POP Montreal Diary
The Link’s Writers Take on POP Montreal
DAY 1: Sept. 19
DAY 1: Sept. 19
—Colin Harris The venue is Brasserie Beaubien, a hole-in-the-wall that looks shockingly familiar to the bar in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Between the middle-aged Quebecoise bartender making quick quips in French or the cheap beer, this is the place for me. Wednesday is the Fixture Records showcase, a little local label who’s biggest name is solo-lo-fi droner Dirty Beaches. His murky take on rockabilly Badlands got a Polaris nod last year, but tonight the lineup is Brave Radar, Mavo, Freelove Fenner, Cresting, Sheer Agony and Chevalier Avant Garde. When I arrive Mazo is playing solid, velvets-inspired garage stuff. The song ends with the lead singer saying, “Thank you, we’re Dirty Beaches,” to some chuckles from the crowd. Everything is kept fun with his heavy sarcasm, making up for a not-so-tight set. Freelove Fenner are next after more beer for me, a simple, sound with guitar and bass moving as one grooving unit. They’re an enticing little number, it’s too bad that bassist Caitlin Loney’s voice was shot. They played a reduced set, guitarist Peter Woodford singing everything he could, but I wished I could have heard them in harmony. After the set I decide to rush to Cabaret Mile End to catch San Francisco’s Deerhoof. Unless things go very late I have no hope of catching the musical inventors Buke & Gase, which is a shame but you have to pick your battles at POP. I don’t know if it was a soundcheck or jam session, but I heard the main riff of “Whole Lotta Love” around Van Horne on my way to the Cabaret. Deerhoof ends up being almost half an hour late, quashing any hope I had of catching some of Yukon Blonde. I’ve got to say I’m no Deerhoof fanboy, on record I take their original style as plain over-the-top weirdness. But Iive, I have hopes that they’ll win me over. They do, although I spend most of the first few songs wishing I was on more drugs at this show. About one in every 20 audience member is rocking the fuck out, but by the end nearly everyone is dancing, sweaty for the furnace-like heat of this mid-sized venue. Satomi Matsuzaki’s cutsie act never completely won me over, but the contrast of her soft singing over the dissonant, polyrhythmic noise pop going on around her did make me laugh while I danced. What have I learned for Day Two? Bring a bike, and a bag to store my layers.
Got Day One started a bit late, so no free food and drinks at Eglise POP for me. Got to say, I was interested to hear what DJ Brendan Canning sounded like. It did however, put me in the right place to run into friends convincing me to go all the way down to Beaubien on what was apparently the first night of winter.
The venue is Brasserie Beaubien, a hole-in-the-wall that looks shockingly familiar to the bar in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Between the middle-aged Quebecoise bartender making quick quips in French or the cheap beer, this is the place for me.
Wednesday is the Fixture Records showcase, a little local label who’s biggest name is solo-lo-fi droner Dirty Beaches. His murky take on rockabilly Badlands got a Polaris nod last year, but tonight the lineup is Brave Radar, Mavo, Freelove Fenner, Cresting, Sheer Agony and Chevalier Avant Garde.
When I arrive Mazo is playing solid, velvets-inspired garage stuff. The song ends with the lead singer saying, “Thank you, we’re Dirty Beaches,” to some chuckles from the crowd. Everything is kept fun with his heavy sarcasm, making up for a not-so-tight set.
Freelove Fenner are next after more beer for me, a simple, sound with guitar and bass moving as one grooving unit. They’re an enticing little number, it’s too bad that bassist Caitlin Loney’s voice was shot. They played a reduced set, guitarist Peter Woodford singing everything he could, but I wished I could have heard them in harmony.
After the set I decide to rush to Cabaret Mile End to catch San Francisco’s Deerhoof. Unless things go very late I have no hope of catching the musical inventors Buke & Gase, which is a shame but you have to pick your battles at POP. I don’t know if it was a soundcheck or jam session, but I heard the main riff of “Whole Lotta Love” around Van Horne on my way to the Cabaret.
Deerhoof ends up being almost half an hour late, quashing any hope I had of catching some of Yukon Blonde. I’ve got to say I’m no Deerhoof fanboy, on record I take their original style as plain over-the-top weirdness. But Iive, I have hopes that they’ll win me over.
They do, although I spend most of the first few songs wishing I was on more drugs at this show. About one in every 20 audience member is rocking the fuck out, but by the end nearly everyone is dancing, sweaty for the furnace-like heat of this mid-sized venue. Satomi Matsuzaki’s cutsie act never completely won me over, but the contrast of her soft singing over the dissonant, polyrhythmic noise pop going on around her did make me laugh while I danced.
What have I learned for Day Two? Bring a bike, and a bag to store my layers.
“You can try.”
The bouncer was through convincing us that not being on the guest list meant not getting in. Why had my POP-partner shown me that Diamond Rings video before we headed out? I would have never walked across town to La Tulipe for some 20 minute musical quickie before Buke and Gase if Rings didn’t look like he just fell out of Breakfast on Pluto.
We’re standing in front of some volunteers doing the deer-in-headlights routine as we tell them why, despite not being on “the guest list” (wasn’t this a free event?) we still need to be let in. They seem on the fence about it. But whatever do-it-yourself training they got before sitting behind the gatekeeper’s table was informing them that the answer was probably “no.” I could have given them shit and waited it out, but I just didn’t care enough. And I needed to go get my Deerhoof tickets before they ran out.
We walk out of La Tulipe and I hear the bouncer say “See!” to some people in line, like we’re some kind of cautionary tale.
Beer al fresco time.
Walking down an alleyway with some Boris Ice Tea beer we get to a big, impressive old church. We sit on the front steps and the organ starts playing. It’s pitch black both inside and outside the church. After ten seconds the music stops. It’s clearly a ghost.
Twenty minutes later there’s the sound of keys from behind the thick wooden door and we both instantly bolt, cigarettes and beer in hand.
“You can stay.”
A french guy who doesn’t look older than 21 is standing there lighting a cigarette. He’s wearing the first Cosby sweater I’ve seen this season and it turns out he was the one playing the organ. He studies ancient instruments at l’Université de Montreal. He has no idea what POP is, but maybe that’s because he’s caught up organizing his own music festival. The first concert in October 9.
“That was so much better than the show.”
I forget which one of us said it first, but walking towards Parc Ave. for the main concert of the night, the random guy was more worthwhile than the guest list.
Cabaret du Mile End is pretty quiet when we get there. People sitting in semi-circles on the floor of a venue like it’s a powwow is not what I came for. We go up to Bernard for something to drink before heading back to see Buke and Gase.
The Brooklyn duo are hunched over their self-made instruments in a loud but introverted performance. There are giggles between them at the end of a song, as if they’ve played so often behind closed doors that the growing audience in front of them seems surreal.
There’s something so interesting about watching a performer who doesn’t have any alter-ego, stage armor on. And that’s what they look like – quirky and real. Loud and understated. We talk to them after the show and they say POP has left tons and tons of bottled water backstage for them. I don’t remember how that came up.
Then Deerhoof started but we were kind of done. There was a rave happening at Église POP Little Burgundy so we headed there.
Walking through a dark corridor of Église POP with lights flickering made me even more excited about seeing Peaches here on Thursday. This place is perfect.
But the party tonight wasn’t happening. At least not yet. It was maybe close to midnight and there were some people sprawled out on pillows near the women’s bathroom and the big hall was mostly empty. A DJ was playing but there was nothing onstage. We drank near a fire escape, wandered around for a while, and called it a night near 1 a.m.
“Think prom,” we were instructed by the head volunteer coordinator. “Think dingy, shitty sweaty venues but with good music.”
Enticed by swelling barrels of free beer and a free festival pass to POP Montreal I had to volunteer. But most of the good jobs were taken by the time I got my butt to the third and final orientation session.
What are the crap, bottom-of-the-barrel jobs a POP volunteer can do? Water delivery.
But even so, the shifts don’t last long. Some enlisted help also includes less physical tasks such as decorating POP headquarters to look like a teenage girls bedroom – think pink – or recreating an album art cover (with the authentic props, car and all), or perhaps barbequing.
And the mandatory sea foam green volunteer T-shirts?
“They are meant to match your sneakers, not the 50’s wall paper and hey, you can modify them!” Hmmm… free beer?
My evening was supposed to start at La Tulipe so I could check out Diamond Rings but the venue was just too far. I opted for a 9 p.m. set from Montreal-based surf rockers, Ghosts Before Breakfast, the first band to play at L’Escogriffe that evening. I knew nothing about this band but I was glad I caught them. They made me feel like I was Christian Slater in an early-nineties violent-romance film while they played the perfect tunes for the soundtrack.
L’Esco was nowhere near packed and I promised myself I wouldn’t spend too much money on beer. I noticed they sold cans of Pabst, which is perfect – gross but dirt-cheap. That can cost me six bucks, as if drinking Pabst was supposed to be luxurious in the first place. The greatest bit of irony I’ve seen in a while. I stayed for about six songs.
The next venue was the most underrated hot-commodity of the festival. Considering DIIV and Wild Nothing made arguably the best albums of the year. The way Il Motore is shaped is so you can see the stage in front of the male washroom. So that’s where I stood. I looked like a washroom security guard with my arms crossed standing in front of the door. But I wasn’t as slick as I thought – every time that door opened, I got a whiff. I watched for 25 minutes.
I went to Cabaret du Mile End for good vibes. I walked right up to the center of the stage wondering why there is such a huge gap until I was caught in a painful pit of body odor. At this point, I’m trying to neutralize it by thinking of McDonald’s french fries but that’s not working. It was also hotter than hell. Deerhoof came on shortly after 11 p.m. with a loud and thunderous set that was also soft and beautiful. The frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki was as eccentric and delightful as always. I caught their whole set which was a good mix of the band’s recent material with a couple of old gems too. Performance-wise, this topped the night. I still had a couple of stops before calling it the end.
I decided to get as wasted as possible for Dam-Funk, who was playing some of the best disco and funk I’ve ever heard over at Mission Santa Cruz. With beers at $3.50 and a handful of people I ran into along the way, I danced until my knees were sore. It was so hot in there that it was nearly unbearable. Thank God for the funk.
Just one more stop, which I am drunkenly walking to, looking for places to pee on St. Laurent (anywhere). Coming on at 2 a.m. was one of my favorite groups, Brooklyn’s Gang Gang Dance. They ripped into an infectious and melodic set that made it impossible for someone to stay still. The sound for Eglise Pop Little Burgundy was surprisingly good. There weren’t that many people there but still an impressive showing for an early morning show. After blazing through a set of songs mostly from their stellar Eye Contact, the band called it a night. I crawled home from there, pretty lifted while trying not to think about my 10 a.m. class.
DAY 2: Sept. 20
DAY 2: Sept. 20
Because I had to eschew going to see Deerhoof on Wednesday in lieu of band practice and hectically walking a thin line between doing school-work and busking so I have food, I was pretty hopeful and excited to play Thursday night.
Being a first time performer at POP – and this being my first time ever playing drums in a band – there was more than a little lingering uncertainty at just what the hell I was getting myself into. I really literally just started playing drums with my friend Alexandre, better known as Year of Glad like, last Friday. Kind of “just.”
After bailing on busking to squeeze in some last minute jams, and a hilarious, chatty cab-ride with a guy who seemed to know and love everything about my hometown, Halifax, we finally arrived at the iconic, ’90s hole-in-the-wall dive-bar palace that is Brasserie Beaubien.
It was almost exactly what I expected. Video lottery machines, a maroon-lined pool table, and waitresses that don’t take any shit. I felt like I was home.
Having stressed the hell out about being late for soundcheck, it was one of those times where you show up and you’re actually the first ones there, which makes you instantly regret all the rushing and stressing and swearing to get there. I could’ve gone busking and actually eaten something.
But, as we all know, when it’s POP season, drinks can easily replace food. So, seeing a window of opportunity where we really didn’t have to be present for another hour or so, we headed down to a sketchy alley to covertly chug some weird import beer called Das Brau that I’d never heard of.Upon returning I was greeted with a bizarre, buzzing and anxious atmosphere of about 11 people loading a ton of gear onto a tiny stage. You know how when you were a kid, you built forts out of cushions and blankets and stuff? It was like that, but with giant Orange amps and a Fender Rhodes. As two guys who just had an amp and a drum kit, we were laughing pretty hard.
To help cut the unbearable awkwardness of waiting around while everyone tried to figure out how to get all the gear on the tiny stage Tetris-style, we were given a few lovely drink tickets, and a bowl of peanuts. That’s how I knew this place was legit. No one gives you peanuts at bars anymore, it’s a dying art!
Weeping Buffallo, who are apparently the house band that, because of a certain contract, has to play every Thursday at Brasserie Beaubien, started the night off with a volley of 50’s and 60’s covers, some obtuse and hilarious judgmental banter, some uptempo originals and a pretty spot on rendition of Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee.
After being scolded by the waitress for not tipping on our free drinks (who knew?) we laid out some merch at our tiny merch table. It inevitably just became another table with everyone sitting around it, drinking giant bottles of Tremblay and shelling peanuts between the clutter of a slowly burning candle, our newly pressed 7” records and some spoons that come with download codes.
CAMP then shook the room with some rollicking, rowdy guitar licks and searing keyboard as we got a healthy dose of dancing in before taking the stage. I was waiting in line for another free beer that I had no money to give a tip for when I got tapped on the shoulder and told we were running way behind schedule and I needed to be on stage now. Without a beer? This can’t be good.
There would have to be lots of banter. Lots of banter.
From referencing Matryoshka dolls to singing Paul McCartney inspired granny-songs into the mic, we did all we could to cut through the hectic, tense and uncertain on-stage atmosphere. What was crystalline in soundcheck, now became “I can’t hear a god-damned thing.”
After the three songs I played on drums – an insane blur of counting time, trying to hear what Alexandre was playing and trying not to pass out – I hopped off to let him finish up the set solo.
We sold some spoons, we sold a 7” or two and we got some compliments and more free drink tickets. As the first POP Montreal show under my belt, I can safely say that despite almost everything going wrong, it was still a fun as hell time. Granted, I missed a bunch of bands both Wednesday and Thursday that I’d love to have seen, and what took about a solid week of jamming to prepare for was over in about 20 minutes, but it was pretty worth it.
Now, the cab ride back and lugging amps and guitars up six flights of stairs because the elevator was broken at the jam space? Well that’s a different story.
The guys who organize these shows love what they do, and they love you as an artist. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be playing the show. So, when it all comes down to it, free drinks and an opportunity to make an impression on at least one person, or just to get a high five from a dude in the crowd who liked your shirt that said “BOWL” in giant, sharpied block-letters is pretty neat.
My Day Two consisted of daytime shows, starting at Parc de la Petite Italie. There was something of a Hawaiian barbecue theme, pineapples available with the burgers for sale and kitschy tiki decorations on the gazebo that the band played under.
“Weak theme guys, weak theme,” said the lead singer of Yacht Club, who were a few songs into their set when I got there. It seemed he expected the crowd to match the sparse island decor.
The Toronto synth-pop group’s sound provided the cheesiest moments of ’80s music, getting at least the multiple children there dancing. The cuteness factor of smiling children running around definitely made up for the sparse attendance, although the band seemed mildly uncomfortable with their small, daytime audience the whole way through.
The crowd grew for local synthstress Motzart’s Sister, who brought a bassist onstage with her for half the set. With perfect timing she looped her vocals and cued loops, suiting the daytime crowd much better than her dark, dancey sound would suggest.
The space in front of the stage was packed, however, once Toronto’s Born Ruffians started playing. Beginning their set at sunset, only their silhouettes were visible for the first few songs.
Their experience showed, despite needing to ask someone in the crowd for a drum key midway through after something broke. Extremely tight and right at home chatting to the crowd, the band gave a preview as to what their headlining set at Casa would be like the following day.
On the way back from Little Italy I managed to catch the last few songs of local trio Goose Hut at Citizen Vintage on St. Laurent. Amid hip cardigans and high-waisted pants, they passionately played their indie pop set, full of their gang vocals and group percussion.
When it ended there was applause, but also a strange quiet immediately after, as if the place had in an instant become a clothing store again.
That’s it for today, but I guarantee no early nights for Day Three.
She was supposed to eat sticky floor. Her face was leading the freefall. Crowd surfing looks terrifying. And I was too busy nursing what was left of the beer some mosher had knocked all over me to help save her. Priorities. Others caught her with a kind of graceful, mid-air somersault. She landed on her feet and did a little hop like it was all a drunken cheerleading routine.
Montreal’s Parlovr got people pushing and head-banging in front of the stage. It was going to be a loud night in Divan Orange. Then Kingston’s PS I Love You came on and the mass of revelers were now a human wave which flowed back and forth from the stage into the static crowd. The clump pushed its way violently back and forth while a photographer with a smirk on his face tried to catch images of the madness without getting his gear wrecked.
I was desperate to see Peaches. Her DJ night started at 11:30 p.m. but she only went on at 1:45 a.m. I didn’t think I could handle that. But being at POP, one thing lead to another. After PS I Love You we ended up at the swanky new Japanese bar next to Patati Patata on St. Laurent, then we bolted for Peaches. Somehow it was already 1:30 a.m. The church basement which is Eglise POP was pretty packed.
She hit the stage in a beige unitard with a giant collar of different sized boobs sewn on it. Even though it was labeled a DJ set, she sang and danced through it. The night started with her belting out vocals from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon classic, “The Great Gig in the Sky”. It ended with her boob-shawl, discarded, gold chains and a leather jacket, adopted, and the sound of Peaches singing Private Dancer by Tina Turner.
Big hits like Mommy Complex and Serpentine also made their way into the set. She’s incredible. Peaches for president.
When it was over people lingered. It was past 3 a.m. so on went the Walmart lighting. So cruel. We hissed our way out of the church basement and into the cold, comforting darkness on St. Joseph.
I was able to catch Mozart’s Sister set at Parc de la Petite Italie on Thursday afternoon for a nice little BBQ which was quite delightful to say the least. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, and a bunch of kids who came out with their parents to enjoy a not-too-breezy day in the park. Mozart’s Sister has one of the best voice’s I’ve heard in quite a while in this city. I caught thirty-minutes of her loop-filled and sampled set, in which she played with a guy who was either on bass or guitar (or possibly both). I had to head out after she played “Don’t Leave It to Me” which was filled with plenty of emotion and passion. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay at the BBQ because of a class I was late for.
I decided to show up early at Club Soda for Grimes because I expected entry was going to be difficult. I caught opener Elite Gymnastics sharing the stage with Magical Cloudz to perform a cover of the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There.” But the set got a little boring fast. It was noisy and full of feedback which is not a bad thing but the crowd wasn’t into it.
He also had a few sound issues and expressed his distaste for his laptop program, Ableton Live, when he said, “This is what every band on Pitchfork uses”. That statement really salvaged his set.
It was a proper homecoming for Montreal temptress Grimes as she took the stage shortly after 10 p.m. The crowd embraced her the moment she got up there, alongside two partners, and provided the audience with a mixture of fuzzy-interludes and slightly adjusted songs heard off of Visions and her Darkbloom EP.
With a handful of people in artsy-costumes on stage dancing, it felt more like a party or a gathering than a musical performance. I got annoyed when a group of seventeen-year-old girls put on a mock-Australian accent and kept asking me for ecstasy.
Joey Bada$$ gave the crowd some fat beats and warmed them up. Juicy J. was slated to come on at 12:30 a.m., so there was a DJ set in between the acts that gave the audience some classic bangers and unfortunately, songs by Drake. Half the crowd left by 1:30 a.m. because Juicy J. still hadn’t come on. Juicy J. finally came on stage at 2 a.m. and the place blew up. The floor was a gigantic moshpit with flying beers, sweat, weed and the occasional thrown elbow. No disrespect to Juicy J., but an hour and a half late for a POP show? Ludicrous. It’s not like he’s Ludacris.
I left at 2:20 a.m., drunk, and walked into Peaches’ DJ set at Eglise Pop. The wild Canadian played some loud and hard electro, mixing in some of her songs as well. The crowd was very different from the Vice party. The Peaches crowd gave off a rave vibe but not a grimy one. It looked like everyone in there was having fun. The highlight of the last hour was Peaches asking the crowd “Is anyone hungry?” while throwing slice of white bread into the audience. As funny as it was, I really felt like vomiting when I saw that. I danced for a while and decided to call it a successful but kind of frustrating night number 2.
I am in the back of a cab applying my roommate’s stolen red lipstick and tousling my hair for my first POP night. True to my manic habits, I’ve forgotten my ticket and had to rush back home to get it.
We pull up to the corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent.
I wade through the scalpers, smokers, and promoters to reach the doors of Club Soda. Montreal’s electro-pop progeny Grimes is playing to a sold out crowd. The scene on stage is Manga – bubbles and instrumentalists sheathed in shiny iridescent veils. It is weird. It is wonderful.
There she is. Green hair, orange-painted eyelids, and an oversized Marilyn Manson T over her waif-like frame. She is Wednesday Adams. From outer space. I find my friends inside and edge my way towards the front bar.
Between periodic yelping, and melodic wails, Grimes pushes out some heavier beats. Mini dance parties ignite by the stage, but the vibe in the packed house is mellow overall.
Her dancers are at the four corners of the stage. A guy dressed as Beetlejuice, her supposed male-muse, and two dudes who colluded to strip down to their underpants by the end of the show.
“They are homely at best. But die hard,” says my friend Jordan “People didn’t come for fashion but for the music.”
I couldn’t agree more. As the show wraps up we are itching for more unexpected beats. We step outside and wander the streets for our next POP fix.
Dashing out of St. Laurent station, I was immediately greeted by throngs of concert junkies, begging for tickets and cigarettes. The whole thing reminded me of some delicious anime nightmare where I became lost in a world of sound and colour. Grimes wore an oversized black t-shirt, toxic-green pig-tails, and vibrant eye makeup. Her supernatural assortment of dancers included two phantom-like vocalists shrouded in plastic, two men in vintage lettermans dancing repetitive motions, and a terrifying Beetlejuice-looking guy standing at over six feet tall.
Travel and timing are the two words that describe my night exploring POP.
It began at 8 p.m. with the long and harrowing commute from Loyola Campus back to the bright lights of the city. I was hoping to make the transition from class to Club Soda in record time before the doors closed to Grimes.
Dashing out of St. Laurent station, I was immediately greeted by throngs of concert junkies, begging for tickets and cigarettes.
The whole thing reminded me of some delicious anime nightmare where I became lost in a world of sound and colour. Grimes wore an oversized black t-shirt, toxic-green pig-tails, and vibrant eye makeup. Her supernatural assortment of dancers included two phantom-like vocalists shrouded in plastic, two men in vintage lettermans dancing repetitive motions, and a terrifying Beetlejuice-looking guy standing at over six feet tall.
I sprinted to my Plateau apartment, briefly changed out of school-mode, wolfed down two heaping spoonfulls of chili, and bolt out the door again to meet a friend at the corner of Duluth and St. Laurent.
PS I Love You at Divan Orange was packed and sold out. The band emerged to a crowd of leather jackets, sweat, and undercut haircuts. The subsequent pit, which formed at the head of the crowd, was violent and energized. After catching two flying heads to the face, and an excellent performance, I was satiated and deaf.
Then we went up St. Laurent to Saint-Enfant-Jésus du Mile-End Church for Peaches.
When we arrived at the church, we joined the partygoers in a basement tunnel entrance. There was a low ceiling and the faint hint of incense and dust in the air. Some people wore t-shirts and jeans, others wore extravagant colours and patterns. Many had vibrating jaws and lots to say.
Peaches is a hard act to describe. Her sound varied from rock to dubstep to indescribable electronic awesomeness and she paired the whole show with her explorative and playful personality. After she ended with a musical shoutout to Montreal and Russia’s Pussy Riot, florescent lights came on with an offensive click and the night was over. By 4:30 a.m. I was safely in bed wondering how I was going to do (and afford) this for 3 more nights.
DAY 3: Sept. 21
DAY 3: Sept. 21
There were a lot of huge names playing Friday night (David Byrne, St. Vincent, Lil’ B…and ummm, Gotye…I guess) but I decided to stay away from all of that and keep it local. I had to work late to support my bad habits so my night only started around 10 p.m.
I spent a ton of money on beer this week so I really can’t spend much tonight. Considering Saturday will be the record fair and I am a compulsive spender, I got crunk with my roommate at home before heading out.
Luckily, La Sala Rossa is pretty close to where I rest my head because it was pouring like shit on and off. I opened the bottle of Appleton Jamaican Rum I got as a gift this summer and started to get wavy. I walked into a packed Sala to catch a double-bill that made me foam at the mouth. I was a little too ritzed and stood there in the middle of the crowd blankly staring at the center of the stage. I had smoked too much and probably looked like James Lipton on meth with my mouth wide open.
Los Angeles’ Cold Showers played at 11 p.m. sharp and did not disappoint.
Say what you will about their sound and how it’s new-wave meets no-wave or late-70s post-punk or Joy Division-meets-whatever, but they just remind me of what dark and haunting punk-rock is supposed to sound like. They gradually got louder ovations from the audience. I myself was so captivated that wished I could drink somebody’s blood.
The Soft Moon came on at midnight, darkly dressed behind a continuous strobe light that wasn’t too annoying. They delivered an hour-long pulsating set, complete with crowd favorites as well as songs from their new album that drops in October. My head hurt after banging it back-and-forth but I couldn’t help but move to the loudness and heaviness of their noisy and somewhat-electronic set. Luis Vasquez’s voice is deafening and intense. The outfit played a blistering set. I haven’t been that mesmerized since seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on Blu-Ray. I wasn’t going to make it a late-night but I felt like I should have dropped by another show. I glanced around trying to find the girl who played Vanden in American Psycho for love purposes but she wasn’t there, so I left.
I walked across the street to Casa Del Popolo to catch the last half of the Born Ruffians set. The sold-out crowd looked like the McGill ghetto in its entirety. Born Ruffians played their pop tunes to the likes of a sweaty, sing-a-long crowd. I felt weird seeing this right after the show I was at before. Born Ruffians are a talented and fun band – it just wasn’t the best option for me after the show I came from. I stayed until the encores and then decided it was a short but eventful-enough evening. I didn’t want to see anything after what I saw at Sala.
—Elysha del Giusto-Enos
How is it only Friday? It’s going to be a low-key night. It has to be. My head has been throbbing since around 10 on Wednesday.
I meet some people at Citizen Vintage to see Cousins. I was suppose to see them yesterday but their van broke down on the way to Montreal apparently. The event is free and the clothing store is somehow a pretty decent venue. Cousins make me think that two-person bands are the loudest. The drummer and lead singer/guitar have a fun chemistry.
I’m surprised by the amount of characters in the small crowd – the lead singer from PS I Love You and Cheryl Hann from Picnicface are within a few feet of me. Seeing Hann, I got this mental image of Uncle Scrooge from Duck Tales swimming in a silo of gold coins. Because, if there were any justice in the world, that’s how she would be spending this Friday afternoon – swimming in the profits saving Canadian broadcast comedy earned her. Proof here But, a free show on a rainy night in Montreal works too I guess.
I didn’t check the weather and get soaked heading from one venue to another. I wrap my scarf around my head like a babushka and cut across Mile End from St. Laurent to Hutchinson for the show of shows, Peaches Christ Superstar.
Peaches: raunchy, fearless, and performing her power-fem ego through co-opted misogynistic-stylings – the über artist of my dreams.
Jesus Christ Superstar: the 70s concept album I grew up with and would belt-out whenever no one was home.
Never, never could I have imagined these two things coming together. Then in 2010, I heard of Peaches Christ Superstar, the stage show where Peaches performed every role in the musical.
As I sat in the Ukrainian Federation, watching Peaches singing every song, acting, switching parts effortlessly, I felt like some genie had granted a wish just for me. Unbelievable dichotomy.I think next I will ask the genie to have Obama knit me a sweater. Then Kim Jong-un can teach me to garden. But for now, Peaches is dressed in stretchy gold fabric and singing her way through “Pilate’s Dream.”
Things I learned from Day 3:
1. Spectators are way more stressed out than artists in this festival.
2. You don’t know the city as well as you think you do.
3. The after party is always busted or cancelled. Just go home.
After procuring a bit of funds with my trusty guitar and meeting up with Alexandre, I headed down to the POP HQ so I could get my bracelet. We were already late for shows we thought we could see.
Immediately after getting to HQ? Torrents and buckets of rain.
I chugged one of my free St. Ambroise beers and we bounded off. There was no way we were getting into see Zammuto. I forgot he was opening for Gotye. I also forgot Gotye was some sort of phenomenon.
“Where do we go if we have an artist’s pass?” I asked. “Another venue,” he said.
Who the hell schedules Zammuto as an opener for Gotye? What’s the world coming to?
It was barely even seven and we were getting turned away already. Cue heavier rain.
Breakneck run to the metro and up to Mont Royal to inquire about the St. Vincent and David Byrne show. Another absolutely, abysmally hopeless cause. Should have known. If we couldn’t even see Zammuto, why would we be able to catch this one?
Cue more rain.
It’s way more stressful and hectic being a spectator with a pass at this festival. Always fearing you’ll be turned out into the cold, laughed at for thinking you’d get into a show, and not knowing where your next beer will come from. At least as an artist you’re safe in a venue and you’ve got drink tickets.
Well, shall we chance Hundred Watters at Sala? Done. But we’ll have to haul ass.
We get there, and it’s an almost empty room. It hasn’t even started – we’re safe.
So we get a beer and relax, finally drying off. Happy to not be trudging around wet streets in shoes made of fabric. Corduroy shoes are not practical.
Hundred Waters are an insane microcosm of ether and fractals. With glittering, crystalline synths, impossibly tight, polyrhythmic drumming, glistening, sexy, four-part reverb-soaked harmonies. A revel of modern age synthesizer magic meets melancholy witch-folk.
Their singer is a tiny, pixie-like girl playing a keyboard twice her size, armed with three cowbells and a woodblock. Percussion erupts like a mad deluge as everyone on stage is either sequencing drum machines or hammering on something.
I’m drying off and doing tequila shots. This is better. This is what I came to do.
After the show we’re off to try and catch Besnard Lakes at Breakglass.
Breakglass is one of those bizarre anti-venues that are more like someone’s giant living room tucked away in the vastness of a mansion. This is my favorite kind of venue.
We run in, soaked to the bone, and are informed they’re at capacity.
We can’t be turned away again. So, we turn up the charm. We start speaking in puns, asking the door guy and girl about their POP experience, talking pathetically about being soaked. After two people head out for a cigarette, we’re given a wink and a nod and let through.
Besnard Lakes are channeling some wild, late 60’s psychedelia with massive, droning feedback squalls, unimaginably heavy dirges and some sweet blonde hair and aviators. Smoke is pouring into the room – half smoke-machine, half joints – and the melding of blue, purple and red from the lights begins to engulf the room.
The band finish their main set and bound off stage, I’m standing by the door and watching them head to the backstage area and the bassist walks by carrying a giant bottle of scotch, she looks in at me and smiles and heads off.
Back for their encore, she exclaims “I just love scotch,” as she takes a big swill on stage and they launch into their last 15 minutes of acid-tinged, miasmal doom-psych.
After the show, the band and a bunch of people are just chilling in the room, making it seem even more like someone’s house – you can clearly see the kitchen backstage area through a window behind a couch.
There’s word of an after-party. It’s supposedly next door. This is a good sign. I’d rather be heading down to Divan Orange to catch my favorite sardonic east-coast troubadour Shotgun Jimmie, but it’s pretty far – we’re up above Jean Talon here. So I stay, and wait.
We strike up a conversation with a guy dressed to the nines in old ‘20s detective garb. It turns out he manages the building and the one next door. It also turns out there is no after-party. It’s cancelled because the cops busted the one they had last night. It’s 1:30 a.m. The group I’m with run off to see A Tribe Called Red and I, withered, defeated and out of money, realize the metro’s closed and I now have to walk home to Atwater.
Except I walk the wrong way down St. Laurent for about half an hour. I should really get up this way more often.
I finally arrive home at 4 a.m.
The afterparty is always cancelled or busted. Just go home.
A pungent smell of a pink drink wafted from a mason jar being shared between two girls in the crowd, everyone swaying but never fully dancing for any of Hooded Fang‘s indie surf sounds. They played fast and hard, showcasing a new song that took cues from the Ramones. If not for the delicate environment and early hour, this could have been a nice, rowdy show.
By the time I left Citizen Vintage, those threatening clouds let loose, resulting in my first soaking of the evening. But I had time to change into dry clothes before the Hundred Waters set at Sala Rossa.
With an enchanting intensity, the Gainesville art pop group captivated the modest crowd with their hugely rhythmic synth-driven sound. There’s a heavy folk influence, but they combine heavy percussion and (presumably) Ableton-powered electronic elements. Definitely ones to watch, although some parts got a little too medieval for me.
After a wet bike ride down St. Urbain I arrived at one of the concerts I was most excited for in the whole festival. Local ambient experimentalist Tim Hecker had taken over the Church of St. John the Evangelist, for what was sure to be one of the most intense live experiences I’ve ever been part of.
It was. In the barely-lit, tightly-packed church, Hecker sat above everyone on the church balcony, playing cuts off his latest record Ravedeath, 1972, itself recorded in a church in Iceland. Some sat in pews, others lay on the floor, soaking up the bass rattling the wooden floorboards. It’s hard to describe the dream-like state evoked from this show; Hecker’s extreme sensory-stimulus performance made us feel the music, not just hear it. In the dark church it became all we could sense.
Still slightly entranced by the Hecker show, I made the long ride from Ontario to Jean Talon in order to catch the last band on my list for the night, METZ. I had missed their set the night before, so catching them at POP meant a short 1 a.m. show at Parc Ex venue Il Motore.
The Toronto post-punk trio did not fail to disappoint, rocking the house with screaming feedback, crunching bass and relentless screams and percussion. They seemed exhausted though, and played for barely 30 minutes.
Thoroughly soaked in rainwater, sweat and probably beer, I called it a night biking back to the Mile End. Day Four will have to be one hell of a party to top this one.
My POP Friday began with a powerwalk across the Plateau towards Citizen Vintage to catch Grounders, Hooded Fang and the Cousins. It was one of those evenings where the sky resembles a swirling dark bowl of soup and the air clings. In a nutshell, I had to decide whether to be uncomfortably warm or uncomfortably soaked depending on the jacket.
When I arrived, panting and soaked in sweat, Grounders were just finishing off their set. Citizen Vintage was a cool venue, but not necessarily the best. First of all, the acoustics were junk. You had to choose either to cram into the store’s front door and stew in sweat, or you could choose to be blasted in the face with several thousand volts of sound.
The second problem with the venue was the lighting and lack of beer. It reminded me of the twilight zone which exists between the end of last call and the inevitable order to leave the premises.
With the show done and unwinding near 8 p.m., I suddenly realized with horror that I had not only forgot dinner, but had neglected to eat any meal that day whatsoever. I needed a burger, fast. We stopped at the Mile-End bar Helm where I devoured a $20 meal. Returning to reality, I apologized to my friends for my Golum-like behavior. Then we headed to Peaches Christ Superstar at the Ukrainian Federation.
The hall was pretty standard, as far as Ukrainian halls go. Stage: check. Tryzub symbol of Ukraine: check. Lack of washrooms for amount of people: check. But the hall did have the curious addition of chairs. I have never seen a Ukrainian hall with permanent seating. Where would we polka? Ridiculous.
Peaches Christ Superstar was a delicious dose of bible thumping goodness mixed with leather-clad stagehands, and golden polyester. Peaches sang abbreviated versions of the Lloyd Webber classic Jesus Christ Superstar to simple piano accompaniment. Unfortunately the crowd didn’t seem to get it.
Amid bouts of laughter and shout outs from those in attendance, people seemed to forget the etiquette of respecting a live performer. I was disgusted to see some of the repeat offenders donning shiny purple performer bracelets themselves. They failed to realize that what they were seeing was a staged performance that took a lot of preparation; as opposed to whatever booze-soaked event their bands had played at.
With Peaches Christ Superstar under our belts, we called it an early night to recover for Saturday. We tied off our evening with a delicious cocktail from the prohibition themed bar, Le Lab. My nightcap was a combination of beef jerky and flaming Jack Daniels. Soon I was slumbering away as rain hit my window pain. Another night.
DAY 4: Sept. 22
DAY 4: Sept. 22
If you start the night off with cheap 40s of malt liquor and instant coffee, it’s not going to end up pretty.
After the long night and arduous trek last night, I thought I’d keep it easy and casual on day 4. I was wrong.Daydrinking with red wine and then a bit of busking, I realized shortly after that there was really not much I wanted to see until Cousins at Club Lambi at around midnight. So, nothing really left to do other than get way too drunk. Because I was still tired as hell, the instant coffee seemed like the perfect balance to the hellish 10.1% beer I was swilling. In hindsight, it really wasn’t.
I stumbled into Club Lambi around quarter to midnight and found not only Nicholas Sawarna, but Elysha Del Giusto Enos and Katie McGroarty as well.As usual, Cousins delivered a raucous set of grunge post-dancehall madness. It sounds like 50s rock or dancehall on MDMA and a lot of booze. Just the right amount of grit and grime, interspersed with Aaron Mangle’s high-pitched screams and glossy melodies. Having missed Cousins twice so far at POP, this was my night. It’s impossible to not dance up a storm for them. It’s also nice seeing a band from home every now and then, it gives me a nice shot of East-Coast adrenaline and belligerence, keeps me going, let’s me know that the place still exists.
After Cousins, we decided a change of scenery was in order. After trying to smoke a half a cigarette I’d saved from early and having it slapped out of my hand by one Nicholas Sawarna as he asked me what the hell I was doing and handed me a full one, we were off.
To be honest, I am not sure what bar we ended up at. It was somewhere in the Mile-End… or the Plateau. But I know that there was a DJ, and if I recall correctly, she wasn’t very good.
Realizing I had probably gotten too drunk not to be a nuisance or, worse, a joke, to the good company I was keeping, and realizing that it was already like 2 a.m. and I was going to have to walk back to Atwater anyway, I figured I might as well get a head start.
Though, when you’re that drunk, you often forget to tell people that you’re leaving, so, sorry about that guys. But, hey, I made it!
—Elysha del Giusto-Enos
I showed up at Club Lambi at 10. Living in NDG makes biking to the Plateau in the cold and rain, then back at 4 a.m., exhausted and tipsy, kindof a thing. Or maybe I’m just burnt out. Every day at POP feels like the day before, except more hungover and exhausted going into it.
The band onstage is lead by Johnny Dowd with his experimental country music. He’s got a metallic 80s business suit on and is singing gritty lyrics. Something about writing on a woman’s breasts, and another one about being locked in a room with a bottle of wine.
I’m not super into it and keep texting my friend, Katie, who swears she’s right in front of the bar. But so am I and I don’t see her. Probably because we’re at different venues. After about 10 minutes she realizes that I’m at Lambi, not Divan Orange.
Cousins get on stage and they sound great. Much better than they did in Citizen Vintage. They remind me of the Pixies. Standing at the front of the stage, the music is so loud it washes out all thoughts – blaring music becomes meditation.
Saturday night at POP is about two things: getting drunk and Rich Aucoin.
I expected to walk into a sparse crowd at Divan Orange, but boy was I mistaken. Stepdad was well into their dancey set by the time I arrived. With a crowd that was spilling out of the entrance the show was declared sold out – luckily I had a ticket.
I B-lined for the bar, and got myself the biggest beer I could. After fighting my way through the intoxicated pundits, I finally secured a spot at the front of the stage, because if you know Aucoin, you want to be at the front for his spectacle of a show.
That’s when I noticed there was water dripping from the ceiling because of the heat. Confetti started pouring the second Rich hit the stage with his electro beats. The addition of a live drummer made the music sound much more alive. Music aside, Mr. Aucoin just knows how to work crowds like no one I’ve ever seen. The man was in and out of the audience, chanting and cheering along with us. By the time favourites like “P.U.S.H.” and “Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.” were played we were all gasping for air. Not that it stopped anyone from jumping and stomping through the piles of confetti and madness.
The pinnacle of the Aucoin’s set every time is the point when he brings out the massive parachute for the crowd to frolic under. Remember the one you used to play with in elementary school gym class? Yeah, that was thrown out to the crowd as we all latched on, waving it manically in the air as Rich danced in the center with us.
The set finished with the entire crowd in a group huddle of sorts. Aucoin in the middle, leading us in a sing-along of his standout track “It.” It’s a good thing the set ended there because I don’t think any of us had any energy left by the end of it. Leaving the hellish venue to the cold night air was a relief to say the least.
After grabbing some quintessential drunk food (poutine!) I made the trek to Sherbrooke to catch the bus back to NDG. It was a magical night. Rich Aucoin threw the party of all parties at POP Montreal this year, and if you missed out, I feel really bad for you.
I was due for an intimate POP evening and considering I didn’t go to as many POP Films as I wanted to, there was this one show that I had highlighted. The mystifying and eerily talented Chilli Gonzales played the first ever “Solo…” before a packed hometown crowd at L’Olympia. The audience sat down to watch the prolific and possibly insane Gonzales play songs from his Solo Piano I & II records, along with tirades on arpeggios and loving rap.
He rapped and his rhymes are somewhere in the middle of ridiculous and criminally underrated. He did solos with audience members that were hysterical piano lessons – one being a nice arrangement with Tomas, a young boy sporting a fedora and called the “youngest hipster in the joint” by the genius himself.
I sat there for an hour and a half, mesmerized and staring at the overhead view screen which was Gonzales, formed to fit the piano keys. I stared at his hands with critical thinking of life’s purposes and slight envy.
I had a tough choice to make – it was either Big K.R.I.T. and Slim Thug over at Club Soda or Jacob Lusk (from American Idol fame) & a tribute band called the “R. Kelly All-Stars” over at Sala Rossa, that were singing the R&B phenom’s tracks all night. But I’m kind of a humongous R. Kelly fan who has his discography. I sort of had no choice but to go see what this shit was all about.
Lusk took the stage in front of a young crowd that kept on shouting for “Ignition” which forced the artist to play it early (I felt bad for him because that song certainly isn’t the R.’s best). He has a really amazing voice and is a talented showman. His original songs were a little on the snoozer side but they weren’t terrible tunes. I guess I was just pumped after he played “Fiesta”. The R. Kelly All-Stars featured Jeff Barbara and Mozart’s Sister and I’m pretty sure the band itself were former members of Islands. The show was good but if you just like two or three R. Kelly songs, maybe not worth it.
I met up with a few friends in the park in front of Eglise Pop Little Burgundy and totally missed Mozart’s Sister. I wasn’t too upset because I saw her a few days earlier but I would have liked to see her again.
I was excited for Jimmy “Bo” Horne but did he royally suck. He opened with a new song that got me jumping. Then song two did the same. By song three, I realized that it sounded like someone made a burned CD for this lounge singer to spit noise into the mic with. I know it’s a real harsh analysis of a disco legend but you had to be there to see how bad it was and then you would have left. I eventually got home later to stream the MMA event that I missed (nerd-alert) and resisted trying to listen to anything because of Master Chilli.
DAY 5: Sept. 23
DAY 5: Sept. 23
My severe allergies decided to kick in on Sunday and I was just spent. I invented a drug by taking Advil, Reactin, Claritin and chugging three beers (all under twelve minutes). I noticed this when my ears blocked after the second beer and my fingers felt weightless trying to text on my phone.I decided to call it a festival after I saw Grizzly Bear and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Let me start by saying the door at L’Olympia was in mass hysteria. I walked up to the door and three different security guards told me different things: one said I could get in, the other said I had to go in the roll-call line and the other said I have to go to the back of the ticket line. I decided to cut in line pretending to talk to someone about how this setup was terrible.
I missed the whole Unknown Mortal Orchestra set but two songs; one being the catchy “Ffunny Ffrends” which got me rolling on the invented drug thing. I couldn’t say much about them because I missed practically everything but the audience gave them a warm reception so I think it would be fitting to say they were alright.
Grizzly Bear came on shortly after 9 p.m. and thank God for a show that kept to the set times. They played a whopping two-hour set, filled with tracks from Shields and Veckatimest. They also played their most popular songs.‘‘Two Weeks,’’ ‘‘While You Wait for the Others’’ and ‘‘Knife’’ were crowd favourites.
The sound could have been slightly louder (not by much) but it was crystal clear and the band played as if their songs were flowing along effortlessly. I did like the show at Le National better which was when they came in support of Veckatimest but I don’t want to be that guy either. I left the show to run to the dépanneur before 11 p.m. and ended my five days of heaven and hell put together. It was a spectacular festival filled with memories and shit I simply won’t be able to remember.
Day five started with an epic breakfast in hopes of ditching the nasty hangover from beer and whisky the night before, spiced up with some awesome carrot and habanero hot sauce I scored at Puces POP. By 3 p.m. we’re all ready to tackle the last day of POP, which would culminate with Grizzly Bear at Olympia.
We found ourselves at Divan Orange about an hour later after stumbling upon an awesome street sale (hooray for dirt cheap vinyl!), where there was a free “brunch” show. It was safe to say everyone was in the same sorry shape as us, but a fresh beer seemed like a plausible solution for that.
The Elwins made their way onto the stage amid the chatter at this free daytime show. They were in a much more talkative mood than the crowd (maybe it was nerves), asking about the origins of the venue’s name and its pronunciation, and trying in vain to get the crowd into a Beyonce cover that required audience participation.
Hopefully the Toronto 4-piece have learned that if the crowd isn’t feeling the gimmicks and banter you should probably just shut up and play, especially if you’re in front of a hungover afternoon crowd.
Before heading to Olympia I made a last-minute decision to catch Rae Spoon ’s set at le Cagibi, where Queer POP was hosted. Turned away at the door because they were at “capacity,” a walk around the corner to St. Viateur lead me to an open side door to the cafe/bar’s back-room venue.
It’s pretty full when I get in, and Rae has already started. In the living-room atmosphere that is Cagibi the set is intimate and conversational, with Rae often apologizing for a lack of dance skills. The local folk-turned-indie-pop singer is still getting used to the transition, but the electronic feel suits the soft songs well.
A drag queen hosting the show gets the trio to shyly bow to the adoring crowd, complementing the band for their “babeness.” But I’ve got to run, it’s time to get a good spot for Grizzly Bear.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra are playing when I get to Olympia, a gorgeous theatre hidden behind what looks like an office building on Ste. Catherine. The Portland-by-ways-of-New Zealand trio play jammy psychedelic rock but suffer through bad sound. They put on a solid set, including a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” which pretty much wins me over. But opening up for Grizzly Bear is a tough job, there’s a strong feeling of anticipation in the air for the headliner.
Grizzly Bear hit the stage around 9:30, starting with “Speak in Rounds” off their brand-new LP Shields. And for the next 90 minutes, they deliver one of the most gripping sets I’ve ever seen.
The Brooklyn indie giants are evidently grateful for the packed show. Singer Ed Droste speaks about how years ago they played Club Lambi (“Does that place still exist?” he asks the crowd) with Owen Pallet, where apparently bassist Chris Taylor spent hours fixing the P.A. system and the band members outnumbered the audience.
Tonight the crowd erupts after every big flourish or moment of silence, loving every minute of their impeccable sound. From the elephantine climaxes in “Ready, Able” and “Sun in Your Eyes,” to the blissful encore of “Knife,” a friend sums the show up in one word— magic. And between the incredible set, hypnotizing lighting and the captivated crowd, it was. Without a doubt.
Disappointment and utter joy can go hand in hand at POP. Sometimes everything goes right and sometimes your whole night falls apart in seconds.
I arrived at Grizzly Bear nearly two hours before show time and was greeted by two friendly faces whose arms donned the coveted purple bracelets from the artistic side of the fest. Although there were less than two dozen people ahead of us, some things just are not meant to be.
Feeling terrible, I said goodbye to my friends and joined the crowds entering the old theatre. The entrance was cramped and I was forced to follow a confused pack of humans through a dark hallway. It felt like a trap.
The Olympia is a gorgeous old theatre in the heart of Montreal. Still donning its gilded trimmings and paired with blood-red walls, I felt like I was walking into another era. Only the swarms, in their matching alternative-retro threads, echoing “bro” this and “underground show” that could keep me grounded in my 21st century reality.
Since I was one of the first waves to enter the theatre, I decided to try my luck in the balconies. Much to my delight, one of the padded centre seats was free. Despite a lack of legroom, I secretly whispered “score.”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra began the night with a loud and energetic set which offered some epic guitar solos. Although the real magic began when Grizzly Bear took the stage just after 9 p.m
The Brooklyn band is composed of four members and each of them is multi-talented. There’s a piano, guitar, flute and saxophone. For this show, they also added a multi-platform keyboardist.
Many of their songs carried on for what seemed like forever. One of those good forevers that you never hope will end.
However, all things do come to an end. With the second encore song completed, the curtain came down on my 2012 POP Montreal experience. My only regret was that I didn’t get to see the end with my friends. See you next year.
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