No longer a ‘fledgling’ but a formidable mainstay of Montreal’s festival scene, I must say that there appears to be more and more things to do, see, and definitely, hear at POP Montreal. Since there are few mainstream, alternative, or even indie gatecrashing names, there is the general feeling and acceptance that it is a festival of smaller acts, trying to break through. The reality is that it’s always a bit of both. Here are some reflections, the good, the bad, and the interesting.
‘You had to be there, man’
First and foremost, I don’t know what it is but POPpers feel friendlier. On a more serious note, since POP Montreal isn’t a three-day high-dose injection of sound at a specific location, the vibes are undeniable unique. The fact that one has to traipse around the city, from venue to venue, puts the Montreal in the festival’s name. Frequent concert-goer as I am, I was surprised to find myself discovering not just new music but new venues, some of which double as cafés and bars which I’d gladly revisit in the future. In this way, the festival manages to form a better sense of community. I can’t say much as someone who lives here but I imagine that for tourists, they would’ve been able to feel the city’s heartbeat much better than at any other festival.
Making An Impression
A couple of years ago, I attended a show where a band from Ontario who was making their first ever appearance in the city—four or five young enthusiastic and raring-to-go rock n’ rollers—blew an amp and mic before the show had even started. From my point of view, I’ll never know how good they would’ve been. From theirs, there’ll never know how many listeners they would’ve converted, CDs sold, streams accessed, etc. For lots of bands at POP, it’s not a matter of fulfilling a label’s contractual obligation, of selling all the merch, or even getting thin crowds to clap. Rather, it’s passion and then the aim of simply making us think of checking them out at home, way after the fact. I must say that some bands failed to do this for me.
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However, I have to reserve special praise for Thanya Iyer, a 5-piece from Montreal. Iyer’s songs and vocals form the centerpiece around which Alex Kasirer-Smibert (bass), Shaina Hayes (vocals), Simon Millerd (trumpet), and Daniel Gélinas (drums) provide texture. Having recently released their debut album, Do You Dream, the band’s performance escaped categorisation, ranging from jazzy rhythms and lines to charming folk pop harmonies. ‘Sail Away’ was a delectable melange of screeching high hats, restrained yet engaging drumming, and meandering keys. All set long, Iyer’s voice harmonised with Hayes to create something heavenly, a cushion of calm even as around them noises whirled. The rest of the set was similarly loose and airy, Millerd’s playing a particularly nice touch of enthralling arpeggios and runs. I hope for many good things to come for this band.
Unlike Thanya Iyer, Po Lazarus have been part of the city’s scene for a while. With one self-titled EP already to their name, the band released their debut full-length, Ways To End The Night, on Friday night at Club Lambi to old and new fans alike. Much like their producer Johnny Griffin (of John Jacob Magistery), their music is folky with a heavy touch of storytelling (and the ever rambling, travelling, singer-songwriter), evoking some religious imagery in heavy hearted love songs.
Urging the timid crowd to come forward, the band kicked off the set with ‘Will You Be My Baby’, digging deep into their crate of pop sensibilities. Live, lead singer Joshua Carey puts in a commanding shift, putting a great deal of energy into outbursts of yelps and even screams. Yet, he executed high notes with perfection, his movements rather than vocal cords causing him to sweat. ‘Blood Cake’ was much more electrically charged, with massive guitar chords and ominous arpeggios. Lyrics like ‘Everybody everywhere acting so fake, and all at the parties they were serving up blood cake’ seem to come straight from the deranged mind of Edgar Allen Poe. Lead guitarist Aaron Cohenca tore up the roof, like he was playing the entrance music for the gods. And yet, for all that energy, Carey managed to serenade the crowd with first verses of ‘If You Are Alone’ solo, on an unplugged ukelele. Another highlight was ‘I’m Just A Man’ which found the perfect of intensity, Carey periodically spitting the last words of verses, as if pissed at the world. All in all, an excellent show and like most good ones, it was a shame that it was so short.
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Stay tuned for a review of the best show I caught at POP Montreal 2016
An earlier version of this credited Luc Delisle as the lead guitarist of Po Lazarus. It has been corrected to Aaron Cohenca with apologies from the editor