Montreal Is the Drug

Montreal Is the Drug assembles local music all-stars to salute post-punk & new wave on May 26

We spoke with Sam Roberts, Howard Bilerman and Paul Cargnello about the big event happening at Corona this Friday.

This Friday, May 26, Théâtre Corona will be the site of Montreal Is the Drug, a concert featuring post-punk and new wave-era classics by Roxy Music, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, Blondie, the Police, Eurythmics, the Smiths, Joy Division, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, the Cure and the Jam, among others.

This is just the latest in a series of ambitious tribute shows mounted by Billy Bob Productions (an endeavour by Montreal radio personality Mitch Melnick), following local all-star celebrations of the music of Bob Dylan and the Clash. For Montreal Is the Drug, as with their previous concerts, Billy Bob has assembled dozens of primo local musicians, including house band Paul Cargnello & the Truth feat. Jasmine Bleile, Shane Murphy, Jonathan Emile, Jason Bajada, the Nils, TJ Plenty & Paul Remington (Asexuals), Jason Rockman (Slaves on Dope), Howard Bilerman & Murray Lightburn (the Dears), Alec McElcheran, the Tina Trons and “very special guests” the Sam Roberts Band.

“For a long time now, Mitch Melnick has been positioning himself as the improbable godfather of not one but TWO worlds that, by rights, should never collide: sports talk radio and music curation,” says Sam Roberts, who hopes to “do justice to the dark power of post-punk and synth-soaked pop anthems of new wave” with his band. “We’re leaning towards the more shadowy side of things — Joy Division, New Order. We would attempt the Smiths, but it’s too hard to play. I will definitely be wearing all black.”

As for what the post-punk and new wave means to him personally, Roberts says the cross-section of genres in that era was formative. “For me, 1983 was a crossroads that shaped just about everything I’ve thought about music ever since. I was nine years old and very much caught up in the tidal wave that was Michael Jackson, Culture Club and Men at Work, but if you had friends with cool older brothers and sisters, they were listening to New Order, David Bowie, English Beat, Duran Duran. On the one hand was a booming neon and teased hair culture and on the other combat boots, fishnets and army jackets covered in patches and pins. At that age, there was no pressure to cast your allegiance one way or the other — it was all just one, big musical soup. Those songs are still the fuel for a lot of inspiration today.”

Producer and musician Howard Bilerman also cites his age, being at the right place at the right time, as his reason for being a post-punk/new wave lifer. “Having been born in 1970, the music from 1978 through 1985 represents my coming of age. It’s the first music I discovered that was my own. It’s the first music I listened to that my parents didn’t like, but my friends did. I think we’re all hardwired to feel incredibly attached to the music from our late elementary school, early high-school years, and hopefully the audience members of a similar age will feel equally as sentimental. Music, when it works best, makes you feel things — strong emotions — and anyone who has had these songs soundtrack their adolescence will certainly have an emotional response to the music they hear that night. But even outside of that, it was such a wildly creative time for music — so many great sounds — and on May 26 we can all revel in that, regardless of when we were born.”

Montreal singer-songwriter Paul Cargnello says that playing covers is a significant departure for him, as is sharing the stage with so many local musicians — novelties that will make for an exciting night. “The show will be massive,” he says. “I grew up in a post-punk world, so I like when sounds clash, when music blends, and scenes come together. It’s when styles and cultures are meeting for the first time that creative things happen and the realest of artists start to take chances. For me, what was most interesting about the punk movement happened in the U.K., where it fused with Caribbean blue-beat and ska, but outside of that its flame was kind of dull. What happened after punk burned out in places like New York City in the late ’70s early ’80s was even more compelling to me: disco, punk-rock, synth-pop, electro, and the earliest iterations of rap. What came out of there were the building blocks of everything I do, creatively speaking.

“I don’t know,” Cargnello adds, “maybe I just think that electric guitars and synths sound really good together.” ■

Montreal Is the Drug takes place at Théâtre Corona (2490 Notre-Dame W.) on Friday, May 26, 7:30 p.m., $51.

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