LOOK VIBRANT Look Vibrant opened at 8:00 p.m. at Casa del Popolo last Friday, kicking off a show that included later sets by AroarA (which includes Broken Social Scene member Andrew Whiteman) and Montreal psychedelic rock outfit Filthy Haanz. The members of Look Vibrant certainly appreciated the gig, and lead singer Justin Lazarus frequently thanked the modest crowd for attending despite the relatively early set time. The lo-fi noise pop they played sounded great live, with a cleaner feel than their fuzzy cassette release Plateau. One drawback was Lazarus’ self-conscious, falsetto-whine vocals, which lag behind his songwriting. However, the band’s enthusiasm, well-rehearsed guitar shredding, and effective use of an intimate venue atoned for his tone.
Local Natives Los Angeles group Local Natives were clearly a fan favourite on Friday, and talk of their show at Metropolis circulated around the McGill campus this past week. I had low expectations, due to my certified cynicism of indie-folk, and in the end, my worst fears were confirmed. While concert attendees around me nodded enthusiastically and sang along in ecstasy, I absent-mindedly browsed my POP pocket guide for better acts. Band members Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, and Matt Frazier barely spoke to their audience, letting their music do the talking. Undoubtedly, their set was well-rehearsed, but in the end the monotonous mix of guitars and sickeningly earnest vocals failed to speak to me.
Ewan Pearson Ewan Pearson took over the decks at Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) at midnight, beginning with some relaxing house music that fit the chilled-out lounge setup of the venue on Friday. SAT’s excellent sound system was well-adapted to his mix, and a calm, cozy atmosphere—the main concert space was closed off by curtains, which gave it a satisfyingly balanced ambience. As abstract, geometric visuals alongside the DJ booth developed at a quicker pace, so did Pearson’s mix, taking off into techno territory as well as more up-tempo house. A shy but attentive crowd was slow to move to the dance floor, but Pearson was soon surrounded by dancing silhouettes, who grooved against a backdrop of fluorescent lighting and street-level St. Laurent crowds.
Chali 2na Jurassic 5 member Chali 2na got off to a bit of a late start, arriving right behind me just half an hour before his scheduled set time. In the meantime, supporting acts Quills and Kayo attempted to amp up a sparse crowd, at one point playing Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore. Ironically, an hour later, Chali was asking a denser audience whether they liked “good music” and “good hip-hop”; this received rousing cheers, while silence and boos were the response when the same question was asked of “Top 40 radio” (I gave an enthusiastic whistle). Turning the space into “Chali 2na radio” was pretty successful, however, due to his charming stage presence and talented articulation. Considering this was Chali 2na’s first date in Montreal, he commanded a strong debut performance in the appropriately grungy, urban Cabaret Underworld.
Dead Horse Beats I only caught the tail end of this set, but from what I could make of Halifax hip-hop head Dead Horse Beats’ music, it really does sound like a horse dying. Nevertheless, his name actually has another origin. In a past interview with music blog High on Beats, the producer explains “[…] every white kid in university tries to make hip-hop music, and be really cool, and be a DJ—that’s kinda beating a dead horse at this point, so I’m gonna do the same thing.” That thing happens to be remixing modern hip-hop classics such as “C.R.E.A.M.,” “In Da Club,” and “Still D.R.E.” with his own “DHB edit” style. The problem is that such tracks are so well-produced that they are essentially untouchable, unless one wants to be unfavourably compared to the original. As one might suspect, the bland, experimental remixes of stale hip-hop didn’t measure up, and the sound periodically cutting out of Dead Horse’s Macbook didn’t really help matters either.
Emancipator American trip-hop producer Emancipator played a fantastic early-morning set this past Friday, getting on the decks at 1:30 a.m. and deftly mixing bass-heavy instrumentals into pleasantly ambient strings. Neé Doug Appling, Emancipator’s mixes are layered and symphonic, likely result of his multi-instrumental musical knowledge (the violin, mandolin, banjo and viola are all in his repertoire). Also impressive were Emancipator’s sampling skills, which he demonstrated live throughout his mix at Club Soda. As the last act I saw on Friday, attending this gig was certainly a enjoyable way to conclude that day’s POP experience.
Jian Ghomeshi Live Q Broadcast The first event I took in at the POP Montreal festival was a live broadcast of the popular interview program Q, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. Unlike the other shows I would attend, it drew in a predominantly middle-aged crowd. But despite the average age of the audience, the atmosphere at L’Olympia was electric.
Ghomeshi boasts a cool but affectionate demeanor that is largely responsible for the overwhelming admiration he receives. He could be described as an intellectual-rock star hybrid, but those in attendance on Thursday evening treated him like the latter, showering him with raucous applause at every available moment. Unsurprisingly, one of the first questions asked to the sought-after bachelor was “When are you getting married?”
Ghomeshi’s opening monologue—a brief piece that he prepares and reads aloud to kick off every Q episode—was a warm tribute to the artistic and cultural landscape of Montreal. He even went so far as to suggest that Osheaga might have become the best music festival in the world. In any event, you know you’re doing alright if POP Montreal is arguably only your second biggest musical festival.
In accordance with the monolouge theme, each of the episode’s guests were primarily Montreal or Quebec residents: best-selling author Louise Penny, comedian Sugar Sammy, musical group BRAIDS, actor Antoine Bertrand, and a three-person media panel that discussed Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values.
My highlight was listening to Montreal native Patrick Watson, who got the honours of kicking off and concluding the show. He and his band dazzled the audience with their experimental orchestral sound, and he later spoke to Ghomeshi about collaboration in the Montreal music scene.
“When I think about the days where we were building what we were doing, I can’t exclude all the people that were so inspirational around us,” explained Watson. “There’s a long list of people we’ve all shared the stage together and made some silly noise with [.…] I think that was the strength of the city, it was not a competitive nature.”
Syngja The highlight of seeing Montreal natives Syngja? I got to cross going to a live show that features the theremin—an instrument used in many movie scores to produce particularly eerie sounds—off my musical bucket list. For me, though, that was just one of the lone obscure bright spots in what was to become a very strange show.
Everything about Syngja (a name which draws from the band members’ Icelandic roots) is unusual. Their glam-inspired costumes; their primary instrument lineup of synth, double bass, and theremin; and the analog photo projection that accompanies their performance.
Surprisingly, they approached the realm of mainstream pop for a fleeting moment with a cover of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold.” Needless to say, they took many artistic liberties with their rendition.
The photos, like much of the music, walked a fine line between dreamlike and uncomfortable. It made for an intriguing artistic pairing at times, but the combination could also be very creepy at others. Though Syngja certainly exposed me to some fresh artistic styling, I’ll pass on a follow-up show.
Royal Canoe This Winnipeg band likes doubles. On various songs, they’ll have two band members playing drums, two playing bass, two playing keyboards, and the lead singer singing into two microphones. It also would have been nice if they had played a double set.
On Saturday night, this six-member group had Petit Campus rocking with their rich, eclectic sound, combined with their fantastic live energy.
Playing a unique style of indie-pop, Royal Canoe oscillated between slow, funky, and feverish. When things did pick up, their lead singer poured everything into his vocals and stood out from the heavily layered music.
Many of their songs even had memorable—if unconventional—hooks. In “Bathtubs,” for instance, the singer chants, “The bathtubs in the hallway are here to stay.”
It’s not quite the traditional sound that one would expect from a band that contains the word ‘canoe’ in its title, but Royal Canoe deliver a great live show that benefits from their unique but alluring, music.
– Max Berger