While I loved my legendary ladies at this year’s Pop Montreal, I found myself pleasantly surprised by some new discoveries and unexpected live music experiences as well.
It was fitting that my first ever Pop Montreal adventure began with an appearance by Canadian music royalty. Adam Cohen grew up, and still lives in, Montreal, where his father influenced so many of our own upbringings with his own music. Cohen the younger has paved his own musical path, combining folk music with a pop influenced romanticism that draws people to him and his craft, no matter what their usual tastes may be. Cohen’s performance at the Red Roof church (actually named the Church of St. John the Evangelist) was nothing short of magical – the soft lighting bouncing off the beautiful venue’s high ceilings created a beautiful, hushed atomosphere, letting the crowd focus only on the music that filled the air around them. Playing songs from his album We go home, Cohen had the crowd in rapt attention, winning them over even more with his impeccable French banter. They paid him back with a little song of their own: a full room rendition of “Happy Birthday”, a perfectly timed celebration that made the show feel that much more intimate. Aside from that heartfelt singalong, my favourite moment of the show was Cohen’s rendition of “Love is”, one of the sweetest, most smile inducing songs I’ve heard in a long time.
From folk pop to hard rock, Against Me!’s show at the Metropolis was one of the biggest surprises I experienced at Pop Montreal. While I consider myself somewhat familiar with the band’s music, it was my first time seeing them live, and I couldn’t believe the positive, happy energy that emanated not only from the stage, but vibrated throughout the entire theatre as well. Laura Jane Grace was in her ultimate rock star element, sporting a huge smile the entire set. Though Against Me! was founded as a solo act, the nature of the band’s tunes necessitates a band for live performances – it’s large, it’s loud and it needs to be rocked out with some muscle behind it. After some growing pains with lineup changes, issues with recording and struggles with album releases, Against Me! came back better than ever with powerhouse album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. This musical (and personal) rebirth and the relief that came with it was evident in every riff, growl and rock and roll yell by Grace, and in every move made by her backing band (James Bowman on guitar, Inge Johansson on bass and Atom Willard on drums). All in all, a fantastic and wholly unexpected musical moment.
I had gotten a chance to check out Les Deuxleuxes very briefly at FME earlier in September, but cold rainy weather cut my viewing of their outdoor set short, so I was excited for the chance to see what the duo could really do. Les Deuxleuxes put on a raucous set at the Piccolo Rialto, the small, dark room alive with dancing and headbanging bodies. Singer Anna Frances Meyer was the sensual puppet master of the evening, but it was her her swaying hips, swinging raven mane and masterfully manipulated guitar strings that controlled her audience, who moved to the thumping beat provided by her partner in more than just music, drummer Étienne Barry. A perfect combination of blues, rockabilly and down home rock and roll, les Deuxluxes were a great discovery, even if it took two music festivals for me to actually see them. It was definitely worth it the multilayered wait, and I highly recommend you check this pair out if you’re ever in their town, or if they come to yours.
The Muscadettes were a must see for me as well. I’m a sucker for female fronted bands, and I figured that a band fronted by twins could only be double the awesome. And were they ever awesome! Grunge rock meets surf pop with a healthy dose of girl powered blues made for some seriously addictive music that takes blends wonderfully familiar sounds to bring multiple generations of music lovers into the fold of the band’s fandom. Reminiscent of Veruca Salt, wtih a hint of Gwen Stefani in her solo days, twins Chantal (guitar, vocals) and Kathleen (bass, vocals) added a hint of sweetness to the Muscadettes music with their sisterly harmonies. Adding that girly pop element their already genre bending sound definitely helped this band to reach a much wider audience, something many of the Pop Montreal acts had in common.
From girls’ club to boys’ club, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end my Pop Montreal adventure than by witnessing montreal music history come to life, with the reunion of The Unicorns. Their performance at the Metropolis was their only Canadian show, and everyone in the theatre felt the privilege in the experience we were about to have. Once Alden Penner (vocals, keys, guitar) and Nick Diamonds (vocals, keys, bass) took the stage, it was clear why a generation of music lovers were captivated by their sound, and why their reissue of 2003’s Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? was a wise and timely move. That same generation, just a little bit older, and a little bit wiser, were brought right back to that time years ago where this music was their reality. The show served to remind many of us of why we loved music in the first place, and why we still pursue it as fervently now as we did back then.
Cheers to the incredible musical curators at Pop Montreal for putting together such an incredible line up. I can’t wait until next year, but until then you can be sure that I’ll keep poppin’ and rockin’ to the fantastic tunes that they brought into my life.