POP Montreal Wrap-up

I don’t order bottle service at clubs. Nor do I have ‘hook-ups,’ know ‘a guy,’ or am part of anything exclusive apart from opt-in emails regarding sales at The Gap. A media pass to POP Montreal was, therefore, a revelation. For those unlucky souls who have yet to step onto a red carpet, this consisted of an exquisitely laminated card with my name and press affiliation, beneath a powerful bold print: ‘MÉDIA.’ My VIP grab bag included some magazines, a keychain, a bicycle bell (a prerequisite which too many grab bags often lack), and a trucker cap (minimalist black). VIP, indeed.

Excitedly, with my lanyard adorning my heretofore-plebeian neck, I went off to see Grimes for my first show of the week. Arriving at Club Soda 15 minutes before the show, I walked up to the door and casually thumbed my pass at the bouncer.

“Media.”

Grimes (Anna Katycheva / McGill Tribune)
Grimes (Anna Katycheva / McGill Tribune)

In reply, he feigned interest by tugging at my lanyard and glancing in the direction of my wristband before letting me through. I entered the empty club, and assumed a spot in front of the stage.

MYTHS, the opening act, immediately made me regret this cavalier decision. Cult-like moaning, which would have been appropriate at some form of religious ritual, shrill shrieks, and one of the band members’ warning of “We’re just experimenting on you guys!” proved for an excruciating set.

The second opener, a chubby young man with unruly hair who went by the nom-de-guerre of Elite Gymnastics, was little better. After coming out in a stupor (‘Drunk or High’ is rarely a fun game to play at concerts), Elite Gymnastics proceeded to smash a guitar on the ground following his first song, only to promptly sit down and tell us that he was uncomfortable in social situations—my apologies for gauchely coming out to see you, friend. By the time that Grimes came on, I was left with ten minutes before I had to go see another show. After a half-hour’s walk to the venue, I was so tired and frustrated at what I’d just witnessed that I decided to call it a night.

The next day, I awoke with a smile. Last night’s disappointments were no longer relevant—I was going to see St. Vincent and David Byrne perform at the Church of St. Jean Baptiste, a beautifully ornate venue. I walked along, soaked by the rain, my spirits high with the knowledge that I was about to immerse myself in a musical spectacle. When we arrived, I made sure to wonder aloud to the Tribune’s photographer: “Do you know where the press line is?”

Two girls turned around, and seeing the glint of the laminate, moved out of the way. I shot an apologetic, tight-lipped smile—one of those arrogantly sympathetic “Sorry love, duty calls,” types. Had I a hat, I would have tipped it. When we walked up to the ticketing table, I wearily flashed the pass again.

“We’re full.”

Tipsy with the ephemeral power of exclusivity, I pressed on. The man was clearly confused. I sympathized.

“We’re covering the show.”

“Yeah, we don’t have any more press spots. It’s full,” he said, with an alarming dose of lucidity. It seemed that I was the one who failed to grasp the situation’s finer points.

Supplicating with this gatekeeper got us nowhere. Impotent and dejected, my inflated ego feeling the pain of the proverbially hard fall, we slunk away through the rain. There were no more shows that I had time to see.  At the church, St. Vincent began to play with David Byrne. Meanwhile, I sat—once more amongst the huddled masses—trying to sate my sadness with a plate of Romados chicken.

Ilia Blinderman

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TOPS (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)
TOPS (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

My POP Montreal this year had a slow start in two ways. One: I made the decision—in retrospect, a wise one—to spend Wednesday catching up on some work (sorry Wild Nothing.) Two: the Grimes show.

Not to say that Grimes herself had a poor performance. The ex-McGillian had the sold-out crowd at Club Soda roaring with approval and screaming for more. Crowd-surfing and mass-jumping ensued. The problem was with the two prior acts. Opener MYTHS employed a bewildering mix of shrill harpie screeches and meaningless synth drone, while Elite Gymnastics, who otherwise creates good music, made the perplexing decision that smashing and punching his guitar, then moping to the audience about it after, was a good idea. My fellow A&E editor texted me, suggesting that we had accidentally stumbled across not a music venue but performance art. I laughed, but he was more or less right.

On to Friday. I arrived at Cabaret du Mile-End, damp in both body and spirits; the former due to the drizzle, and the latter to the near-empty room before me. By the time TOPS started, only a small crowd had materialized, but the intimate setting suited the dream pop quartet just fine. Acts like TOPS remind me why I love live music. In person, the bass and the guitar sounded sharper; the vocals, while suffering minor pitching issues, were nevertheless more dynamic than their recorded counterpart. Overall, the performance was polished and confident—impressive, considering how recently the band formed.

I left the venue with high hopes for Austra­—hopes which were quickly dashed upon sight of the line. Free shows are popular? Remarkable discovery, I know. Retreating glaciers move quicker than that line did. The only thing thicker than the cloud of cigarette smoke was the general sense of desperation.  Entering the basement venue at Mission Santa Cruz at last was like entering a sauna—one filled with respiration and sweat. All these complaints dematerialized when Austra took the stage. A set that oscillated between electro-pop and the club-floor ready kept the packed crowd in a frenzy—although how much of that delirium could be attributed to the lack of oxygen remains unclear.

A breather was needed after that, which is what Saturdays are for. Despite the needed rest, I was kept breathless anyway, out of anticipation for Sunday’s show, the ‘Show I Would Commit Murder To See’: Grizzly Bear. The crowd at The Olympia—less jumpy than those at previous shows, but no less enthusiastic—had a healthy number of true Grizzly Bear fans. Opener Unknown Mortal Orchestra performed admirably, and clearly were having a great time themselves; but for whatever reason, their instruments had the unfortunate habit of bleeding together. The result was the trading of the crisp arrangements on their album for a set that lurched too-often towards drone.

Grizzly Bear, however, elicited the loudest and most sustained cheers of any of the shows I’ve seen at POP this year. The set balanced a mixture of songs across the group’s four albums, and every individual member also juggled a variety of instruments. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s vocals were a wonder to experience live; the former haunting and piercing, the latter raw and multifaceted. Everything about the experience was nothing less than surreal.

Leaving Olympia that night, I consoled myself in regards to the mountain of work waiting back home with two thoughts. One: I have enough coffee. Two: I can sleep when I’m dead. But I should add one more, the most important sentiment of all: thank you POP Montreal.

– Chris Liu

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Rodriquez (www.lostinthemultiplex.com)
Rodriquez (www.lostinthemultiplex.com)

Ever heard of Rodriguez? I hadn’t, and if it hadn’t been for POP Montreal, I probably never would have.

‘Despair’ had been my initial reaction after looking over the line-up for POP Montreal—the prospect of choosing an act from the hundreds listed seemed a torturous task. Mustering my exchange-student-enthusiasm to experience as much as Montreal has to offer, I consulted the less extensive list of free events, and rather randomly chose to attend a screening of the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul.

The film tells the remarkable story of American singer Rodriguez—praised as highly as his contemporary Bob Dylan by the 1970’s music elite, yet somehow failing to attract the attention of the broader American public. Despite his lack of North American recognition, Rodriguez’s albums were a massive success in South Africa—so much so that he became a mythical figure to the thousands of South Africans protesting against the apartheid regime, who used his lyrics as an anti-establishment anthem. Rodriguez himself, however, was unaware of his overseas popularity, and the South Africans, being unable to find any information on their American idol, soon believed him to have suffered a tragic rock-star death.

Following in the footsteps of two dedicated South African fans, the documentary relates their efforts to trace the life (and supposed death) of this mysterious character, reaching a spectacular finåale that will leave you itching to get your hands on the nearest Rodriguez album.

Thank you, POP Montreal, for introducing me to Rodriguez—one of my most enjoyable experiences in Montreal so far.

– Cecilie Jensen

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Ben Howard (Michael King / McGill Tirbune)
Ben Howard (Michael King / McGill Tirbune)

On the final evening of this year’s POP Montreal, one of Tribune’s Arts and Entertainment editors passed on the message that there was a ticket available for Ben Howard’s sold-out show that night—if I wanted it. I had been suffering from a bad cold for five days with no end in sight. However, when I was presented with such an opportunity, the only real choice I had was to go and have an absolute blast. I readily agreed.

Soon after, I arrived at Metropolis, ticket in hand, and began scouting for a slot in the front row. First came Nashville’s home-grown Gill Landry to warm the crowd. His blues beats and vocals were good—but my fever was kicking in, and I was fading fast. As they started changing the equipment for the main act, I was debating on heading home. Debating, that is, until Ben Howard stepped on stage. The audience ignited in cheers and whistles that shook the walls—we could tell Ben was ready. From his heartbreaking ballads which left the crowd in silent awe, to his soul-transforming acoustic numbers, Howard brought everyone to their feet. Involving the audience in the echoes of his lyrics, Ben constantly seemed amazed at every response, sharing his gratitude as he left the stage, saying he “will remember this night forever.”

I exited the venue with a set list in hand and a serene calmness after the moving performance. Ben Howard not only cured my cold; he made my POP Montreal.

– Meaghan Tardif-Bennett

One Comment

  1. Ah, so YOU were one of the lucky ones I saw getting the set list! lol Meaghan, what was the song they opened with? I hadn’t heard it before last night..

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