Taverne Tour music festival Montreal

Ghösh & Backxwash. Photos by Camille Gladu-Drouin

Montreal music festival Taverne Tour made a tremendous comeback

Here’s a recap of everything Cult MTL saw over the festival’s three days, from Feb. 9 to 11.

Festival season is back, baby — at least, for a quick second. The sixth edition of Montreal’s annual Taverne Tour festival came back in full force with in-person shows after having to take it online last year, and the shows — even after trudging through freezing rain, slush, ice and unsalted sidewalks to get to some of them — were largely excellent and worth the treacherous journey.

Some shows were held in traditional venues, while others took place in regular old bars on Mont-Royal (hence the name of the festival). Though many shows were scheduled at the same time and we couldn’t see too many of them, the ones we did make time for most certainly did not disappoint.

Here’s a recap of everything Cult MTL saw over the festival’s three days.

Of Montreal

Who better to kick things off than the band who named themselves after our very city? Beyond the simple fact that I was seeing of Montreal IN Montreal, the Athens, GA band gave a memorable performance in a packed Fairmount Theatre on Thursday night. With leader Kevin Barnes sporting a huge blue wig and dancing and jumping around onstage like he’s done for decades, the psychedelic indie pop outfit energized the crowd despite hardly interacting with them between songs. 

Balancing newer material with older classics like “Gronlandic Edit,” “For Our Elegant Caste”, and “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” (I wonder how Barnes feels about the Caroline Polachek song), the crowd cheered loudly — some waving glow sticks — and danced enough that the ground below me was vibrating. The set hit a sweet spot between being gloriously theatrical and shamelessly quirky, just like any of Montreal show should be.

Yoo Doo Right

Now, for some actual Montreal bands: local trio Yoo Doo Right gave an excellent performance for a sardine-like crowd at le Ministère. Deftly blending post-rock with post-punk, progressive rock and krautrock (the band named themselves after a Can song, after all),  there’s a whole lot of power coming from a three-person band, and this was on full display Thursday night.

Playing a set defined largely by instrumental numbers (with occasional vocals thrown in here and there) with pulsating rhythms, Wall of Sound-like distortion and rich, menacing soundscapes not unlike Godspeed You! Black Emperor before them, this trio was absolutely what the doctor ordered as far as musicianship and atmosphere. You’ll likely have to wear earplugs when you watch them, but it’s well worth the trouble. I didn’t want them to stop.

Nicholas Craven

This local hip hop producer has made waves with various releases over the past year or so (particularly his Boldy James collab album Fair Exchange No Robbery), so I was extremely curious about his live show. His set on Friday night at le Belmont started off as a pure ‘80s/‘90s DJ set (Nas, Mos Def, Cam’ron et al) before bringing guest rappers onstage in both languages (including Ryzzlah and Jimmie D) to rap over his own productions. Looking overdressed in a tuque and hoodie, Craven played a lively, spirited set despite a modest turnout in front of him.

Hua Li

That night’s closing artist would be Hua Li, and she cranked the energy levels up even further as the crowd got fuller. The Montréalaise rapper/singer performed over some beats that weren’t dissimilar to Craven’s, though others were decidedly more ethereal and electronic-based. Spitting bars about very personal subjects (including one track about her mother, who hails from Wuhan, China), Hua Li made no secret of her gratitude for being back onstage after the first couple years of our pandemic hell, telling the Belmont crowd it “feels good to be back in my element again.” She was definitely in that element on Friday evening, commanding the stage while debuting unreleased material from her forthcoming album. If only it would come out sooner than early next year!

The Fake Friends

In the spirit of Taverne Tour, I went to an actual bar — Saint-Sacrement on Mont-Royal, to be exact — to see how the festival would get smaller taverns to cosplay as show venues. Watching the Fake Friends, a local punk supergroup described as sounding “like a bunch of old hardcore guys trying to make pop songs,” was a total vibe shift from the Belmont show, but well worth the trek down the boulevard.

I knew I was in for a treat when I walked in and heard them cover Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” before launching into another cover of the Misfits’ “Last Caress,” all with frontman Matthew Savage rocking one hell of a mullet. A treat was indeed what I’d get: straddling the line between old-school punk and classic rock not unlike MC5 in the late ’60s, the Fake Friends put on a hugely entertaining show despite my not being able to see them from afar given the tightly packed crowd around me. Even if they deserved a bigger room to strut their stuff in, their hard-rocking tunes and hilarious stage banter made for a perfect night cap.

Chiara Savasta

Admittedly, my hunger got the better of me at Casa del Popolo on Saturday night, as I went to the bar on the other side to eat a burrito while Chiara Savasta’s set was running late. By the time I finished my meal and went back to the show, she’d reached the tail end of her set. Serves me right for risking it, I guess! With a three-piece band behind her, Savasta’s soft, feathery voice was a nice complement to the bedroom pop instrumentals of songs like “Bike Rides,” sounding almost like a cross between Maisie Peters and Men I Trust. Even with a limited sample size, her bubbly personality and solid live voice were on full display, and I look forward to another opportunity to see her perform.

Frankie Rose

Saturday’s headliner at Casa would be Brooklyn’s Frankie Rose, formerly of Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. Since I got turned away from the Sadies across the street at Sala Rossa (you guys need more room for media bracelets at these shows than just five people, honestly), I figured I’d stick around and see what she was all about. Despite some sound issues at the beginning and end of her set, Frankie Rose nonetheless gave a mesmerizing performance, complete with a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic visual background to match her noisy, ‘80s-inflected post-punk-meets-dream-pop tunes. Her echoing, reverb-heavy vocals made it seem like she was harmonizing with three versions of herself, and her melodies are potent enough to entice fans of the Cure, New Order, Japanese Breakfast and Grimes alike. ■

Montreal music festival Taverne Tour made a tremendous comeback

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