Published Sep 07, 2010Rouyn-Noranda, equidistant from Toronto and Montreal by car, is a copper mining town that punches above its weight in well appointed venues. It's an ideal town for a festival with stages situated within easy walking distance from one another. The wickedly eclectic line-up was extremely well programmed with no act out of place on any stage.
Most of the action took place at the converted church called the Agora Des Arts and the Petit Theatre across the street. Day 1 featured post-rock at the Agora. Bateau Noir's three-guitar line-up didn't reinvent the instro-post rock wheel, but was clean, loud and concise, aided by thunderous drumming. One of a considerable French cohort at the festival was the whimsical but hard hitting Gablé. Composed of a drummer, cellist and various fidelities of electronics, their pack-rat sound recalled a cleaner and clearer version of the Fembots. Polaris Short Listers the Besnard Lakes were next and suffered by comparison with their muddy, occasionally tuneless sound. Though vocal harmonies were sweet, they failed to hold the crowd's attention. Later, at the Petit Theatre, Lyon's High Tone proved their rep as one of the world's supreme dub bands with a tremendously deep and aggressive attack which combined punk fury with dub sonics.
Day two at the Petit Theatre witnessed the first great set of the festival, courtesy of We Are Wolves who wore pennants on their backs as if dressed for some psychedelic Mardi Gras parade. They shifted the crowd into high gear with their roaring post-punk underpinned by an electronically generated backbone. At Le Cabaret De La Derniere Chance, Fred Fortin seemed to embody everything that is great and distinctive about Quebecois rock. In a power trio setting in front of an audience that responded to every aspect of songs about eccentric, smoking grannies and his beloved dog, the band absolutely soared, provoking whistles, sing-alongs and sympathetic air guitar solos. With blues, prog-folk, electric chanson or shades of country poking through the mix, this was a show to renew anyone's faith in rock'n'roll.
Then the weather changed to harsh drizzle and single degree temperatures, waylaying the lakeside Piknik Electronik, at which I counted eight shivering people. Day three's main event was the Melvins, whose relatively recent addition of a second drummer has made the Melvins an even greater force to be reckoned with. The only disappointment was the inexplicable lack of crowd response. Across the street, Karkwa usurped the Melvins' status as headliners and played to an enthusiastic, jam-packed house enthralled by their cinematic dream rock and poetic lyrics. Later on at Bar Groove, French beatboxers Bionicologists proved to be another festival highlight, using their iPhones as sample controllers, freeing themselves up to roam the crowd while continuing to vocalize.The Agora's electro night fared better than the picnic earlier in the day with the diverse party starting styles of Pompe Tes Pipes, Quebecois party sensations Misteur Valaire who started kinda cheesy, but won over the crowd with showmanship, video projections, and undeniable musical chops. The night ended with a funky techno set from Oxia.
Day four offered a contrast in Quebecois musical identity: chanson on one side of the street, metal on the other. At the Agora was the popular Pierre Lapointe, whose poetic, romantic chanson is so specific to the province. Here he made a rare solo appearance playing only piano, and the crowd eagerly sung along and laughed at his many self deprecating jokes. A more ear-splitting alternative was the metal showcase across the street with Black Bomb A, Obsek, Neuraxis and Beneath The Massacre given'r to a room that was much livelier than the Melvins the night before. The bottom line: ain't no party like a Quebecois metal party, with more ganja smoke than I've ever seen at a non-reggae show.
FME is a jewel of a music event. You can party in the streets with beer (hey cops, thanks for being so chill), make friends everywhere you go, and be overwhelmed by music, not crowds. Start planning your End Of Summer '11 road trip.