My day yesterday was chock full of music, so let me waste little time here. Montreal is great (best city in Canada? I think so), music yesterday was great (best music-festival experience of my life), and my day ended on Boulevard St. Laurent with Prefix commenter Al and his buddies buying me drinks and taking me out to the hottest spots. Read below for coverage of that too.
The Polaris Prize is such a weird thing to me, because it seems like sometimes the winners are chosen only because they’re a little bit out of the norm (see: this year’s winner, Karkwa). And the idea of honoring an album solely because it was made in Canada is weird to me, but then again, where I come from, we honor bad albums from bad artists (see: most best new artist Grammy winners). But Hey Rosetta!, Polaris nominees a few years ago, were a pleasant surprise. They’re out on tour with Sarah Harmer, and they dialed down their compositions to be more soft-rock friendly. Which isn’t a bad thing at all; they sort of come off as the Canadian Coldplay with songs that are more delicate and more nuanced. They more than deserved to be part of the big show, but instead, they were part of a mid-day set.
After a much-needed couple hour break, I headed to La Chappelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur, a really beautiful performance space that also houses the M for Montreal offices, for the M for Martini showcase. The bands there were perfectly suited for the church-y vibe. Courtney Wing’s lush orchestral arrangements were a highlight, and so were Ensemble’s glacial soundscapes. The showcase also included a set from really quiet singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk, who overcame the fact that he did the really played-out acoustic guitar and harmonica holder thing that Bob Dylan did 50 years ago. The other band that performed were the pleasant country songstresses Ladies of the Canyon — a band midway on the line between Those Darlins’ and Mountain Man — who are probably out of the norm up in Canada, but in America, you can find bands just like them in many bars in many towns.
After another break, the night proper started with another official selection showcase — and the best night of music at the fest so far — at Studio Juste Pour Rire (which is closing for good later this year. R.I.P.). Halifax singer-songwriter Molly Rankin started things off, charming the crowd with her She & Him-esque tales of being passed over for blonde bombshells. Her band might have been the best I’ve seen backing up these kind of poppy tunes, with the guitarist layering some really great reverbed guitar riffs.
A pleasant surprise came next, as Montreal’s Barr Brothers cut an imposing visage. They feature a harpist, whose instrument took up roughly 40 percent of the stage. The group lives in a world where Led Zeppelin III is the bible, as their spacious, acoustic, bluesy folk — and impressive slide guitar work — recalls Zep’s most folksy moments. That’s not to say they’re all Zeppelin all the time — they sound like the Who too, and they can be damn atmospheric at times — but the Barr Brothers are more than classic-rock revivalists. I feel like they’re a Grey’s Anatomy-placement or a tour-opening-for-the-Black Keys away from being a big deal.
The next band couldn’t have been any different: It was Toronto’s METZ, an insane hardcore punk band that looked like they were Strange Brew extras. They were pretty inconspicuous coming out — though the incomparable Mikey the MC said they were the answer for Fucked Up, who played here last year — but nothing prepared me for what came next. Pick your hardcore band (Minutemen, Black Flag, Mission of Burma, Descendants, D.O.A., Fugazi) and your Touch & Go, ‘90s-era hard rock (Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu): They’re all in METZ’s sonic mash. Fucked Up are probably more polished, but METZ seemed like they were on the verge of blowing up the venue’s speakers at any moment. Plus they had the best drummer I’ve seen all week. He attacked his drums so hard he could probably be convicted of attempted murder if he hit a person that hard.
The droney soundsculptures of Montreal’s Valleys — one of the most hotly tipped bands here right now — were next, with the three-piece whipping up Galaxie 500-reminiscent slow-gaze. If there’s a trend happening here, it’s that; the bands in Montreal (Braids, Valleys and Suuns, specifically) are taking influence from late-’80s and early-’90s underground music now more than anything else. Which I guess is an update from the stuff that Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire take their cues from. Valleys are still a bit away from being great — the tunes sort of bled together — but they were more than deserving of the word-of-mouth hype I heard on them all week.
Here’s a surprise: Suuns were the most warmly received band I’ve seen so far, as the crowd was never bigger than it was for the Montreal band’s blistering set of tracks from their recently released Zeroes QC. The Clinic influence that gets bandied about these guys seems like a tiny reach on wax, but live, these guys might as well be Clinic with dance-rock tempos. Which isn’t a bad thing, at all, but it’s hard not to conjure thoughts of Ade Blackburn’s hiss when hearing Suuns lead singer howl. Again, this was a case of pre-show hype meeting expectations, and the Europeans I talked to in attendance said they could be huge over there. I could believe it.
The music part of my night wrapped up with Random Recipe, the closest thing M for Montreal has to hip-hop. They’re a four-piece band comprising a really solid hip-hop drummer, a guitarist, and two singers, one of which who sounds like a Canadian answer to Adele or Corine Bailey Rae, and another who is the Canadian answer to MC Lyte. They were pleasant to the max, but not hip-hop enough for these ears. But I swear to god, the Quebecois in attendance treated this like a Wu-Tang show. I saw someone in the balcony get damn near making the “W” too. For real. But they’re the most interesting radio-ready Canadian group I’ve heard here. They’re at least not trying to do soft rock, and the mixture of rap and jaunty pop is pretty winning. Again, this is another band that is just an ad placement away from being huge.
Here’s where things get real: During Random Recipe’s set, there was a knock on my left shoulder. And whom should I see, but venerable Prefix commenter Al. Dude lives down in Toronto (the second “T” is silent, I am told) and he was up with two buddies to spend the weekend in Montreal and meet a real celebrity (that would be me, I guess). For fear of prosecution, I’ll keep the details close to the vest, but let’s just say our night involved Jameson shots, a strip club (which are no joke here, by the way), pool hustlers, discussions about whether or not dunking had made it to Canada (it has, apparently, as proven by a Raptors highlight we saw), and lots of talk about how Daba wimped out by not coming up to party with us.
I’m ending any discussion about who is the best member of the Prefix forums right here, right now. It’s Al. Number one with a bullet. So know this, other Prefix commenters — Dipseth, Banger, H0gy, Bob, everyone else — you dudes done got bested by Al. Thanks again, Al. It was awesome.
As for today, my stay in Montreal ends tonight with a French showcase, and the big show at Metropolis (Montreal’s First Avenue), which is going to be MC’d by Gene Simmons and will feature sets from Priestess, Dears, and others.