The first three days of Montreal’s highly eclectic POP Montreal festival are now in the books, but the final two days of shows, record fairs, art installations and other such activities are still to come. The latter half of this year’s festival will feature sets from Lunice, the Besnard Lakes, Think About Life and Jay Som, among others. In the meantime though, here’s a recap of what we’ve already seen.
Helping kick off this year’s POP shenanigans is local favourite Pierre Kwenders, who took to the Centre Phi with plenty of energy and charisma complementing his jazz and Afrobeat-tinged sound. Despite a late start, Kwenders and his backing band jumped from more upbeat tracks to more experimental ones nicely – with some saxophone and hip hop influences sprinkled here and there – and got the crowd at the smallish venue dancing and engaged, as he always does.
The dark, genre-bending electronic producer Egyptrixx came on later at Sala Rossa, with a set full of flashing lights, punching drum effects and bass piercing through the entire venue. Israeli drum wizard Gladys Lazer played Casa del Popolo around the same time, with a performance replete with jazzy, krautrock-influenced song structures, and wild drum solos seemingly front and centre (alongside a guitarist) throughout songs that were short and sweet and length. Local singer-songwriter Common Holly (real name Brigitte Naggar) played Quai des Brumes toward the end of night one, giving the crowd at the intimate and cozy bar/venue an equally intimate and cozy set full of mellow, melodically strong indie folk rock with a somewhat murky feel.
Though I’ve largely missed out on the hip hop side of the festival as I unfortunately didn’t get to see either Dead Obies or Havoc from Mobb Deep on night two – seriously, who books those artists at completely different venues at the same time? – I did get to watch Son Little at Petit Campus, and boy was his show worth the sacrifice. Performing with a diverse, soul-infused blues rock style, the Philadelphia musician born Aaron Livingston needed time to win the crowd over, but eventually had their attention with his raspy, husky voice, excellent musicianship and great chemistry with his band. The dude has serious talent, and deserved a bigger and more energetic crowd you’d expect to see at a proper concert hall.
Night two highlights also included Ty Segall performing an acoustic set at the Fairmount Theatre, where he played stripped down versions of his lo-fi garage punk tunes. The late night show at Piccolo Rialto was headlined by Jessy Lanza, whose Polaris-nominated style of experimental synthpop was on full display as she mixed and played her beats with her Grimes-esque soprano voice on top, and plenty of bouncing around as she did so.
While I couldn’t go to many of Friday’s shows, the one I did catch was probably my favourite of the week thus far. Ottawa indie folk act the Acorn played a short but impressive set at La Tulipe, but they were merely whetting people’s appetites for a highly-anticipated show from Montreal indie darlings the Dears. The band came onstage dapperly dressed and ready to go with a set consisting almost entirely of their 2003 album No Cities Left played front to back.
With no less than 12 musicians onstage (including a conductor!), this mesmerizing set was truly a celebration of the album that not only put the Dears on the map in this city and beyond, but arguably set the tone for what the Montreal indie music scene would become over the last decade and a half. Frontman Murray Lightburn came in with entertaining banter (“Oh come on, you can’t expect me to remember ALL the words!”) and a voice holding up nicely alongside a massive band playing as tightly as if the album was brand new. The loud reception from the packed crowd was all the proof you need of not only their prowess as a live act, but how much this city loves and appreciates what they’ve done for this scene over the years. “15 years later, baby! Still got it, baby!”, Lightburn says after they’ve played the album. That pretty much sums it up.
Words by David MacIntyre