I guess it’s time to answer the central question surrounding M for Montreal: Is the city integral in making a scene, or do the bands make the city a musical hot spot? That’s not an easy question to answer.
I’m not sure the schizophrenic lineup of bands I saw at M for Montreal is what a “scene” is made up of, but I will say that it’s basically non-debatable that Montreal is an incredible city. Admittedly, I only saw about 20 square blocks, but I imagine living in a place with such incredible history, great food (I never ate better), and great people (the best) makes being in a band in Montreal a little bit more alluring than being in a band in Winnipeg, or wherever. Not to mention the excellent music venues. I can’t underscore this enough; I haven’t had such great experiences with venue sound, venue sightlines, and general comfort in any prolonged concert attending experience. Seeing as many bands as I did in four days (27, I think) would have been a nightmare anywhere else I’ve seen concerts.
Maybe Montreal is the reason these bands are good, and maybe it’s not. Like the chicken and the egg, we’ll never know the answer. I just know it happens to be the 1,644 square mile locale of choice for a lot of good bands.
With that, on to the last day of M for Montreal, which culminated in M for Metropolis:
Due to hangover-related illnesses/fatigue, I only hung out at the French showcase on Saturday afternoon for a couple bands, the highlight being Les Surveillantes, who had the most entertaining stage banter I heard all week (they did a funny College Graduate Anonymous confessional at one point). I regret not staying out though, as I heard great things about garage rockers Jesuslesfilles. So here’s a link to their MySpace page out of guilt.
After a layover, there was the big show. This is going to start seem like a chronicle of things I missed, but I missed most of La Patere Rose’s (and Gene Simmons’ introduction) set due to forgetting my press pass at my hotel in my rush to eat something before Metropolis. What I heard was great, and they apparently did a cover of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” which would have been right in my wheelhouse. I was impressed with what I saw, though; they were the best Chanson act I caught.
Next up was Pascale Picard Band, a very Alanis Morrisette singer songwriter who did songs with common “fuck you” refrains. The crowd dug the hell out of her, though, probably because she played to the hometown crowd by refusing to do her stage banter in English, because, as she said, the songs already were. The band was never better than during their last song, which was a punky little number that would fit well on a mid-2000s compilation of girl power folk rock. However, the powerful reaction to her set mostly made me wonder what PS I Love You would have done to this crowd. They could have leveled the place, I think.
Next up was a perfect embodiment of the nutty lineup choices I witnessed all week: thoroughly crushing metal band Priestess performed sandwiched between Pascale Picard and the Dears, playing the musical accompaniment to a ridiculous van painting. Priestess were exactly as I expected—sans Viking clothes—but they were the perfect palate cleanse for the middle of the night. Plus the devil-horn ratio was never higher. There’s a reason these guys are called the Canadian Mastodon, and they totally lived up to that title on Saturday.
Now comes confession time: I really don’t care for the Dears. I find their Brit-pop sort of cloying, and whenever I listen to their albums I always just feel like pulling out Urban Hymns instead. But their set at Metropolis was pretty spot-on. You can say a lot of things about the Dears, but them not being able to command a room is not one of them. They were one of the few bands I saw all week that sound like they could do this in stadiums just as easily as they do it in a packed club (PS I Love You and Suuns being the others). They also played almost exclusively stuff from a forthcoming album, which was very risky, but it worked. I’m not close to being a fan, but the Dears were a case study in how to do arena rock.
After the easy to digest Dears came two of my biggest head-scratchers for the entire week: Misteur Valaire and Poirier. Valaire are a jazz-trained dance group that should probably cut royalty checks to Hot Chip and Ghostland Observatory. Their entire set seemed like a jokey appropriation of dance music. That’s where they lose crucially to Hot Chip; there’s no reason that dance music needs to be as jokey as theirs is. I was utterly perplexed by the whole thing, especially since the crowd was absolutely bonkers for these guys. I don’t want to be all wet blanket, but to me, it was proficiency and goofiness reigning supreme. It was like everything you need to be a dance band was in place, but the songs were just excuses to wear goofy outfits and get everyone dancing. ‘Tis a fine line, but these guys crossed it I felt like I was left out of a joke that a couple hundred people totally understood and found hilarious.
Poirier was the ultimate headliner for the fest, and despite seeing his records for sale in every new record store I went to, I had no idea what to expect. He is a Quebecois DJ signed to Ninja Tune, and judging by his set, he’s trying to be the French-Canadian Diplo, a guy using semi-ironic DJing (the siren played an important part in his music) and fringe music (dancehall) to great benefit. It was enjoyable, to an extent, but again, I felt like I was out of some loop. His bass shook any lingering cobwebs out of my brain, but mostly he made me think of Major Lazer crossed with Deadmau5. He apparently bends styles more than he did at Metropois, so maybe I need to delve more into his back catalog. I didn’t completely love it, but he was at least out of the ordinary. I never, ever expected to see a dancehall DJ tearing shit up after a set by Dears and Priestess.
And with that, my M for Montreal festival concluded. Montreal: It was real. It was fun. It was real fun. Hopefully we can meet again.