How Sad / Choses Sauvages / Smokes Bar le "Ritz" P.D.B., Montreal QC, May 23

How Sad / Choses Sauvages / Smokes Bar le 'Ritz' P.D.B., Montreal QC, May 23
Photo: Matt Bobkin
There was a lot of great live music in Montreal last night, and not just because Prince was in town. Though thousands of people were losing their minds over the Purple One, a much smaller (but equally enthused) crowd was watching three of Montreal's best local bands show their city that it's in safe hands, even after His Royal Badness leaves.
Kicking things off were baroque punks Smokes who, thanks to Patrick Cruvellier's violin, reassured all that, in an age where synth bands appear at an astounding rate, there will always be at least one advocate for good, old fashioned strings. Though an early number had them sounding a little like Yellowcard due to the violin's interplay with guitar-driven, pop punk hooks, the other tunes were more subtle, with Nick Maas' vocals on full display on top of simmering instrumentals. The rhythm section was also top-notch, thanks to Andrew Miller's meaty bass tone and Jeremy MacCuish's rattling drums keeping the pace as Maas and Cruvellier went wild.
Synth-pop quintet Choses Sauvages took everyone in a time machine to the age of disco for a set of glitzy, glammy tunes. The songs were mostly in the five-minute range, with lengthy, shifting breakdowns and late-song build-ups, but they were meticulously arranged and showcased a pop sensibility that kept the songs captivating despite their length. Tunes from their recently released Japanese Jazz album shone live as they do on the record, with twinkly synth accents and winding guitar licks. Each song featured a memorable arrangement, from the funk bass bridge of "Laura" to a creative use of dog panting on "Pillow Fight," and always seemed to have another memorable line or lick just around the corner to keep things moving.
The night was supposed to be How Sad's album launch party, but the album has been delayed, so it was just a party, instead. The wily quintet, led by the mononymous Harris, didn't let their disappointment get the better of them; their name belies their unrelenting enthusiasm, which was manifest in the form of saccharine, exuberant pop-rock and bellowing choral hooks, with all members singing in unison, if not in harmony. The band were clearly excited to be there, and played their instruments with an infectious, obvious glee. Though early tunes tended to blend together in a mix of synths and shouts, the set took a turn for the awesome in the middle; joined by guest drummer Evan Tighe, the six performers delivered the excellent "Grow Up," from the upcoming record, all memorable hooks and enthusiastic vocals.
The band's unsuitably dour moniker was addressed by an audience member, which prompted Harris to reveal that his sadness was approaching an "8.2"; though it was said with a laugh and yet another smile, the band's lyrics seemed to reveal that there was, indeed, something darker buried beneath the pop exuberance. Set highlight "Minds" featured a heartbreaking, repeated lyric along the lines of "I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to leave you behind," which showcased Harris' songwriting strengths.
The set ended with their biggest hit, "Indian Summer," with Harris' infectious, impossibly high falsetto leading the charge for the synth-y tune. The band was so enthusiastic that they barely stepped off the stage before returning for their encore, a raucous (yet still poppy) version of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" which found Harris in the crowd, singing amongst his fans.
The cover choice was incredibly apt; despite the album's release being pushed back, Harris and friends can't stop — and they won't stop, which is good, because no one in the crowd would ever want them to. Not until they release that album, at least.