Saturday, October 03, 2009

Pop Montreal - October 2

The First Night

Although Pop Montreal officially started on Wednesday, September 30, last night was my first night of the festival. After landing in Montreal at 7 am, taking the bus into downtown, and spending most of the morning sleeping in the McGill Student Centre, I was ready to start planning my day. There were a couple of shows I knew were to be the big draws of the night — Surfjan Stevens and Japandrois — but part of the beauty of a festival like this is in discovery, in finding new bands and going in fresh.

With that in mind, Alexander Churchill, my photographer, and myself headed down to the rock club on St Catherine, Foufounes Electriques (which translates to Electric Buttocks, as I've been informed) for a nasty, grimy performance of local quartet Demon's Claws.

I had been drawn to them because of their description in the Pop Montreal booklet: "The balancing act between historically in-tune and ass-kicking garage rock is made to seem as effortless as dropping LSD." We arrived shortly after their set had begun, and we walked into the dimly, very dimly, lit room on the second floor, where, on what almost seemed like a makeshift stage tucked at one end of the room. The quartet played a racuous set, heavily steeped in the traditions of '60s garage rock with more modern indie sensibilities. Most interestingly, the lead singer played his semi-hollow guitar without a pick, which lent their sound a softer, rounder quality, rather than the angular mess these affairs tend to be. On his left, the bassist was highly mobile, goose-stepping up and down the neck with bouncy enthusiasm.

We had to leave the set early in order to make it up the Plateau in time for the Coathangers' set at Le Divan Orange. Walking up the rain slicked St Laurent, however, we were tempted by the host of other venues dotting the boulevard — an entire spectrum of sounds, bands and ideas poured out through open doors and everyone seemed to be talking about what they were watching, what they had just seen, and where they were going next.

Minnie Coathanger, at Le Divan Orange

When we finally made it Le Divan Orange, a sign on the door announced that the show was sold out. Luckily, some creativity let us in, just in time for the Coathangers to start their set. I had first seen them at Sled Island earlier this year, opening for These Arms Are Snakes at the Distillery, and their live show this time was everything I remembered it to be. The female quartet from Georgia seem to transcend their recorded material, and it all unravels on stage. Talking to Minnie Coathanger, bassist, after the show, huddled under an awning to avoid the rain, she joked about her inspiration for madness: "I just think, 'I hate my dad, I hate my dad,' " she laughed, snuggling into Rusty Coathanger's, drums, plush, leopard-print jacket. "Actually, we just drink a lot before the show."

No Gold, tearing it up.

Despite the girls' plans to go to another bar to meet up with friends, like everyone else, they stuck around. As the narrow venue continued to swell to capacity — the air becoming more stifling and laden with body heat, sweat and booze — as No Gold, from Vancouver, took the stage. The trio played a slightly subdued set, especially sandwiched between the Coathangers and Japandroids, but it was a great opportunity to catch our breaths and bob our heads along.

The venue was, undoubtedly — despite some drunk guy's vocal opinion — sold out because of the headliners, Japandroids. By the time No Gold finished their set, it was almost impossible to move around in the venue, and most everyone in attendance seemed to be vibrating with anticipation. The duo have been touring around celebrating the release of their debut album, Post-Nothing.

Brian King lays waste to Divan Orange

Watching Brian, guitars and vox, begin the set, awash in delayed, distorted, chorused chords, while Dave fiddled around his kit, making the final adjustments, seemed nothing short of cinematic. A small stage fan had been set up next to the monitors to provide some ventilation, but Brian seemed to revel in the way it swept his hair away as he howled into the microphone.

Almost immediately, the dancing turned frenetic and bumpy, with a tiny pit opening up in which bodies could flail. The set was gloriously messy, and the Montreal crowd did everything possible to make sure the west coast band felt at home. Midway through the set, Brian leveled a challenge: as their merch guy climbed on stage, Brian told the crowd how Buffalo had held him up for three minutes the other night. It was up to us to beat them. As Brian strummed the building intro, their merch guy flung himself into the crowd, as if shot by the crashing crescendo. The audience was more than happy to rise to the challenge: arms held him high and proud — perhaps too high, as he bounced into the ceiling fan more than once — and floated him around the venue while Brian and Dave dismantled the stage.

As two in the morning rolled around, and the Japandroids' set came to a close, we were all drenched, exhausted and spent — mirroring how the band felt. Brian and Dave both had enormous grins plastered across their faces, and after the final note of their set was played, they managed to muster the energy for one last frenzy.

Divan Orange was so packed, the merch guy had to float back to his table.

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