Pop vs. Jock all-stars

Best in POP Montreal show

Our highlights from the music festival of music festivals.

Pat Bennett and Mikey Heppner. Photo by Cindy Lopez
We came, we saw, we kicked POP’s ass, and it kicked back. Yes, the 2014 edition of the POP Montreal music festival is done, but for five days last week and weekend, we were in it to win it. Here are some highs (and one low) of the partiest festival in town:

Beat Cops

This was the right way to start off POP Montreal: moving my work station to Divan Orange, drinking sangria in the afternoon and watching Tim Fletcher (the Stills), Pat Bennett (Trigger Effect), Mikey Heppner (Priestess) and drummer-at-large Max Hébert are now Beat Cops — not sure if that’s a noun or a verb, but I like the name either way. With Heppner in the mix, you knew there’d be some guitar wizardry, and there was. Honestly, it feels like ages since I’ve heard an actual guitar solo. But I wasn’t expecting as much of that hazy, dopey classic rock sound — flashbacks of my prepubescent Doors/Hendrix/Joplin phase came back to me, if a little buggered by punk muscle. (Lorraine Carpenter)

Ronnie Spector

At age 71, the Rose of Spanish Harlem proved she’s still got it as she leg-kicked and strutted across the stage of the Rialto, all the while charming the heck out of the sizeable crowd in attendance. The autobiographical show, in the vein of VH1’s Storytellers series, was a perfect mixture of story and song. Amazingly, time and intense personal struggles have done little to diminish her spirit and voice. Her backing band proved to be very skilled, although one couldn’t help but wish that the music was being presented with the full treatment of the famous ‘wall of sound’ production techniques with which they were originally recorded. Along with obvious set highlights like “Be My Baby” and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” it proved to be incredibly emotional moment to hear her sing pop masterpiece “Don’t Worry Baby,” a song originally written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson for Spector, but which her jealous and abusive ex-husband, pop impresario Phil Spector, never allowed her to record. Moments like this were balanced with the amusing anecdotes about George Harrison and Joey Ramone, and light-hearted exchanges with the crowd. Kudos to POP Montreal for bringing this legendary performer to the stage for this intimate and inspiring evening. (Mike Sallot)

Timber Timbre

Timber Timbre
Photo by Cindy Lopez

Metropolis was jammed for this pitch-perfect noir-ballad band, whose members either live in or hail from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto — they’re 401 regulars, apparently. It’s truly impressive that they’ve managed to appeal to such a broad audience with that easy, sleazy slowcore sound. They’re very much their own band, with singer Taylor Kirk’s soothing strangeness and joint riffs with Simon Trottier casting spells from the forefront, but they’re also very evocative of a stack of people and things, among them Nick Cave (on valium, perhaps) and the pink room scene from the Twin Peaks movie (feat. Blue Rodeo, if you can believe it — “welcome to Canada,” right?).  The band’s stage set-up was simple, with banks of light seguing from pink to white, with the neon “Hot Dreams” sign lighting up for that song (the title track of their latest, Polaris-shortlisted album), and the guys standing almost stil, just letting the backroad ballroom folk roll out from the shadows. (LC)

DJs Food, Cheeba and Moneyshot

The SAT was the place to be to shake one’s rump last Friday night as Ninja Tune pioneer DJ Food joined forces with his Bristol cohorts, DJs Moneyshot and Cheeba, in stripping the Beasties’ classic Paul’s Boutique down to bare bones and re-appointing its sample sources to create a non-stop 90-minute dance party rife with breaks, cuts and fades. [Ed.’s note: “Hey Ladies” needed more “Machine Gun“!]

An accompanying visual montage (which was being meticulously re-edited by a very giggly and jet-lagged Cheeba up to mere moments before showtime) added something special that ’70s-cool PB is steeped in. Whether you were there to watch, listen or dance of the flurry of disc-jockeying wrists, or if you just let yourself go and get slow and low, this was a helluva show. (DM)

Petra Glynt

This was one of those shows I walked into blind. It was Friday and I’d wanted to catch some of local rapper Hua Li’s set at la Vitrola but only managed to see the last two songs. After about 20 minutes, someone came on stage and read some WTF poetry for a minute, and then it was Petra Glynt, an experimental one-woman act from Toronto, armed with drum sticks, lots of pre-recorded beats, samples and synth work and a rich, otherworldly voice. Her name was vaguely familiar but I’d never explored who she was or what she did. I’ve since listened and watched some of her recordings and videos and they don’t quite capture her live power (though the crazy stoner art on her Bandcamp hints at what you’re in for, maybe). She emitted a surprisingly deep operatic warble for a pixie-ish gal, over tribal psych under the influence of Fela Kuti and Kate Bush (at her weirdest). Watch out, tune-yards. (LC)

Pop vs. Jock halftime show

Pop vs. Jock all-stars
Pop vs. Jock all-stars. Photo by Cindy Lopez

I’ve got a big problem with Phil Collins. Not the artist Phil Collins, who was in town as part of the festival’s Art POP programming, but THAT Phil Collins. Unless I’m watching American Psycho (which I do often), I don’t want to be around any “Pseu Pseu Pseudio” EVER — I thought that tune was crap when I was eight. MAYBE “Land of Confusion,” but that’s it. The man is cheese on legs. So for those who haven’t seen the video by now, members of Arcade Fire, Nikolai from the Strokes and freakin’ Bon Iver performed a song during the Pop vs. Jock charity basketball game halftime show, which had been hyped the previous day by certain American websites as something that was going to be a big deal. Two years ago David Byrne joined members of Arcade Fire at Pop vs. Jock halftime to play some covers (“96 Tears” etc) and in 2011, Richard Reed Parry performed some experimental music along with a lit-up Moment Factory rollerskate spectacle — pretty cool shit. But the Arcade Fire/Bon Iver/Strokes “supergroup” chose to play Collins’ soft-rock scourge “In the Air Tonight.” But hey, at least the actual game was gripping, with the usual bonus of an organ-and-turntables soundtrack by Kid Koala and Régine Chassagne, who were joined this year by A-Trak (this is key for people like me, who aren’t into sports). Bon Iver is not good at basketball, I have to say, but Win Butler is, and the Pop team’s victory meant there was no tantrum this time — I spoke to him moments after Arcade Fire lost the Polaris Prize to Tanya Tagaq last night and he didn’t seem bothered at all. If she’d beaten him at basketball, he’d be brow-beating the ref, big-time. (LC)

Schoolboy Q

By now you’ve heard this was amazing, but lemme break down why.

First of all, the Theatre l’Olympia finally came correct. I make no secret of my disdain for rap shows there. From poor sound to shitty attitudes from security to all-out disdain for the crowd and the entertainers alike, by the often seemingly-baffled venue hands, I have seen a disproportionate amount of wackness happen here.

Saturday night, something changed. The staff were welcoming and courteous — that is, if you got past the cops working the main entrance, didn’t set off the metal-detector and passed your pocket/purse/cap/shoe inspection (like I did, suckas!). I’m not advocating a nanny state at shows moving forward but the message was clear: no fucking around inside.

This came as a fair trade, however. Smiles and politeness abounded from coat-check onward. The gaggle of youths there to see the “Man of the Year” rapper were treated respectfully, and for what they had paid to be there, I’m surprised there wasn’t, like, a towel-dude at the bathroom doors.

And the sound — hallelujah, Olympia! Whatever you did different, whatever you fixed, please keep it that way and don’t break again. I don’t think the tide of rap shows at the venue will ebb anytime soon so the best we can hope is that the venue has learned once and for all how to respect us, the hip hop crowd.

And what a crowd! This was one of the most energetically reciprocal live rap performances I’ve ever seen, hands up in the air, infectious bars and hooks alike being shouted along in chorus till the last note. It was like a mutual admiration society in that place by the end. I am pretty sure Montreal has not seen the last of Q, and I’d definitely attend a repeat performance. (DM)

Ty Segall (He Said)

Ty Segall 4
Photo by Lisa Sproull

Here’s the deal: I had no fucking clue what this was and everybody seemed really excited about it. I just happened in after Schoolboy Q, accompanying a colleague who just wanted to “check fast” if we could catch the end of the sold-out show. By what turned out to be great good fortune, for me, we were admitted and I heard Ty Segall and his band for the first time in my life. And I was captivated. Mikey B, chilling at the back of the room, got me up to speed on the 5Ws about the Cali singer/songwriter/guitarist and apparently also drummer, who seems to be ubiquitous across garage/punk circles. I guess I’m the last guy to find out. I was definitely one of only two people in the room who had been yelling “gangsta, gangsta, gangsta” at a guy in a bucket hat not a half hour earlier. Hip hop coverage never allows me to break out this old chestnut of music critique, so here goes, for the first and last time: Segall and his band’s  Zep-fused melodic punk/pop set was just blistering. I thought crowd surfing had become a bigger thing in rap now but I swear almost every motherfucker in the place jumped off that stage in the 20 minutes I was there. This is definitely my new shit. (DM)

Ty Segall (She Said)

Segall's alleged manager
Segall’s alleged manager. Photo by Lisa Sproull

Ty Segall’s sold-out show at Club Soda has gotta be one of the craziest rock shows I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a few), from a guy who, over the past six years, has released eight solo albums full of thrashing, sweaty, lo-fi garage punk, plus a whole bunch of other projects and collaborations. I started out at arm’s length from the stage with the other photographers, a position that wasn’t meant to last as the crowd was already rowdy when Segall’s manager — a Burt Reynolds lookalike clad in a cowboy hat and a denim three-piece suit (minus the shirt) — came out to introduce the band. I managed to hold my own for about 15 minutes before the moshing around me reached precious-cargo-threatening levels, at which point I retreated to calmer waters. From there, I watched in amazement as Segall and his band (including phenomenal drumming from Emily Rose Epstein) whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy as bros and girls alike climbed onstage and threw themselves into the crowd one after another. One particularly overcome fellow threw his arms around Segall, earning him some rather aggressive place-putting by a security guard before Segall shook his head and put up his hand in a gesture of peace, as if to say “Let the children come to me,” and come they did. Ty Segall gave his audience a noisy, sweaty, thrilling spectacle and even gave himself to the crowd as he let the reaching mass absorb him into the pit, slamming out chords as they held him high above their heads. If the best concert experiences are the ones that completely overtake your mind and body and senses in a fully participatory explosion of communal energy, Ty Segall’s ability to create such an environment will surely make him a legend. Special props to show openers the Nymphets and the all-woman surf rockers la Luz (whose performance was so good I bought their album). Long Live Rock ’N Roll! (Lisa Sproull)

Cloak FM party

After a few nights of POP, an afternoon of chilling in the with eight of the city’s finest DJs sounded like a bit o’alright to me, so I collected my child.

As we were heading out the door and across town to Parc de la Petite Italie for Cloak FM’s showcase featuring Kelly Nunes, Kris Guilty, the One Tash, Maysr, Ruined Sundays, Prison Garde and Iron Galaxy & Sexlife, word came down the Interweb that the party would be moved indoors to POP HQ.

I figured that would entertain my kid for all of 20 minutes, but due to a ping pong table set up in the corner of the main room, where the DJs were set up, we actually lasted nearly three hours, chilling with friends new and old. Dancing while playing ping pong is the best, like amazing. Too bad more people didn’t show up, but that meant more table time for us. And the music was every shade of awesome. (DM)

JJ Fad

Photo by Cindy Lopez

POP Montreal does a good job of presenting lesser-known nostalgia acts and giving them the stage and captive audience they deserve. That, combined with the setting of a late-night, church-basement dance party, always makes for memorable POP moments. This year was no different, as rap group J.J. Fad, who deserve to be at least as well remembered and revered as Salt-N-Pepa for their trailblazing forays into the mostly male-dominated world of late ’80s hip hop, took to the stage for an old-school rap and electro party that had the crowd (and the group themselves) grinning ear to ear and gettin’ down like it was 1987. Set closer and highlight “Supersonic” still packs a sonic punch, as did a surprise guest appearance by a rapping Gentleman Reg. The night ended with a tribute to the late emcee Eazy-E (who originally signed the group to his Ruthless Records imprint) led by JJ Fad’s DJ, who amusingly apologized for swearing “in the Lord’s basement.” (MS)


Stars 11
Photo by Lisa Sproull

It was a rare and special opportunity to visit Breakglass Studios on a rainy Sunday evening to see Stars perform an intimate show for an invite-only crowd (and a live webcast). The band was in top form as they drew plenty of favourites from their most recent records The North (2012) and The Five Ghosts (2010), and gave us a most delicious taste of the soon-to-be-released No One Is Lost. Between songs, bandleaders Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan quipped about topics like Scottish independence, losing one’s virginity, and the status of the artist as a public servant before wrapping things up with a crowd-pleasing encore of “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” from 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire that had us all singing along — contrary to the lyrics, we were in fact sorry it was over. (LS)


The Unicorns

Photo by Cindy Lopez

Ten years ago, the Unicorns waxed lyrically and worryingly over whether or not there would be room for them in the year 2014. After witnessing their hometown return Sunday night at Metropolis (incidentally the biggest stage they’ve ever played in this city), I would expect that the incredibly enthusiastic reaction from the crowd would be enough to allay their fears. In fact, it felt as though not that much time had passed at all, as the band quickly energized the crowd, which joyously bounced up and down right from the opening notes of “Jellybones” — from their 2003 LP Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? — through to the cheeky, double fake-out encore which culminated in origin story anthem “I Was Born (A Unicorn).” The show was far from the sometimes shambolic performances of yesteryear (if memory serves), and tunes like “Tuff Ghost” and “Les Os” sounded as fun and fresh as they did in 2004. A funny opening montage video, antiquated screensaver visuals and guitarist and co-frontman Nick Thorburn’s anecdotes about sneaking into Metropolis back in the day served to endear the band to the packed crowd that was already more than happy to be a part of this spirited reunion. Here’s hoping that their recent spate of gigs, which included a handful of dates supporting Arcade Fire on tour and culminated in Sunday’s performance, wasn’t an ending, but rather a new beginning. (MS)
See our POP Montreal 2014 photo galleries here and here