Another year, another edition of POP Montreal, and another slew of amazing shows. While there remains two full nights of shows to come, what we’ve already seen has reminded us why this is one of Montreal’s — and Canada’s in general — premier showcases for new music, and we’re only about to discuss a handful of shows in particular. Here are Northern Transmission’s five favourite sets from the first three nights of this year’s POP Montreal 2019.
After making it into this sold-out show at the Rialto by the skin of my teeth, I bore witness to one of this edition’s most anticipated sets: a dual show between experimental jazz artist/bass saxophonist Colin Stetson and avant-pop legend Laurie Anderson — and it was an experience to say the least. Accompanied by cellist Rebecca Foon and completely improvised from start to finish, the set came with plenty of strange effects and instrumentation recalling Stetson’s work on the score of Hereditary (particularly some frightening string effects), as well as some deeply-pitched spoken word vocals at times from Anderson. It felt cinematic in tone and atmosphere, and also toed the line nicely between being accessible and being an off-kilter sonic experience. Concertgoers were explicitly instructed by the venue to not speak at all during their set, and it’s easy to see why: it’s a show that’s meant to stop you in your tracks, and they accomplished exactly that.
While we’re on the subject of “out there” artists: one of Montreal’s most distinctive and artistically unorthodox acts this decade took to L’Escogriffe’s tiny stage and put on as solid and as rollicking a show as ever. Despite the crowd not being packed to the brim — they are a pretty established band in this town nowadays, after all — and the venue itself being a bit too small to do an act of their style justice, it was yet another solid offering by the six-piece group of their psychedelic and often heavy style of experimental progressive rock. Between theatrical vocal styles, black and white facepaint, and dashes of primal yelping in between, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan played yet another enjoyable and wonderfully wild set as the crowd eventually got fuller.
“Welcome to our last show in Montreal! Hey whatever, it’s not that big a deal. We’re here to celebrate, not to be a bunch of downers right?” So said Hollerado frontman Menno Versteeg with regards to their final show in Montreal, which just so happened to be during POP. And a celebration it was.
Formerly a fixture of the Montreal scene, the Ottawa band returned on Thursday night at Sala Rossa before their imminent breakup at the end of this year — and it seemed like for many, it was the most fun they’ve had at a show in a hot minute. Their sprightly take on power pop and indie rock is endearing and heavily melodic, and caused an enthusiastic reception from the crowd, complete with singalongs and even Q&A sessions between fans and band members. Between their lively catalogue of tunes, to their hilarious stage banter, to various stories about the band’s history (including a 26-hour car journey back to Montreal from Gainesville, FL), it will likely go down as one of this year’s most flat-out fun POP sets. No good thing can last forever, it seems — but at least they’re going out in style.
Not only does Weyes Blood have one of this year’s most acclaimed albums in Titanic Rising, but her live show is as refined and wonderful as she is. Channelling both Joan Baez and Harry Nilsson in voice, aesthetic, and musical style, the artist born Natalie Mering wooed the sold-out Rialto crowd with her elegant stage presence, studio-quality live voice, and effortless ability to carry a crowd without relying on upbeat music. Mering even mentioned her connection to the city of Montreal at one point, discussing how it was a city where she “had a lot of friends, and then they all moved.” It was an intimate, mesmerizing evening for all involved, and POP are very fortunate to have had a talent such as her onboard this year. Her cover of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” during her encore was a great touch given her throwback vibe, as well.
Even just watching this Toronto rapper/singer perform one or two tracks live is enough to show you why the Polaris jury warmed up to her so much that she won the prize earlier this month. Despite me only catching the last few songs of her set (the POP Montreal app had said she’d be on at 11:30 at the Piccolo Rialto before sending a notification mistakenly announcing she’d start at 12:30 instead), Haviah Mighty brought all kinds of charisma and raw energy to Rialto’s basement, spitting rhymes with an impassioned delivery and flow, intelligent lyrics, and plenty of crowd engagement — so much so that she’d even go into the middle of the crowd and rap amongst her faithful. As gutted as I am that I couldn’t see her full set, it was enough to show me that a ticket to her next time out in Montreal is a necessity.
Words by Dave MacIntyre (Feature image credit: Holly Li)