By Colin Gallant
September 19, 2014
MONTREAL — There are 47 venues at this year’s POP Montreal and 24 of these are located on or within a block from Boulevard St. Laurent. This makes it very easy to see a lot at POP without having to roam too far. Having spent most of my time in the especially busy stretch between Avenue des Pins and Boulevard St. Joseph, I decided to explore venues that were harder to stumble upon.
Parc de la Petite Italie is still technically on St. Laurent, but lies far northwest to the hub of smoked meat and nightlife I’d already encountered. Petite Italie seems to move more slowly and its berth of open space allows more sunlight onto the street. A lazy, pleasant feeling filled the spacious park as CTZNSHP began their set of hooky, earnest indie rock. While this band’s easy-going sound gelled with the afternoon vibe, the next act would do everything to disrupt it. Toronto trio DOOMSQUAD use a lot of instrumentation in building their languid, layered jams. Each song consisted of a core synthetic pulse that anchored the jazz-meets-noise guitar style and endless array of live percussion. The act is clearly better suited to a dark nightclub but it was nice to see the goth kids come out and enjoy the light of day.
If my plan was to see more of Montreal, it was definitely working. From wandering into underground pedestrian tunnels to passing into industrial corners, I stopped counting the times I got lost. As enchanting as exploring a city like Montreal can be, I was happy to finally arrive at the Fédération Ukranienne. The historic building on rue Hutchison has been used as both a Methodist church and Synagogue. In an interesting parallel, the bill that night brought the gentle glitch of Ricky Eat Acid together with the rural indie stylings of Mutual Benefit.
Ricky played in near total darkness, which suited the lullaby quality of his laptop-based set, but Mutual Benefit is a band drawn towards the light. Mastermind Jordan Lee utilized the easy recording style of chillwave to create the album Love’s Crushing Diamond but the live incarnation of Mutual Benefit is a far more tangible affair. Assisted by an elaborate drum kit and light electronic flourishes, the band’s hymnal riffs and melodies came to a better-lit, stunningly immediate place.
Next, I crossed Avenue du Parc back to Le Sala Rossa on St. Laurent. Local soft-rockers TOPS were about to headline the Arbutus Records showcase, hot off the release of the smooth and sultry Picture You Staring. Apparently soft-focus AM jams are just what get the party started in Montreal. Jane Penny crooned and whispered over a delicately funky backbone and the high-spirited crowd was eating it up. It was one of those perfect spaces where exuberant dancing and gentle swaying are in perfect harmony.
As the hour became late, I wanted to seize the last chance of the night to try out another unconventional venue. The Eglise St-Michel-Archange is certainly that. It’s a massive church with impressive round architectural detail and POP furnished a cozy bar out of its wide basement. George Lewis Jr.’s attempt to master every pop style of the ‘80s, Twin Shadow, was headlining the affair. All soaring vocals and phallic guitar solos, Lewis channels rock star, model and actor into an extraverted tour de force. The band blasted out hits from the new wave loving Forget and Springsteen-indebted Confess but dedicated a big chunk of the set to unreleased material that landed somewhere between the two styles. As things finally wound down around 3 a.m., I had to admire the performer’s dedication to the power of the anthem. Everyone I passed on my way out was that delirious combination of exhaustion and elation you get from pouring raw emotional energy into singing about love.
By Seth Leon
Ronnie Spector (Beyond the Beehive)
Day Three of Pop Montreal centred on the legendary Ronnie Spector. For a festival renowned for its ability to pick bands at least six months before they break, having someone who broke over 50 years ago is a bold choice.
Things got started with Bloodshot Bill, playing rock and roll, one-man band style that pre-dates Ronnie Spector. It takes a big sound and a strong presence to fill the historic cavern that is the Rialto and Bloodshot Bill was up to the task. He careened through a number of songs, thumping out an ancient beat, picking his guitar, and growling like a panther. He does about 43 different things while playing and singing, including pretending to drop his guitar and spinning the high-hats. It was fun to watch the audience react when Bill would stop for a few seconds, joke a little and, before the punch line landed, jump back into a song. Not unlike driving with someone who uses both feet on the pedals, it’s a rollicking, albeit much more enjoyable, ride. Apart from taking a break to comb his hair, which people love to watch, Bill never relented. He slowed things down with a high-plains country tune, showcasing his range and ability to captivate audiences using a variety of approaches.
A short turnover and the lights went down. A solitary voice cut the din introducing the feature performer: “Ladies and gentlemen, the rose of Spanish Harlem, Ronnie Spector!” followed by thunderous applause. The band started in and Ronnie Spector stepped onstage and started singing. One of the most distinct, powerful and soulful voices engulfed and submerged the entire room.
The performance combined Spector reading from her memoirs and singing songs in-between. This covered their start in New York, touring England with the Rolling Stones and a lot about the nightmare and terror of Phil Spector (more about that later).
Her stories crisscross much of the history of rock and roll and capture halcyon, pre-1964 days of the young Stones and Beatles, variety shows and many adventures. She introduced Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to James Brown and took them for ribs in Harlem “where nobody paid them any mind, because the only stars that day were the ribs and the jukebox.”
There are lots of great rock and roll lyrics, but based on Ronnie’s performance, I am convinced that ” baby” and “whoa-oh-oh-oh” are really all that matter. Her voice is beyond a wall of sound and, when it hits you, it can almost be overwhelming. Her voice is the touchstone for so much pop music. You hear it in everything from The Ramones to all of the Manchester bands. Hearing it live is an amazing experience.
Spector played all of the hits she is legally allowed to play, including “Don’t Worry Baby” and the George Harrison-penned “Try Some Buy Some.” Her covers of “Time is on my Side” and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” turned this reviewer into mush.
As much as the story she told covers large swaths of important rock and roll history, domestic violence and being a survivor is more prescient in her own history. She explained how her abuser, Phil Spector, controlled, threatened and abused her, including making it incredibly difficult (impossible) to have a career following their divorce. This speaks to both the larger issue of violence against women and connecting it to the power of men to control and dominate. It is unfortunate that these themes are not more prominent in the current discussion on Ray Rice and too many other public figures.AB, Alberta, Arbutus Records, Bloodshot Bill, CTZNSHP, DOOMSQUAD, Montreal, Mutual Benefit, POP Montreal 2014, Ricky Eat Acid, Ronnie Spector, TOPS, Twin Shadow