I found myself slightly lost last night. Unlike my previous stints at Pop Montreal, I had no idea what to see last night. There was no one band that immediately caught my attention, no one band around which I would schedule my entire evening. Faced with this unknowable quantity, I perused the Pop Montreal booklet, looking for bands that, on paper, seemed interesting. It would be a night of random discovery, to say the least.
Of course, as they say, even the best laid schemes of mice and men can go awry. We decided to head way up to Mile End to the Ubisoft space to catch what was going on there for Art Pop — including, we hoped, the room-sized theremin. After taking the metro all the way up to Beaubien, Alex and I emerged on the streets, trying to orient ourselves and walk in the right direction. By then, it was cold, rainy and dark, and, in our altered state, we began to walk — the wrong way.
After finally re-calibrating our direction, we find ourselves walking through an empty warehouse district, drawn to the only building with colourful lights. We had finally made it to Art Pop, but, once again, our plans were foiled — we were too early for anything.
Faced with a decision, we decided to make our way over to Quai des Brumes, where Calgary's own Sub-linguals would be playing at 10pm. By the time we walked over there, it was closer to 10:30. Expecting the worst, that the band would be wrapping up the set, we walked into an all but empty bar: the Sub-linguals had canceled their set because they had problems making it out to Montreal.
Remaining unfazed, we took the door girl's advice and went next door, to L'Escogriffe, where Rich Aucoin was playing. It was a gamble, and certainly not my style of music, but the white-clad quartet from Halifax proved to be an entertaining way to spend the next hour. Taking the huddled stage at one end of the bar, with barely enough room to pack in keys, drums and a bass, Rich Aucoin presented an experimental project in visual electro-pop. Inspired by the synchronization of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz, Aucoin created a soundtrack for the original How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The visuals and sound did not complement each other perfectly at times, but the music was certainly catchy and Aucoin managed to get the 30 or so patrons in the bar dancing in the limited space.
After that, Alex and I were feeling the effects of getting lost high up in the Plateau, so we based our next venue on location alone: walking over the St Laurent, we hit up the closest bar, Club Lambi, where a band called Lemonade was supposed to take the stage at 11pm. Of course, they were late. The Brooklyn outfit sashayed on about 20 minutes late, and brought their bizarre drum and bass-driven garage pop music to a mostly empty club. As a way to kill some time, it was appropriate, but their performance was not compelling enough to warrant too much attention.
Continuing to work our way back down St Laurent, we headed towards Les 3 Minots, where Vancouver punk rockers Carpenter would be playing. Once we made it to the new venue, it became evident that all aspirations to timeliness were fruitless: Jon McKiel was just finishing up their quiet set, but as the new band set up, there was a strange absence of full stacks and electric guitars. As a solo artist took the stage, clad in a tight black t-shirt and gelled back hair, he begun to strum a guitar "as old as [his] mother" — which, like his mother, he joked, he was having troubles tuning last night. Greg MacPherson had switched time slots with Carpenter, and the Winnipeg native certainly surprised a few in attendance. His beat up guitar straddled the line between folk and rockabilly, and his songs — inspired by the prairie and isolation — rang with an earnest honesty.
He doesn't cradle his mom this way...Alex and I had to step outside for a quick breather halfway through MacPherson's set, which turned out to be a bout of lucky timing. As soon as I slouched up against the rainy wall, someone complemented my Battle Snakes t-shirt, saying that he, too, knew the band. I asked him if he had heard them in Vancouver, or if he knew Matt Snakes from his former band, BOGART, in Calgary. Daniel Sioui, lead singer and guitarist for Carpenter, said that he knew them from Vancouver, that they were friends.
This is really the best part of festivals: sure, there's always the "once-in-a-lifetime" show to go see, or the indie cache of seeing a band in a basement afterhours, but, for me at least, the best part is interacting with people, fans and bands on the street between sets. I asked Sioui why they weren't on just yet, and he explained how MacPherson wanted to go on a bit earlier. I also gamely inquired about the apparent lack of instruments. Sioui said that he had just made it into Montreal, but the rest of the band had decided to stay in Vancouver: they were preparing for a headlining tour across Canada, and it didn't make sense to come all the way out to Montreal for a one-off date, not when they'd be back in two weeks. Tonight, thus, would be a slightly different Carpenter set: just him, a friend (John Meloche, from This is a Standoff), and acoustic guitars. "I'm terrified, man," he told me, "I've never played an acoustic show before. I don't know whether I should play louder, more punk rock, or softer, more indie," he confided, thinking out loud to himself.
With not a little apprehension, then, he took the stage with Meloche. Immediately, it became apparent that he could not shed his rock and roll roots: introducing himself as part of Carpenter, he tore into his first songs with intensity, despite that he was sitting on a stool strumming his acoustic — a rare position for him on stage. Howling into the mic ("It's weird," he commented between songs, "I'm not used to having people hear what I can sing."), he played a string of Carpenter songs that seemed entirely different without the benefit of distortion. With Meloche filling in some lead guitar work — which he had just learned on Thursday — the duo made quick work of their half-hour set. It might not have been the Carpenter everyone was expecting, but it was certainly no disappointment.