M for Montreal Montreal QC November 19 to 22

Wherein 21 bands play 25-minute sets for crowds of musicians, the masses and heavily wined and dined international delegates (journalists, bookers and promoters, mainly), over four days, in the hopes of keeping the Montreal scene on the global stage.

Among the many highlights were the High Dials, who've made three stellar albums since 2003, erecting psychedelic pillars on a strong '60s pop foundation, from acid-soaked melodies to Madchester grooves to shoegazer resound-sound. They've left their small U.S. label, hence, perhaps, their appearance at Quai des Brumes on M's unofficial opening night. The set was dominated by songs from their recently self-released LP, Moon Country, played with the energy and vigour of seasoned pros -€“ their manager, conversely, was downright pickled up front, and a certain George Donoso III (ex-Dears, now of Black Diamond Bay) could be seen banging his shaggy head, ear to amp, all approving smiles.

Equally gripping were francophone hip-hop acts Radio Radio and Gatineau at Foufounes on Friday afternoon. Radio Radio, in particular, are a quartet that sweat charisma and mop it up with solid skills, exhibiting a sense of humour that transcends all language barriers -€“ not only do they rap in French, but French with an Acadian, "chiac" twist. Duetting with Gatineau was Giselle Numba One, aka Giselle Webber of the recently split Hot Springs, who also debuted her new band with Roy "Choyce" Vucino (ex-CPC Gangbangs, Sexareenos, etc), Red Mass. It was hard, heavy, chaotic rock'n'roll fun, the stage overflowing with top players and decorative dancers -€“ cheers to the spray-painted dude in his underwear, on cowbell (what else?).

On Thursday, at the neighbouring Cabaret and Studio venues, the brilliant Pas Chic Chic played below par, beset my technical problems, while synth pop noiseniks Duchess Says were as physically and musically manic as ever. On Friday, francophone band Chinatown proved themselves part of the Jean Leloup/Xavier Caféine axis, with great showmanship and massive tunes. Paper Bag band Winter Gloves poured impressive energy into their catchy material, rocking their keys, guitars, drums and cardigan in equal measure. And Claass were as sharp and dapper as ever; two members of the infectious electro rock band We Are Wolves (who went on to play an only so-so set the following night) plus superstar DJ Jordan Dare equals a masterful electro/post-punk mash-up. And their coats were, of course, impeccable.

As far as the Toronto set was concerned, there was a giddy, manic high of Woodhands, Sweet Thing's dandy charisma and cloying anthems, a new Corey Hart in hipster clothing, Colin Munroe, and the negligible rock sludge of Lioness. There were also a few local bands that weren't ready for the spotlight, and didn't deserve it or, in the case of the's, should be beyond it.

Closing night, at Metropolis, was all about the musical charms of headliner and local celebrity Pierre Lapointe, whose worldly singer-songwriter steez falls somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg and Rufus Wainwright. Like the High Dials, he shouldn't need an industry showcase to achieve international renown, but it can't hurt. Let's see where these artists -€“ and this event, threatened by federal budget cuts -€“ are at in a year's time. Lorraine Carpenter