricate music without much window dressing. Montreal’s indie darlings dazzled with an extensive set spanning all four major releases, including a handful of tracks from 2013’s critically acclaimed Reflektor.


Following in their pattern of previous unique and creative covers frontman Win Butler closed the set by donning his trademark giant head and declaring Arcade Fire had flown away while only “The Reflektors” remained Next, the band members launched into a cover of Bryan Adams’ ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’ before closing the set with a trio of original works. The cover was a savvy way to recognize Adams while performing just minutes from his hometown, and showed an awareness Sunday’s closing act seemed to lack during his highly-anticipated performance.

Eminem Proves Star Power Reigns Supreme At Squamish

Eminem dropped over 30 songs from throughout his catalogue in an energetic set to close out the festival on Sunday night. Featuring a variety of old hits, new hits, and rap classics Eminem thoroughly entertained the masses as they soaked in the set from the largest crowd of the weekend.

After an over-indulgent opening video that told the story of Eminem’s kidnapping by none other than Stan’s younger brother, the real Marshal Mathers started his set with ‘Bad Guy’ which rendered the introduction somewhat meaningless. Having wasted enough time with the short, Eminem made sure to get straight to the point and address the elephant in the festival, asking the crowd how many of them were “fucked up” on illegal substances emphasizing the word as if to give it more power. It was an odd move considering Mathers’ history with drug addiction, and proved to be a recurring theme in what ultimately became a confusing set narrative.

Having earned cheap cool points with the crowd (there’s a time and a place Em, and Squamish was neither) Eminem banged out classic hits like ‘The Way I Am’, ”Till I Collapse’, ‘My Name Is’, and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ scattered in between modern hits like ‘Sing for the Moment’, ‘Love the Way You Lie’, and ‘Not Afraid’. While both batches of songs seemed to move the crowd with the same enthusiasm that was consistent throughout Eminem’s set, I found myself disappointed by the slow pace to some of the latter variety. Fast-paced bangers like ‘Rap God’ seemed impressive until it became clear Eminem was rapping over a recording of himself, taking breaks noticed by few too busy with their iPhones.

I came into the weekend excited to see two of the greatest rappers alive at Squamish, but after witnessing Nas go old-school and throw down Illmatic in full Eminem left me disappointed with a relatively modern set. You don’t need more than one hand to count the songs of note Eminem has released since 2002’s Encore, but many of those meager efforts could be heard on Sunday.

The low point of the set occurred when Eminem threw down a corny freestyle rap only to backtrack when he realized what he had done, telling the crowd “Alright that shit was stupid, but fuck it Vancouver make some noise anyway!” The crowd ate it up without hesitation, confirming Eminem’s do-no-wrong superstar status. It was a rhyme that would have had him laughed out of any battle the Detroit native has ever been a part of, but here he was playing it off as a reason to get excited. Years ago Eminem earned respect with unique storytelling and undeniably talented raps, but over a decade after The Marshall Mathers LP he seems to be only a shadow of the vicious lyricist that once owned 8 Mile.

But I knew the man I was going to see perform on Sunday night wasn’t the Slim Shady of old that “used to get fucked up” and earned the respect of hip-hop heads by the track. This was the new Eminem, a man who has cleaned up his act personally but remains steadfast in his glorification of drugs and violence musically, unable to give up the crutches that once carried him to greatness.