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Music

A (Pop)Montreal Travelogue – Part 1

Posted by Jer / October 12, 2007

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This is the first post in a series contributed by Ben Kim, a visitor to this year’s Pop Montreal Festival from Austin, Texas (home of the grand daddy of all music festivals, SXSW). His posts share some of the musical highlights and organizational lowlights of the festival. The views expressed here are solely those of the author, and of course, anyone else who agrees with said author.

The plan was simple: see as many Canadian bands as possible who won’t likely be coming to Austin in the near future. And in turn, not to see American bands. Why go all the way to Montreal for that, right? But things at Pop Montreal weren’t that easy. The idea for Thursday was to catch Ohbijou and Basia Bulat at the Ukrainian Federation, then head over to La Gymnase for all but the first act of the Arts & Crafts label showcase. I had a regular festival wristband but couldn’t get into the Ukrainian (more on that later). Some good came of it, though, because there I met another wristbander who was also turned away. Seems like a common occurrence.

I did get into Le Gymnase for Most Serene Republic and Young Galaxy. I’ll second the musical opinions of Midnight Poutine’s Jer. To be honest I was pretty wiped out, too drunk and too tired – didn’t even last for the Stills. I’d left my house at 1pm on Wednesday for seven hours of flying to Manchester, New Hampshire, then another six hours by bus to Montreal. I hit the city at 7am on Thursday and went to a restaurant called La Brioche Lyonnaise that was out of brioche. Huh?

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I approached Friday with renewed determination, and musically it turned out to be the best day for me. At Le Divan Orange I caught the last 20 minutes of Library Science (Seattle), and dug their white geek dub reggae. The capsule description (English one) in the festival guide seemed to poke fun them for, well, being white geeks playing dub reggae. But at least they weren’t toasting in Jamaican accents, attempting to skank or sporting dreadlocks. And the guys from Tortoise aren’t Jamaican either. A lot of the artist descriptions in the guide were less than helpful, and more than a few were nothing more than in-jokes – a disservice to both the artists and readers. Next up was Slim Twig (Toronto), who were like Suicide with a more psychobilly Alan Vega. “Slim”, on guitar and vocals, unleashed one howl that sent a chill up my neck. The Nymphets (Montreal) were last, and, meh. Serviceable pop-punk, bonus points for the girl drummer.

In a weird twist, the first stranger I talked to there was in the Unbearables – the fest’s only band from Austin, and who I’d never seen at home. So you go 3,000 km to meet someone who lives across the street. C’mon, isn’t that weird?

20071012plantsandanimals.jpg Back to my hotel for some rest and playoff baseball on TV. (And by the way, I loved how that day’s Gazette buried its baseball coverage – this is the playoffs, mind you – on page five of the sports section. I know you all haven’t cared about baseball since the final decade of the ‘Spos, but jeez, it was all the way behind college hockey.) Then over to the Ukrainian for Plants and Animals (Montreal), who were amazing. Two guitarists and a drummer displaying a level of musicianship that one rarely finds in indie rock. Pretty songs, flowing unpredictably, and every now and then some jaw-dropping guitar flash. The guy behind me said they didn’t even used to sing at all. OK, I thought, this is what I came all this way to see.

Next on the bill was Grizzly Bear, who are from the U.S. and who play Austin at least once a year. But I’d never seen them before. And I had two things I couldn’t necessarily count on elsewhere: admittance, and confidence of the set starting on time. Turned out to be a good choice. Gorgeous singing and harmonies. Another great drummer. Even clarinet. Near the end they brought out a local collaborator who’d composed a string arrangement for one of their records. Everyone went nuts but I didn’t recognize him. The guy behind me told me it was the Final Fantasy dude. Oh.

Stay tuned for Ben's next installment, in which he gets swarmed by hooligans in a cab, and runs into some more festival dead ends.

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