POP Montreal Diary
With literally hundreds of events over five days, POP Montreal requires you to forge your own path. Here’s how we spent our high concentration of arts and music madness.
/// DAY FIVE ///
/// DAY FIVE ///
METZ turned the POP church into a giant mosh pit.
The final day of POP had an early evening lull, probably to make sure we all had a breather ahead of an earth-shattering performance by METZ. Before we all became drenched in each other’s sweat in the church basement, I had some softer stops ahead of me with Patrick Watson’s “Songs of Darkness” and Moonface.
Watson had The Rialto for the night, and invited a troupe of friends to sing a collection of originals and covers revolving around the theme of darkness. Each song had a revolving arrangement and musicians, but harpist Sarah Pagé, Joe Grass on slide guitar, Becky Foon on cello and bassist Hans Bernhard set the tone of most the show. The gang of musicians took turns leading songs, including Little Scream driving an old Appalachian folk song and L’il Andy covering Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy.”
Then Mirror / Cult MTL columnist Johnson Cummins walks onstage in a wizard costume and we’re all baffled. He announces he’ll be reading spoken word by Bruce Dickenson, and my chuckles reveal my inner metalhead. He goes on to recite Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” with Pagé and Watson accompanying.
“Why didn’t we do this at Barfly?” jokes Cummins.
After that bit of comic relief I’m off to see Moonface, also known as Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade / Sunset Rubdown / Frog Eyes fame. It’s just him and a grand piano, playing his heart out and punctuated by self-deprecating jokes. Krug’s new project is deeply emotional, but I wouldn’t expect anything less.
But the mellow respite is short-lived, as I walk down to Cabaret Mile End to catch part of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They know their so-straight-it’s-impossible-to-dance-to indie pop songs a little too well, singer Alec Ounsworth looking both bored and tired. He’s been doing this for too long and he seems sick of his own music. His vocal performance is spot-on, but it feels like he’s just going through the motions.
I catch a bit of Thus:Owls’s gypsy-indie flow at Casa before things start to heat up at the POP church. I’m ready for something loud, and the triple-bill punk show to end POP is just how to end this five-day marathon. Calgary’s Fist City warm up the slowly-filling church with simple rah-rah punk rock, and then Crabe makes me realize I need more beer.
Crabe is the first Francophone band I’ve seen in all of POP, and they’re fantastic shitheads. Their show is a raunchy comedy, the singer a young Ian Mackaye in a tye-dye t-shirt and without the talent. It’s doomey, noisey and for all I know they’re making up the songs as they go along. But it primes the mosh pit for METZ, with the duo ending their set by trashing their gear.
It’s a “spectacle de mass hysteria,” in the words of their singer. That’s certainly true.
The church only really gets packed when METZ take the stage just after 2 a.m. and are the loudest thing POP has to offer. I caught the noise trio’s late-night set at Il Motore last year, but since then these guys have exploded. They’re headlining POP Montreal, for Christ’s sake. All the hype is due though, because their furious brand of present-day hardcore is some of the best that’s out there.
Since last year their stage presence has skyrocketed, and the crowd eats it up. From the feedback-overloaded interludes to Alex Edkins ending the set with “Wet Blanket,” writhing on the floor with some kid’s jacket over his head. It’s the perfect end to this insane festival. By the second song I’ve gotten socked in the windpipe and someone’s glasses have been stomped. I hear later that someone lost a tooth.
The band does their duty however, bassist Chris Slorach telling the crowd to pick up those who fall on the beer-slicked floor, and urges a kiss on the cheek while you do it. These guys know their sound and after one record they’ve already perfected it.
I don’t stick around for much longer, and decide against asking Brendan Canning what he thought of METZ after spotting him in the crowd hanging with dudes in jean jackets. I came, I moshed, I POP-ed, and now with ringing ears and worn-out shoes it’s back to real life. Writing this final post my foot is still tapping, already anticipating the next show.
The stage is set for POP’s closing party.
I said in my post on day three that POP was taking its toll on me—well, by day five on Sunday I faced grueling exhaustion. I was down for the count. But, with just one night left I knew I couldn’t just squander it to stay home and watch Breaking Bad, as epic as the series finale might be. I pulled myself out of bed long after the sun had already set and made my way downtown.
I ditched my original plan to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and opted to check out the “Best of the Fest” showcase at Casa del Popolo. Truth be told, I just wanted to see Calvin Love again. Yes, this would be the third time I was seeing them during the festival. Yes, I think they’re that good. I arrived around 9 p.m. and was pleasantly surprised to hear the unfamiliar sounds of Kurvi Tasch playing.
I’d never heard of them before but the grungy, garage rock vibes resonated well with my ears. Never has a distorted guitar sounded so good to me. Plus, the songwriting was some of the best I’ve heard in ages, especially from a small indie band. The venue filled throughout the band’s set and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. With a guitar, bass and drum kit, the three members played fast and rough. Yet it was still tight and showed great musical prowess. You can count me as a fan now. I loved it.
Up next was Edmonton’s Calvin Love. If you’ve read my previous POP posts you’ll already know about my recently found admiration for this band. While the band played fantastically, the small but mighty crowd certainly amplified the performance. There was some of the most passionate dancing I’ve ever seen at a show in Montreal. They played most of the tracks from Calvin’s album New Radar as well as the upcoming funky single “Cool” which the crowd absolutely loved. Influenced by the beaches of L.A. and the winters of Edmonton, their music embodies everything that’s adored about music from generations past. Yet, Calvin Love is everything a rock n’ roll band should be in 2013.
I have to compare the band to Joy Division. Partly for their no-nonsense approach to rock music (albeit, a bit more groovy than Joy Division’s rendition) as well as the fact that Calvin himself bares a striking resemblance to Ian Curtis and carries the same melancholic charisma. All around it was just fucking fantastic. I really hope the rest of the world catches onto this band and they blow up.
Up next was Thus:Owls, a band that I’ve seen mentioned in various blogs over the years but have never actually listened to. Described as an art folk band based between Sweden and Canada, I was wary of what the set would bring. The band found their groove quickly though and it became a chugging good time. Erika Angell’s sharp and floating vocals matched the folk music nicely and made for a surprisingly nice mix between Mumford and Sons and Sigur Rós.
It was equal parts anthemic and euphoric, although their first song was about being stuck in a tree. Most of the set was slow moving, sensual and emotive.
I made my way to Eglise Pop to catch Fist City, a punk band from Alberta. They were definitely good, but not quite my cup of tea. So, after a few songs I headed back to Casa del Popolo. When I arrived RAMZI was still setting up and seemed to be facing technical issues with her arsenal of electronic equipment. When she finally did start it was nowhere near what I was expecting. I guess the kids would call it glitch pop, or witch pop?
There wasn’t much of a beat per se, but there was a hell of a lot of tribal instrumentation and steel drums. An odd mix, but that’s what the entire set was. People still found a way to dance to it though and seemed to legitimately enjoy it. While I found myself swaying to the imposing noise, I’m sure it would make my grandparents cry with horror which must mean that it’s “cool.”
I really want to say that it was awful, but it did leave a lasting impression. I’m quite confident it’s only a matter of time before Pitchfork eats her up and deems her the next big thing or the evolution of Grimes. Ultimately, it was very hip and very modern but proved to be a confusing end to my POP Montreal experience. With that though, it was all over. Now, I’m going to sleep for a solid week.
You can always tell a good show by its audience, which is why you have to be right up in there to get a real feel for it. Even though singer/guitarist Alec Ounsworth joked about how quiet and polite the crowd was, I could tell everyone was feeling it, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was too.
With a bassist that was smiling the whole time, there were nothing but good vibes. He was singing even though there was no mic in front of him and it was clear that he was just really into the music. That’s always so good to see. In fact, the whole band did an amazing job of being engaging through more than just their music.
Ounsworth was all over the stage and even off of it, dancing with the audience and making the show even more fun. He would sit down during some of the slower songs, and even though that made it a little difficult for an average-height girl like me to see, but I was into it nonetheless.
Not that any of this took away from the music itself. I have never been so concentrated for so long on the keyboardist during a show. Besides the best hair I’ve ever seen, he was working a soundboard along with some crazy keys. The solo at the end of their last encore was spectacular and I was dying for more.
I’m used to seeing a sea of cell phones filming and taking pictures at shows; the promise of later enjoyment apparently more important than living in the moment. This time, though, it seemed like everyone was so caught up in the performance and the music that the moment persevered.
I’ll definitely be buying the new album and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end my POP experience.
/// DAY FOUR ///
/// DAY FOUR ///Back to top
Brendan Canning rocked his first show, if only the crowd would shut up. Photo Stacy Lee
In terms of weather, Saturday could not have been a more perfect day. The sun was shining and a cool autumn breeze blanketed the streets. I could have been responsible and stayed home to work on a paper, but let’s be honest, there was no way that was going to happen on a Saturday afternoon. So, I got on a bus and made my way to the deepest pits of the Mile End to attend an Arbutus Records secret day-party. I was psyched that Calvin Love was playing a set, but I’ll admit, I mostly came for the free beer.
While the beer was bountiful, the abundantly hip atmosphere was a bit much for this socially awkward journalist. Still, the Arbutus space was perhaps the most chill environment I’ve ever been situated in. I made a seat out of a wooden palette on the floor (dangerously close to the beer supply) and all was good. Tons of light illuminating the makeshift performance space made this scene radically different from Love’s first set at Eglise Pop on Thursday night, but the music fit both spaces equally. From a brooding church basement, to a sunsoaked loft, it’s safe to say Calvin Love were the highlight of my POP experience and have quickly become one of my new favourite bands.
With the festival winding down, there was nothing set for Saturday night that really jumped out at me, so I decided to check out the Brendan Canning show. The dude was in Broken Social Scene after all, so in my eyes, he’s a living legend.
First to hit the stage was Montreal’s barely-legal Holobody (who were featured on Saxsyndrum’s latest saxxy single “Heartstrings”). I don’t actually know how old any of the members are, but they all looked so young and chipper it was hard not to think of them as fresh-faced indie babes. I had seen the band once before earlier in the year at Il Motore, and was not altogether impressed with that first live encounter. So it was with trepidation that I took a seat at the bar just before their set was to begin.
Holobody had improved upon their musical prowess since I last saw them, but their set still felt a little too dreary and lacked cohesion. The band also possesses danceable and accessible pop songs—they just refuse to play them. For some reason they played an incredibly brief set and finished about 15 minutes before their allotted time was up. The only upside was that for their last song they played my favourite (and most danceable) track of theirs, “Ninnyhammer.” They had completely rearranged it from the recorded version and turned it into a chugging bluesy jam.
’90s R&B played over the speakers as Brendan Canning set up, which felt peculiarly out of place. But judging from Canning’s new material, R&B played a prominent influence on the new album You Gots 2 Chill, a departure from his foray into solo material on 2008’s brooding Something For All of Us. The new tunes he played were ethereal, haunting, and bluesy. Chill in every sense of the word, really. The band he’s composed for this solo venture was tight as hell and totally on point.
At one point Canning addressed the crowd, saying, “It’s a hoedown folks.” Unfortunately the crowd was not receptive whatsoever, with many not even paying enough respect to clap between songs. A large portion of the crowd chose to talk throughout Canning’s entire set, which visibly pissed Canning off. At one point he stopped a song and berated an audience member, but rightfully so, in my opinion.
It seems the problem with these “big-ticket” shows at POP is that many patrons view them as just another social gathering, instead of respecting the art that’s being played before them. With the crowd still chattering away, Canning frustratedly told the crowd to “shut the fuck up” before the last song was played. It worked (for the most part), but overall the show was a bit of a letdown. Although the musicality and performance itself was on point, the torpid and rude crowd made for a lacklustre experience.
I attempted getting into Quai des Brumes for Pick a Piper’s set, but the filled venue was sweltering. With the clock about to strike 1 a.m., I threw in the towel and headed home. One day left—I hope I make it out alive.
The Nymphets get loud at Kathy & Kimmy. Photo Louis Longpré
Korn’s Jonathan Davis is holding a Grimes record on the event poster, but that’s not enough to keep me away from the POP Record Sale in the Ukrainian Federation basement. At 1 p.m. the place is already packed, a vinyl aficionado thumbing through each bin. I stick with the used stuff, scoring a ‘50s Fats Domino LP and some Motown. There are also a few stalls selling cassettes—one revival I’ll probably never fully understand.
After emptying my wallet at the Record Fair, it’s time for some non-POP/off-POP/anti-POP, or whatever you want to call it. POP’s roots are showing at these unofficial gigs, where festival and non-festival bands play and hope the cops don’t show up. And you couldn’t have asked for better weather for a B.B.Q. show.
When I get to The Shrine, Year of Glad are finishing their spine-tingling set. Frontman Alex Bergman is barely sitting on the edge of his stool, singing impossibly high falsetto. You can see only the musicians’ silhouettes, the single light source pouring in from the small basement window behind them.
I had never heard of Foe Destroyer, a Texas-by-way-of-Brooklyn trio that trade instruments and all sing, playing music ranging from punked up distortion to chilled-out. It was the best surprise of POP so far, and it made me seriously regret not checking them out Wednesday at l’Esco with proper sound.
I’m able to catch part of Victoria’s Freak Heat Waves before leaving, joining a crowd that’s clearly into it. The basement is packed, and the guitar work is more impressive than I’d expected from briefly listening to them the week before.
Leaving The Shrine my head is pounding, probably due to loud bands and that tasty St- Ambroise IPA (I feel you, Josh). Time to find some more festival fun along the Main.
First I’m led to Divan Orange for Milk Lines. They play bruised, drugged-up country, which is my kind of hoedown. The loud music immediately makes me feel better. I’ve become a live music junkie over the last few days—the only way to stop my head from pounding is to take in more shows. The two singers/guitarists have corn-coloured hair, she’s in a flowery dress and he’s rocking the classic blue jeans and T-shirt. They sing in simple unison, overtop of distorted guitar and well-placed twang.
The Worst Drummer of POP Award goes to Toronto’s HSY, who does little more than bang the floor tom while the band churns out heavy, one-note post punk at Club Lambi. Their new track “Cyberbully” had a simple-but-killer guitar line, and was for sure the heaviest thing I’ve seen so far at POP. But the garbage drumming stopped me from getting into it.
Then it’s another night at Casa for another Broken Social Scene member. Brendan Canning’s new band is playing their first show to a packed room, and his humility shows. Placing setlists and tuning his guitar, I think at first he might be a roadie. He’s shaved off his iconic beard to just handlebars. The band sounds alright, but it’s clear that this is their first show. They’re all a little stiff, and the opening numbers are all pretty slow. It’s nice indie music, but I want something louder to end my night, so I leave about halfway through.
You can find Kathy & Kimmy pretty easily because it’s the only place on Beaubien with a crowd outside. Local trio The Nymphets are just starting when I get there. It’s garage rock played by people in button-up shirts, in a sauna of a venue under blue light. They play furiously, and those who know them better sing back to them. My new normal is LOUD, and I expect METZ to raise my threshold even higher for Day Five.
/// DAY THREE ///
Wannabe bring the ’90s back at Cabaret Playhouse. Photo Louis Longpré
/// DAY THREE ///Back to top
POP is taking its toll on me, physically and emotionally. Still, the show must go on. Having learned from my mistakes of the previous night, Friday was a full on assault of organization. I arrived at Sala Rosa painstakingly early in order to get my stamp for the Majical Cloudz show, which I’ve been anticipating for months. They weren’t taking the stage until 11:30 though so I had some time to kill. Seeing as my previous night at POP got a little too pretentious, I opted for something different tonight. I decided to appease my inner ‘90s child by seeing The Spice Girls tribute band, Wannabe.
The thumping beats could be heard from outside Cabaret Playhouse and walking into the venue felt like being transported straight back to the ’90s. Glow sticks and neon lights adorned the scene, and patrons were dolled up in their favourite Spice-themed attire.
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., the five ladies made their way to the stage followed by a slew of photographers and shrieks louder than what you’d hear at a Bieber concert. They opened with the hit “Wannabe” and seriously, the shrieking and hollering was deafening. The ladies sure looked the part and a full band of horns, guitars, and drums made them sound the part and then some. I’m a pretty reserved guy but I was smiling ear to ear the whole set. The rest of the crowd was clearly as happy as I was, singing their hearts out to every single song, eating it up.
The choreography was spot-on and highly entertaining, and everyone was in such high spirits. Even the dudes who were clearly there to appease their girlfriends were smiling. All around it was a fantastic show, they played all the hits and I left feeling like I had actually been to a Spice Girls concert.
So, with that crossed off the bucket list, I marched back to Sala Rosa and rejoined the masses in the amply sized ballroom, after teetering past throngs of people being turned away at the door. Clearly this was a hotly anticipated spectacle.
Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto took to the stage promptly at 11:30. Welsh was clearly in an emotional and anxious state to be playing their biggest hometown show to date, and the crowd did nothing to help, talking loudly throughout the set. Majical Cloudz creates a certain emotional ambience with their music that made talking overtop of it feel incredibly rude.
The group marched on though and did the best they could, even after repeatedly being heckled by someone in the front row. I have to ask; why would you pay good money to see a show and then vocally criticize it, or loudly talk through it and never take your eyes off your phone? You wouldn’t pay $12 at the movie theatre and do such things, so why do it at a concert?
All distractions aside, Majical Cloudz really put on an incredible show—it was a flawless combination of poetry and music. The two musicians on stage worked perfectly together, with Welsh’s stunningly powerful vocals and Otto doing his best to amplify the reverberating beats to drown out the chatter of the crowd, but it seemed as though they were both pretty eager for the show to be over (it was the last show of their extensive North American tour, and likely the last show they’ll be playing in North America for some time).
However, the two of them literally played all of the songs they had. The show was an hour long, with no encore but by the end of the performance everyone in the audience seemed to let out an audible sigh of relief. The show was an emotionally heavy one and we were all exhausted. The house lights came on and “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin to Fuck Wit” blared through the sound system, which seemed oddly appropriate. With that, I was spent and decided to call it an early night—another successful foray through the madness of POP.
AroarA play to a packed Casa del Popolo. Photo Stacy Lee
Day Three started with an afternoon at Divan Orange. The early POP shows are always an interesting dynamic, with those looking to get a head start on their drinking and those still moving in slow motion from the night before sharing the venue. Valleys played into that middle ground, with mid tempo synth-driven jams gentle enough for those hungover but still lively enough to bob your head to. The last I heard of Valleys was that they had expanded into a trio, but it seems things have shrunk down just to Marc St. Louis and Tillie Perks again. The pair have been playing together for close to eight years, and their chemistry satisfied both those sitting in a state of hungover agony and those standing with a beer in hand.
Then it was up to the Mile End, where Soldout was playing at the Empire Exchange vintage store. Despite the mellow atmosphere and their god-awful band name, Soldout did their best to engage the packed store with their dancey electro tunes. Singer Charlotte Maison demands your attention, rocking a jean jacket and Raybans like half the crowd wishes they could. I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but they had me moving—even though we were in a clothing store and the sun was still out.
They were all smiles, with the two-piece of Matthew Murphy and Justin Lazarus now including a bassist, second guitarist and a drummer hunched over the kit like a young John Bonham Jr. The fun they were having on stage was contagious. Look Vibrant are a very new band, and their unpolished set was made up for in the energy and sheer catchiness of their songs. Their two-song Plateau cassette is a far more fuzz-laden affair than their set at Casa, which was noise pop with a heavy emphasis on pop. But it was thoroughly entertaining, and every song felt right. There was nothing dense to process, just a fun little set from a new band on the scene. It’ll be interesting to see how the duo’s sound grows now that they have a full band.
The best set of the night came from Ottawa’s Hilotrons at Cabaret Mile End. I arrived to an 11-piece band, which was a total shock, since The Hilotrons have normally played with a more standard rock setup. Their groovy indie pop was made larger than life by three percussionists, slide guitar and the occasional sousaphone, but things never felt overcrowded (although it’s likely one or two members could be dropped without a noticeable change in sound). Singer Mike Dubé stood in the middle of it all, resplendent in his sweat-soaked green Captain Kirk t-shirt. They’re one of the few Ottawa bands that non-Ottawans are familiar with, and despite the sparse crowd everyone was digging it.
Then it was back to Casa for the Club Roll showcase headliners, AroarA. Made up of Ariel Engle and Broken Social Scene’s Andrew Whiteman, there was more than a little witchiness in their set, their druid drone intertwining with electric guitar. The two became less stiff by the end of their set, but they never fully won me over. Maybe it was Whiteman’s supremely cheesy guitar solo, or the general lack of dynamics. Either way, it kind of put me out of the rock and roll mood. Shows on Van Horne and Beaubien suddenly seemed much further away, and beers and friends at Casa became far more appealing. Stay tuned for tomorrow for a blind POP tasting.
Local Natives play every song we wanted to hear at Metropolis. Photo Susan Moss
“Pop is not a genre, it’s a feeling, and Montreal knows that.”
I don’t think the singer/keyboardist of Seoul could have chosen better words to end their set on Friday night. After a fun and upbeat performance that included beer bottles in the drum kit, he managed to capture the spirit of the festival with that one sentence and left the audience, or at least me, smiling and ready for the rest of the show. It was impossible not to feel the energy radiating from every corner of Metropolis.
All the bands seemed to have an alternative idea of what pop music is all about, and it was clear no one was thinking of Rihanna.“The idea of what pop music is or what it means can differ so drastically depending on who you’re talking about,” lead singer of Wild Nothing Jack Tatum told me before the show. “To me, when I think of pop music, it’s probably in the vein of how the festival POP Montreal sees pop music. It doesn’t necessarily mean mainstream, it just draws from classic ideas of songwriting. I think of it as being accessible but not necessarily cheap. It’s more structured as opposed to formulaic and that’s an important distinction to make.”
With their uniquely synthy sound, it’s clear that Wild Nothing has done their homework as far as creating an approachable but interesting vibe in their music.
“I was very influenced by people I saw as being important, smart, pop figures,” said Tatum. “People like David Bowie, David Byrne […] and just people that really did it right and were able to create pop music that was accessible but also pushed the boundaries of the time.”
During our chat Tatum mentioned that it was impossible to create anything new, that it had all been done. But as I watched Wild Nothing’s set, that became increasingly hard to believe. The band managed to keep people moving while still maintaining a chill atmosphere.
I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t excited to the point of giddy for Local Natives, and if I’m less detailed in my description of their set, it’s because I had so much fun I forgot I would have to write about it later. All of Metropolis was filled up, even the balcony, and for those who’ve never been to a show there, that’s an impressive accomplishment. They played a great mix of songs from Gorilla Manor and their newest album, Hummingbird.
I felt like they knew all my favourite songs and were playing them just for me. But I, along with the rest of the audience, had my fingers crossed the entire time for “Sun Hands”. With the help of my slightly pushy friend, I managed to get up nice and close to the stage and the dancing was really something. It’s the only time it’s ever been fun to get pushed around, and a couple people even attempted crowdsurfing. I think the band could feel the awesome energy, and they played a three song encore, the last of which was, to the delight of everyone, “Sun Hands.” God, do I love that song. With my hands up reaching for the lights and dancing my little heart out, it was the perfect end to a perfect show.
/// DAY TWO ///
/// DAY TWO ///Back to top
The Dodos play an incredibly tight set at Sala Rossa. Photo Vivien Gaumand
After being denied at the Suuns show there was no way I was going to face disappointment twice in one night. I headed to Sala Rosa for The Dodos just before doors were slated to open at 9 p.m., but apparently I missed the memo because the show was already in full swing. I gained entry just before the cut-off for media pass holders. It’s fitting that The Dodos have a song titled “Relief,” because that’s the only emotion I was feeling.
Noni Wo were halfway into their set when I arrived. I knew nothing of the band before the show but they were good. Their chill demeanor didn’t quite match what would come next with Cousins, but I enjoyed their slow bluesy jams. They kept a psychedelic edge without losing their tight musicianship. High fives all around, I’m glad I made it in time for this one.
Halifax’s Cousins, who I’ve been an avid fan of for years, were up next. This meant pounding another beer and getting a spot up front to fully enjoy what would surely be a rambunctious performance.
Remember The White Stripes? Of course you do. Well, Cousins are a male/female duo who rock harder than the Stripes could ever dream of. The only appropriate way to sum up Cousins’ set is that they absolutely shredded. My face melted. The tracks from their last album The Palm at the End of the Mind were brought to life with ear splitting guitar solos from Aaron Mangle and bone breaking drum parts from Leigh Dotey. I was disappointed by the lack of moshing, though.
I didn’t think the night could get any better, but then The Dodos played. I won’t lie; I don’t know much of their material other than the new album, Carrier. They opened with the lead single “Confidence,” which is what I wanted to hear most. From there, though, their musicality shone as they played a diverse set spanning their entire career. They know how to build from simple keyboard riffs to a full-on assault of distorted guitars and it worked every time. The filled-to-capacity crowd clearly enjoyed the set and wouldn’t let the band leave until two encores were performed. After seeing this incredibly tight band live, I can’t wait to dig through their back catalogue and I suggest you do the same.
From Sala Rosa I made my way to Divan Orange for the Sappyfest Showcase. Here, I was able to hear a few songs from Crosss, followed by Montreal’s Special Noise. Truth be told though, it was fucking terrible—nothing but nonsensical noise. Nothing Special about it.
Having my eardrums busted put me in a foul mood but I still wasn’t satisfied with my night of POP. So after refueling with a Tim Horton’s sandwich, I made my way over to Eglise POP. The coolest of the cool, this place was a spectacle. Walking through the church’s threshold, I was greeted by a strobe light that blanketed the long hallway before me. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought. Thankfully, upon entering the church’s basement, I encountered a much more somber scene.
Calvin Love was playing and it was breezy and cool. This was the scene I was in search of. It was as if a hundred or so other hipsters and myself were at the coolest youth group that had ever been held in this church’s basement. Finally I could relax while still being treated to some groovy rhythms. Perhaps it was just that my expectations were nonexistent, but Calvin Love really blew me away. It was perfect in the sense that this was just what I needed to hear at one in the morning.
The night’s headliner Ssion had crossed my radar previously, so I was interested to see what the performance would bring. It was truly a multimedia performance and it was all very compelling. He came on stage wearing a white bathrobe with a white towel draped over his head standing in front of a screen that projected various images and scenes throughout the performance. That sultry voice was unmistakable, even though you could hardly see his face. I guess this really was the epitome of art rock and performance art, like a really artsy version of Madonna. By the second song the bathrobe was ditched to reveal a sleek looking man in a denim jacket and shades. From here the dancing came in full force with glitchy 80s beats. It was all a bit too hip for me, though, and by 2:30 a.m. I was beat.
As I rode the night bus back home to NDG with a dull ache in my head, I felt as though I came, saw, and conquered this second night of POP. If only my alarm wouldn’t be ringing in three hours to wake me up for class. Until tomorrow night.
Colin Stetson is a force of nature. Photo Susan Moss
POP invaded my afternoon with some casual Art POP, which I had pretty much all to myself on Thursday. A projected Minor Threat concert, spooky sounds and what I can only describe as a Videodrome installation were set up at Quartier POP. A projection of a woman walking through the building with an electromagnetic sensor gave impressions of a ghost hunting for other ghosts. All around creepy, and now I’m craving a killer POP Halloween show.
Later I trekked over to the MAC for a special Suuns performance featuring Radwan Moumneh. I had known better than to try to catch Braids at the Q show at Olympia, and figured this would be a safer bet. But the MAC has strict fire codes, and they were at capacity. Hearing “Music Won’t Save You” from outside the museum’s basement black box venue felt pretty appropriate.
I did have tickets for Tim Hecker and Colin Stetson, so a stop at Barfly along the way back north seemed in order. Fredericton’s The Trick was playing to a handful of people, with an unflashy new wave feel to his sound. Hecker was starting any minute though, so I didn’t stay for more than a song.
It was pitch black around Tim Hecker, all the better to swallow you whole with. He played cuts off his forthcoming record Virgins, out next month. Without the headlining spot the crowd didn’t give him the attention he deserved, but the sound was incredible.
I used all my good metaphors for Colin Stetson when I saw him in April, but this time I was only a few feet away from the force of nature, sweat and saliva dripping off him as he rocked back and forth, belting out his sax masterpieces. Stetson took a couple months off after breaking bones in his hand, but you’d never know it from his performance. It did prevent him from playing new material, but the promise of new stuff is amazing on its own. The third New History Warfare record built on the last two, his virtuosity with both the giant bass sax and alto expanding beyond comprehension. What remains to be seen is if his body can withstand his ambition.
As good as experiencing Hecker and Stetson at The Rialto was, something more rowdy was in order. I knew that Viet Cong at L’Esco would fulfill every such desire. The place was packed and sweaty, and as Viet Cong took the stage the crowd oscillated from mosh pit to waves of unintentional shoving. It was a packed punk show, and I expected no less. Viet Cong tore through their set, playing songs from their cassette to start things off before switching to new material. By the time they reached their last song, with a working title sharing the name of their current tour mates, Freak Heat Waves, the place was ready to burst at the seams. Their garage punk fury won everyone over, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
After Day Two, things are ramping up. After all, we’re just now getting to the weekend. But I’m ready for another night of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ venue-hopping at POP—which sometimes means you end your night at Chez Claudette with bands from the SappyFest showcase (check out Mouthbreathers at Brasserie Beaubien). See you tonight for Day Three.
My Thursday night started with a bit of a speedbump.
There I was, standing on Parc Avenue in front of where I was supposed to see a video installation, staring at a dark window and a locked door. Now, I had just biked all the way to Mile End for this, and the thought of it all having been for nothing left me feeling a tad dejected. I hung my head and walked my bike down the street, not knowing what to do next.
All of a sudden sweet, sweet music poured out of a doorway and an orange and purple POP poster beckoned me in. Funny how things work out for the better sometimes.
I had made it in time to catch Ol’ Savannah, a mountain music folk group that was missing a couple members but seemed to be enjoying going back to their two-piece roots. For just two people they certainly had a good variety of instruments—their guitar, sitar, banjo, accordion and harmonica produced a sound worthy of their name. I could just picture them busking on Savannah, Georgia streets, singing about old ways and the beautiful south with a voice reminiscent of Tom Waits. It was an interesting mix—that rough, lonely southern sound with a style that couldn’t have fit in better with the Mile End. There were big beards and shirts buttoned all the way up, along with some flannel and the perfect glasses. I guess you know when you’re in Montreal.
When the next band came up, I couldn’t believe it. I had unknowingly wandered into an Ought show and was in for the best of Montreal experiences. It was amazing how fast people moved to get close to the stage and it wasn’t long before the Charlie Brown Christmas dancing started. (You know what I’m talking about… lots of neck movement and bopping around.) Pretty soon it got serious, though, and the dancing got fun, really hot and heavy. There’s something oh-so-sexual about Ought. With lyrics like “we’re sinking deeper, we feel like, we’re sinking deeper” and that irresistible breathy growl it’s impossible not to get into the music. By the time the set was over I was tired and sweaty but all I wanted was another song.I left with the songs bouncing all around my brain and I couldn’t have been happier about my accidental choice of show. The night was crisp and perfect, POP couldn’t have picked a more beautiful weekend, and that feeling of ecstasy only good music can give you kept me alive and happy all the way home to Verdun.
/// DAY ONE ///
/// DAY ONE ///Back to top
Empress Of captivates the crowd at Sala Rossa.
It feels like Friday night at Casa Del Popolo.
Bands greet each other warmly and the place is nearly full. “Montreal’s greatest guitarist!” exclaims one dude outside Casa as the apparent prodigy walks his bike down the sidewalk of St. Laurent Blvd. There’s a buzz in the air; everyone knows we’re just getting started.
No Magic is playing when I walk into Casa’s backroom venue. They’re backed up by the guys in Look Vibrant. The jovial sound matches the mood, and reminds me of what Destroyer sounded like 10 years ago. Weird glowing syringes rotate on this strange contraption beside the singer strumming an acoustic guitar, who the Internet leads me to believe is from Brisbane, Australia. I don’t really get it, but I like it.
The crowd is digging it, although the band competes with conversation — but that’s more indicative that it’s a Casa show than the band’s failure to captivate. It’s early in the night, and we’re all just getting to know each other.
In true POP form, I’m attempting a Wednesday-night venue hop, so Sala Rossa across the street seems like the obvious next stop. I’ve also made it my mission at this year’s POP to try to find a black sheep musician playing onstage with a PC, instead of the ubiquitous Mac. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.
Empress Of are setting up as I pass through the sweet smell of tapas and get into Sala’s second-floor concert hall. They’ve apparently given up on having on-screen visuals during their show, as the sound guy is standing on a ladder in the middle of the venue turning off the projector.
But they don’t need it. Lorely Rodriguez’s emotion carries the performance without the accessory, dressed like a hip Elaine Benes with the kid from Dazed and Confused on keys. She’s either incredibly genuine or a stellar actress, because every modest dance move and quick jump to her console adds to the show.
She almost apologizes when she admits her band is based in Brooklyn. It’s incredibly endearing to hear her say things like “cool” and “okay” through her heavily-effected mic between songs.
She plays lush, slow-to-mid-tempo jams backed up by a solid rhythm section. And she has a great voice, using all the effects as an esthetic approach rather than a crutch. Apparently every song is a new one, and after this performance I’m definitely going to keep listening.
The next stop is Petit Campus, where The Legendary Pink Dots are playing (News editor Andrew Brennan’s POP Pick). As I climb the stairs off Prince Arthur, there are concert-goers mingling about, smoking, laughing before the band starts up. All pretty run-of-the-mill, except everyone’s over 30.
They’ve been around since the ’80s, so that explains the average age of attendees leaping up about 15 years at this particular show. They play rich, slow ambiences with Edward Ka-Spel speaking and singing in meditative tones. You can barely see the guitarist, the stage is so shrouded in fog and darkness. The venue becomes a sauna, though, and honestly I’m bored after a few songs.
I really wanted to make it back up St. Laurent to catch Technical Kidman’s midnight set at Balattou, but there was a radio show to put together, so I head downtown instead. Tomorrow’s highlight will probably be Colin Stetson, but I’m ready for anything.
POP Montreal is a long and often overwhelming festival: diving in headfirst on the opening night is probably not the best idea. For that reason, I started my POP festivities with a somber night at Il Motore for Radiation City and Typhoon.
Radiation City is definitely not the weirdest band playing POP, but I think they could crack the top five. The drummer experimented with his kit throughout the set, giving a neat dynamic to the otherwise slow-moving indie songs. The bass player just straight up rocked, but the keyboard and synth elements felt jumbled and chaotic and made the already strangely structured songs almost unbearable.
But the band was genuinely earnest and appreciative of the crowd for their first show in Montreal, which made it easier to forgive any of their shortcomings. They just need a little more practice.
Although it was only the first night of POP, Il Motore quickly became my favourite venue because they sold St Ambroise IPA. Now, I’m not very good at math but at 6.2% and $5 per beer that meant that I could get drunk quickly for relatively cheap, and isn’t that what POP is all about? Things were looking up.
After drinking the bar dry of their stocked IPA, the stage was set for the night’s headlining act Typhoon. I was only familiar with a few of the band’s songs through the POP Montreal app, but I was not expecting the line-up they brought to the table.
Typhoon is made up of 11 members. There were horns, percussion, keys, guitars, strings and a shameless MacBook. The first song alone was bigger than anything even Arcade Fire could make. Every sound they implemented was grand and necessary. The quiet and charming vocals perfectly matched the musical mayhem and it all made for an incredibly tight-sounding band that blows away their recordings.
You could hear a pin drop when the songs came to a close as the crowd was captivated, and rightfully so.
“We’re really thrilled to be here,” said Typhoon’s lead singer and conductor Kyle Morton, and we were thrilled to have them. Judging by this first night of POP, the next four nights are going to be stellar.
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