Pop Montreal is predictably unpredictable

Arto Lindsay, Telstar Drugs, and Stars of the Lid highlight another jam-packed fest.

September 29, 2015

Arto Lindsay (Photo: Ashutosh Gupta)

Each year, the months of the summer and early fall kick off a music festival marathon. My personal 2015 circuit has included trips to Halifax (OBEY Convention), Calgary (Sled Island), Meaford (Electric Eclectics), and Rouyn-Noranda (FME). Somehow, I mustered the gusto to make it to the finish line of Pop Montreal, thanks to a predictably unpredictable line-up matching locals with legends (and local legends).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this endurance test, it’s the importance of taking a break from the music, even if that only means sitting down for some local cuisine. From 2009 to 2011, I called Montreal home. That meant this year’s fest offered a return to some favourite Mile End haunts, from the quick-hit lattes of Café Olimpico to the greasy spoon poutine of Chez Claudette.

While the neighbourhood continues to be transformed (in good ways and bad), I had no qualms with enjoying some finer things in the form of a falafel power-munch from La Panthère Verte, gnocchi in stupidly tasty tomato sauce from Drogheria Fine, and a five-alarm flavour blast of sour cherry/almond milk ice cream from Kem Coba. Saint Laurent gallery and curiosity shop Monastiraki became another oasis amidst the bustle with its own transformation into the living cartoon of Zuzu Knew.

Ultimate Painting (Photo: Ming Wu)

My first night at the fest began with the UK’s Ultimate Painting. Jangling like Loaded-era VU and rambling like their freely admitted love of The Grateful Dead, the jams ran free and surely won them a few new fans. From there it was off to see The Sonics for some garage-rock retromania straight from the source. The near-mythological Tacoma band played all the hits in impressively revved-up fashion, but after being spoiled by The Fleshtones at FME, all other reunions can’t help but pale in comparison.

Last Lizard (Photo: Ming Wu)

Another happy factor of returning to Montreal is witnessing local artists and labels all grown up from cult favourite status to something larger. Fixture Records is a case in point for this phenomenon with their early championing of acts such as Dirty Beaches, Homeshake, and Freelove Fenner. These friendly faces all reunited to perform on a jam-packed bill at La Vitrola hosted by the little label that could. The C86 comedy stylings of Mavo (see: local legends) filled the room with smiles for their first set in two years. However, Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai delivered the night’s standout with his Last Lizard project in a transportive sax and drums duet featuring Brave Radar’s Conor Prendergast.

Arto Lindsay (Photo: Ashutosh Gupta)

Friday night brought the toughest choices between Motörhead, Giorgio Moroder, The Orb, Arto Lindsay, and Hartley C. White. Settling on Moroder proved to be a mistake, as the Italian disco godfather and electronic producer ghosted through the motions with a DJ set mainly consisting of mind-numbing EDM remixes and robotic hand claps. The crowd cutting a rug in the pews ate it up, and while it was wonderfully surreal to see Rob Feulner’s mind-warping VHS visuals projected against the backdrop of Église St-Jean Baptiste, we still crept out of the church with the quickness. Sadly, that meant missing an opening set from Un Blonde at La Sala Rossa, though we arrived in time for a masterclass of guitar mangling/throat garbling from Arto Lindsay. Later joined by a nimble jazz trio, this beautifully messy set was a breath of strange air.

Telstar Drugs (Photo: Easton Skara)

Egg Paper Factory is a tape label worth keeping tabs on from four Calgarians living in Montreal. Their Saturday showcase at Brasserie Beaubien was another must-hit with highlights from Halifax’s Old and Weird (joined on drums by the joyous Nick Dourado of Special Costello), a comeback from the clockwork precision of Each Other, and finally label faves Telstar Drugs. With their subtly spaced out pop you might think the Telstar of their name is a nod to Joe Meek, but it actually comes from a locally famed rocket ship. The quartet’s skittering liftoffs matched by whisper-soft vocals very pleasantly reminded me of The Curtains.

Whimm (Photo: Ming Wu)

Heaven For Real (Photo: Ming Wu)

This night stretched into the alley of afterhours venue Poisson Noir with excellent sets from the icy post-punk of Toronto’s Whimm and full-tilt jangulations of Halifax’s Heaven For Real. DJ Festive Special (Andrew Neville of Moon) kept the party bumping until the early morning light with his high energy remixes of (un)guilty pleasures ranging from QT to Aqua (the QT of their day).

Stars of the Lid (Photo: Louis Longpré)

Sunday night ended the fest on a much-needed mellow note. Finding a seat in the comfortable confines of the Ukranian Federation, we tucked in for the hauntological drift of Christina Vantzou and pulsing oscillations of Echo Beach. Austin’s ambient/drone godheads Stars of the Lid provided a perfectly fitting finale, here joined by a string quartet to refine their decline. Bathed in the faded colours of slowly shifting visuals, SOTL’s mournful tone koans and sighing shimmers hit a crescendo of deafening volume as the image of flickering flames scorched the festival to a crisp.

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