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City, Music

Montreal vs. New York: Round 3

Posted by Olivier / August 31, 2008

Midnight Poutiner Olivier is spending his summer in New York, and can’t help but compare the Greatest City in the World ™ to his beloved Montreal. In this final edition, ecstasy itself is on the table: Music.

I expected to rock out this summer. I did not. Much of the blame for this must lie with my own inability to figure out the New York music scene. I have never been the hippest of cats, and figuring out where the next hot show might be was beyond my meager abilities, despite semi-useful aids like ohmyrockness , TONY, and a Mormon rock-fiend I worked with. But I maintain that a significant part of the problem was the city itself: believe it or not, relative to Montreal, New York is lacking in decent venues.

This might seem a strange description of the city that brought the world CBGB, but tellingly that institution disappeared two years ago and was converted to a record/nostalgia store. Its former clientèle has been moved down the street and across from my apartment, to Mars Bar, a dive bar to end all dive bars where they don’t turn on the lights and the juke box only plays punk. But Mars Bar doesn’t play live music, and only a handful of enticing and low-cost joints still exist in the Village area. Brooklyn has become the new center of live music, and the cohesiveness of a Manhattan music scene has died as a result. The best shows I saw were Gogol Bordello at McCarren Park Pool, which is in Brooklyn, and a one-off street festival in the Lower East Side.

In contrast, Montreal has a number of low-cost venues that make seeing a live show and taking a chance on an unknown band seem like a worthwhile proposition. And Montreal seems to have preserved more of its medium-sized venues, like la Tulipe or Metropolis.

Of course, there are a few things New York does that Montreal cannot compete with. Central Park’s Great Lawn may be one of the best open sites for music (I threw some fist pumps at a free Bon Jovi concert there this summer), and the park's free SummerStage had some good acts (including Santogold, one of my favourite Brooklyn live acts, and Afrika Bambaataa, one of the grandfathers of Hiphop).

And perhaps most importantly, New York has a reserve of musicians that Montreal does not. Walking though Washington Square Park on any given day, you will see more musicians than park goers. Of the many bands I listened to play in the park, my favourite was the Lonely Hearts Band, consisting of a father accompanying his nine-year old daughter on guitar while she sang soulful love songs in a warbly but beautiful voice. It sounds creepy, but somehow it was not.

And the subways are often the best source of music in New York. The station near my work often featured an old man bending a saw and stroking it with his violin bow to create a powerful sound that he used to accompany recorded instrumentals like “Imagine”. Even when I was late for work I had no choice but to stop and listen to these bizarre but spellbinding “duets”. It sounds creepy, but somehow it was not.

Yet while New York has these moments of ecstasy available on the street and various public areas, it’s Montreal that has a better set-up for the structured ecstasy of live indoor acts. These are not gimmicks, and they make the day to day task of finding music that much easier, especially for the less hip among us.

Final Tally: Montreal wins, 2 (nightlife + music) to 1 (food), which means I will immediately leave New York and return to Montreal. See you there.



j / August 31, 2008 at 07:41 am
Is that Val Kilmer with the white headband?
jane / August 31, 2008 at 09:39 am
"relative to Montreal, New York is lacking in decent venues"
"it’s Montreal that has a better set-up for the structured ecstasy of live indoor acts"

I agree 100%. I've lived in a few major cities throughout North America, and Montreal has been absolutely the best for finding live music to see. I was particularly disappointed with Austin, TX. Self proclaimed "live music capital of the world," which lacked a good live listing resource (I sorely missed the Mirror), and who's venues couldn't compare to the diversity and professionalism of montreal's scene.

I hope this city never loses its live music like Manhattan did. That would be a shame.
dwight / September 1, 2008 at 04:58 pm
Okay I love Montreal and all but this is unfair. Complaining that Brooklyn is the new centre of live music (which I half-agree with--true for local bands, less true for touring bands, which is the great strength of the New York music scene anyway) is sort of like complaining that the Mile End is the new centre of live music is Montreal. Okay, maybe true. So? Brooklyn's part of New York, and it's where most showgoers live these days, so that's where the shows are.
Jer / September 2, 2008 at 09:35 am
Yeah. I agree with Dwight. You're splitting hairs. Nobody talks about the west island's music scene. By your account, we should be including it.

Still, I'm glad Montreal came out on top in this totally scientific contest of yours. Otherwise, you might have stayed in NYC. And then MP would have crumbled under the stress of trying to find a replacement for you.

Welcome back.
D / September 3, 2008 at 11:58 am
What listings do you use to find live music events here (montreal)?
O / September 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm
OK, Jer and Dwight, you've uncovered my anti-Brooklyn bias, although comparing it to West Island is just cruel. It's just that when you live and work in Manhattan, Brooklyn seems a world away (one New Yorker I met claims that there are psychological barriers associated with crossing water, dating back to when the Carthaginians failed in their cross-water attack against Rome in the Punic wars- he was kind of a nerd)

D, here is what I use for Montreal listings:

If anyone has any other suggestions, post them here.
G / September 8, 2008 at 06:07 pm
OMG! I totally love the singstress in your picture. It's my favourite band Morningwood (! Is she the cutie from an old school Oprah special ( Whatever happened to the Roseland and Hammerstein Ballrooms, as well as other venues like the Knitting Factory? Did the yuppies eat those too? They used to be pretty sweet places to check out bands way back in the early 2K's. I also heard that there was some pretty sweet Karaoke coming out of K-town in midtown. I think we may have to reevaluate this corrupt contest and ship O back to NYC.

For more MTL concert listings, one can also go to;tr_city=MONTREAL&from_date=&to_date= .
dan / June 16, 2009 at 01:56 pm
The New York music scene had jumped the shark a long time ago. Thanks to Wall Street and the real estate boom we have pushed all our artists away... they are barely able to hold on to the corners of Brooklyn that are now being swallowed up by big commercial real estate companies that want to build overpriced condos. I know some good bands out of Montreal but have yet to visit to check the scene - sounds interesting. But stop comparing yourselves to New York. It's a waist of time... there is very little good live music in New York anymore. You might as well be comparing yourselves to Schenectady.
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