Pop Montreal Montreal, QC - September 28 to October 2, 2005

By Dimitri Nasrallah, Jasamine White-Gluz, Lorraine Carpenter and Michael Barclay Annie The hype-heavy Norwegian pop princess turned North American hipster queen hit the stage bearing heavy expectations and promptly buckled. In what was one of the more disappointing sets of the festival, a barely audible Annie cooed nervously through tracks from her debut album, Anniemal, backed by Timo the unadventurous DJ and a guitarist/drummer who didn't do much at all. To her credit, the sound guy deserves part of the blame, but the sudden surge in vocal range for all of the choruses sounded suspiciously canned. DN Beaver Local singer/songwriter Beaver was charged with warming up the Salla Rossa audience for the infamous Billy Childish. With just an acoustic guitar, a stool and an amp, he played a 40-minute set of plaintive, confessional songs about lost love, lost girls and sad feelings in general. Unfortunately, his lyrics broached cliché a bit too regularly and his guitar strumming didn't venture too far beyond convention. In the end, it wasn't enough to keep the busy crowd away from the bar and their conversations. DN Beck Sure, his tour schedule may have helpfully coincided with Pop Montreal, but this chameleon's set summed up much of what makes the festival work: healthy eclecticism, nods to the new (he graciously and repeatedly praised openers Islands) and too much of a good thing. While the opening numbers in this two-hour show were so slick that they seemed lip-synched, Beck and his band loosened up soon enough as they effortlessly juxtaposed hip-hop rave-ups, acoustic blues and mid-tempo funk jams with the Guero material that was just as devoutly received as anything from Odelay. In fact, Beck worked his band so hard that he treated them to an on-stage dinner while he played an acoustic set, including a solo harmonium selection from Sea Change. MB Busdriver An eloquent, expeditious rapper if there ever was one, leftfield MC and Mush recording artist Busdriver uses the stage to revel in intellectual wordplay and tongue twisters. He works alone, programming tracks from a sampler he's got tucked at the side of the stage. The bare stage makes no difference - with his flow and ability to rile a crowd into a slobbering frenzy, he's a one-man entertainer. A mid-week slot at the large Club Soda was no exception. He walked onto the stage looking to win over a casual crowd and walked off an hour later with most of them in his pocket. DN Chromeo Once the DJs set the tone with a '80s overdose, Montreal's Chromeo came alive with the first crackle of the guitar, boom of the rhythm and nasal lilt of the talk box. Dave 1 (guitars, vocals) and Pee Thug (synths, talk box vocals) delivered electro-funk at its finest, mixing tender balladry and grandstanding party tunes, letting the crowd swoon, groove and bust a move all at once. Surprisingly, there's no on-stage shtick, just the commanding presence of your friendly local Semitic Buddy Holly and cuddly Arabian pimp. LC Dragonette New Deal bassist Dan Kurtz and solo chanteuse Martina Sorbara are half of the Toronto quartet that kick-started this year's Pop Montreal, and boy did they deliver on the pop. The band is a bright, shiny amalgam of early '80s Top 40, a near mash-up of Duran Duran, Laura Branigan, Foreigner, Blondie and many more. The boys dug Sorbara's Sheena Easton looks, sexed-up lyrics and kittenish demeanour, which took a disturbing turn in an a cappella tune about "growing titties for daddy." Wonder if they do weddings? LC Dreamcatcher Local boy/girl noise duo Dreamcatcher has only been gigging around town for a few months, but in that time they've built up a sizeable buzz. Their gear constitutes a thrift-shop robbery: old turntables, decrepit keyboards, rusty mixing consoles and effects boxes. Sound-wise, they fuse the industrial dirge of Throbbing Gristle with the latter-day blast of Detroit's Wolf Eyes. The result is loud and messy, and sometimes brilliant, but overall they could benefit from a few more months of playing out. DN Et Sans Fresh off a stellar set opening for Black Dice only weeks earlier, Et Sans' performance at the Divan Orange was marred by technical difficulties. Still, once they finally got going they pulled off an altogether more aggressive set that reflected an organ-heavy psych flare reminiscent of '60s Wurlitzer junkies the Silver Apples. At 30 minutes, their feedback-drenched show was a bit on the short side, but they still bear the markings of a relatively undiscovered band building toward greatness. One of Montreal's best kept secrets. DN Irving Fields Self-confessed Euro-snob Gonzales said he would only come home to play Montreal if the festival booked 90-year-old pianist Irving Fields, best known for his Bagels and Bongos Latin/klezmer hybrid in the late '50s. It's safe to say that few audience members knew that Fields once sold two million copies of a 78 rpm single, but they were infinitely charmed by his classy showmanship. It doesn't matter that his fingers don't quite dance the way they used to - only the pianists in the crowd likely noticed the missed notes. His joie de vivre scored him serious points just for showing up. MB Food For Animals It's hard to grasp the bombast of this Washington, DC duo live, especially at a low-rent venue holding a crowd of ten. On record, MC Vulture Voltaire and Ricky Rabbit make a head-bending mess of hard beats, glitchy SFX, jarring samples, Eastern strings and sludge, and there was a whole lot of the latter in this set, part of the Upper Class Recordings hip-hop showcase. But with a solid MC dealing loose, semi-surreal rhymes, and a sturdy, if makeshift, clatter of off-the-chain samples and beats, Food for Animals was strangely satisfying. LC Fox the Boombox In their signature Muppet Babies-meets-Madonna singing style, Toronto's Fox the Boombox raised eyebrows and broke eardrums during their Saturday night performance. Hyperactive and high-pitched, these dance-pop ladies create cute chaos with their keyboard-driven tunes. JWG Gonzales Okay, really, tell us again why Gonzales wasted his time with that cock-and-pussy show in Berlin for the last five years? Oh yeah, it got him famous. Because otherwise, a bunch of hipsters wouldn't be in a beautiful old theatre in his hometown of Montreal listening to him play solo piano for an hour. Few knew exactly what to expect, but Gonzales proved to be nothing short of an astounding pianist in every sense: composition, dynamics and dexterity. Playing off audience accompaniment, conversing easily in French and English, and encoring with a medley of the entire set amounted to a consummate performance. The Entertainist, indeed. MB Hexes and Ohs Same place, same band, different year. For the second consecutive year, electro-couple Hexes and Ohs played the intimate but adorable Missy Bar. The melody-driven, laptop-oriented duo played to long-time friends and fans but missed out on playing to a packed audience due to their last-second time set switch. JWG Islands This ex-Unicorns project had their official debut gig (after a couple of secret warm-ups) opening for Beck, and unlike the often-confrontational Unicorns of the past, Islands were earnest, polite and dressed in white. The seven-piece band includes veterans Michael Feuerstack (Snailhouse, Wooden Stars) and Jim Guthrie on guitars, and two young string players. Front-man Nick Diamonds spent more time playing keyboards than guitar while singing about volcanoes, swans and bones. From Air-y instrumentals to sprawling epic pop songs with huge backing vocals to spacey dub jams to cheeky covers of Beck obscurities, Islands exceeded all expectations and seemed perfectly at home on the stadium stage. MB Kiss Me Deadly Montreal's premier indie punk unit Kiss Me Deadly launched their masterful new LP, Misty Medley, in conjunction with the Pop festival. Delay pedals, sexy screaming and pretty brilliant songwriting made this showcase one of the festival's highlights. JWG Man Man Saturday night was packed with highlights and NYC's Man Man was definitely one of them. The quintet refines their songs with honky-tonk piano jams backed by angular percussion, out-of-tune choruses and random handclaps. The end result sounds like Jon Spencer growing a moustache and joining a freak-folk collective - so wrong and so right at the same time. Though, at the core, they're a pop band through and through. And that's essentially what won over the capacity crowd that drifted in from the impossible-to-penetrate Islands gig across the street. DN McRorie McRorie was certainly worth a chuckle when his '80s demo reel circulated around the internet, but there's nothing remotely amusing about witnessing an entire set by this one-man band - not in a campus pub and certainly not opening for Beck. He tried his hardest, from baiting the usual Toronto-hating Montreal audience to slipping a country version of "You Shook Me" into his AC/DC medley, but it ended with a whimper while McRorie struggled in vain to fix a stuck note, only to silently resign when the house lights came up to no applause. Witness the death of irony. MB Ris Paul Ric Why did Q And Not U have to go and break up? Could they have ever become the new Fugazi? These were questions former front-man Ris Paul Ric wasn't bothering to answer when he took the stage for a solo acoustic set. Standing a full nine feet tall on top of his amp, he delivered a set of driving, dark folk songs that basically pared down the hardcore styling of his former band. What he lacked in a backing band he made up for in atmosphere. His solo debut should be coming along shortly, and his Pop Montreal outing showed a lot of promise. DN TTC Nope, not the Toronto Transit Commission office band, but a trio of French rappers who have a surprisingly large following in Quebec. All three members are chock full of distinct personality and they manage to bring it across in their rhyming style. Backing them is a DJ with some seriously deep crates, mixing hip-hop, Lenny Kravitz, techno, break beats and house to come up with a sound that very few beatboxers are mixing these days. From their onslaught they had the packed house in the palm of their hands, with the crowd calling back lyrics and shout-outs like they'd memorised their songs beginning to end. A festival highlight. DN The Unireverse Decked out in lights, films and gauze, longstanding local trio the Unireverse filled Casa Del Popolo with their woozy intergalactic electro-pop. Unfortunately, much of the crowd had drifted across the street to La Sala Rossa to see Billy Childish. Still, those who did stick around were not to be disappointed, and so the band delivered the goods. It's even more impressive given that they share a member with Et Sans and the poor guy had to spend his two-hour break between the two bands' sets running the six blocks up the St. Laurent Boulevard. DN Patrick Watson With his signature Drake/Buckley vocals, beautiful, ethereal compositions and endearing shabby demeanour, this Montrealer charmed his homies with songs old and new. Behind the piano most of the time, Watson was accompanied by a band featuring standout guitarist Simon Angell, as well as visuals befitting the soundtrack for an imaginary film composed of bright, grainy shots of brown, windswept landscapes projected on framed pieces of glass suspended high over the stage. A couple of numbers forecast a slightly harder direction for his next release, which will hopefully be upon us soon. LC Zoobombs If their Pop Montreal gig was any indication, Tokyo's Zoobombs are primed to take over the gaping hole left behind by Guitar Wolf. They pounded their way through a handful of psych-tinged garage rockers that spun out into never-ending jams as the set progressed. By two in the morning, they were back on the stage for a third encore, playing to about a hundred drunks who just couldn't get enough. Somehow, by then, bottles of liquor were making the free rounds through the first few rows of the crowd, which only served to bolster the lunacy onstage. Terrific. DN