by carl wilson

Pop Top: My Day 1 (their Day 2)
at Pop Montreal


A rushed report from my first day at this year's Pop Montreal: New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas set a high bar with her performance at the Ukrainian Federation hall, singing with nary an audible notch of lost power at 67 years of age. It was sweet that she kept apologizing in the first third of the set for doing numbers from her new Simply Grand album and promising to get to the classics soon, obviously not quite aware of the context: Likely little more than 10 percent of the room was at all familiar with her repertoire, being white northeastern kids in their 20s who were there because the Pop Montreal curators told them she was great, and they trust those curators, because they've earned it. Still, I feel like the organizers should have done a little better to prepare her in advance that it's far from being a jazz, blues and R&B; festival.

Things did heat up a few cayenne points when she got to the classics, though - or at least I thought because by then I'd smartened up and run to the front of the hall to join the throng of pretty young things jiving by the stage. Thomas's band might not have been quite A-list but New Orleans C-list is plenty beyond most places' standards. And I was just thrilled she played my fave, "It's Raining": "I guess I'll just go crazy tonight."

After that I dropped in to catch a bit of The Bug's dancehall-grind massacree, which was ferocious (so much so that my earpluglessness became a serious issue), but also late starting, so I didn't get to hear any of Warrior Queen (except a little sultry dancing across the stage, assuming that was her). But I did hear the last couple of numbers from Toronto's own Bonjay, whose beats are a bit workaday but whose voice was undeniable, especially when singing in creole - a little more snap in the songwriting and we could have a star on our hands.

And finally we sauntered over to Club Lambi on St-Laurent to see southside Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the band of "blood brothers" (as they put it, as opposed to just "brothers in the struggle") who are the sons of Sun Ra/AACM musician Kelan Phil Cohran (whose discs as leader of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble are among my favourite late-sixties jazz records). They coped with sound-system issues for nearly half an hour, having missed their soundcheck because of border-crossing troubles - they were clearly taken aback, after touring all over the world, that Canada had the biggest assholes at the border. But they did it with good humoured, raunchy aplomb, chatting up the "sexy ladies" in the house collectively - tongue in cheek, but your cheek if you were up for it.

When the horns finally started blaring, though, there was no stopping them or the crowd's feet. The first few tunes were a little too "gonna fly now" in their constant fanfaring, but a Fela Kuti cover seemed to help catapult them over the hurdles and from there on - especially in a 180-degree turn into a klezmer-meets-Cuba tune (which should have Toronto's David Buchbinder looking over his shoulder), and some super-fun call-and-response with the audience - everything was starbursts and a rain of gold, kids, a rain of gold.

Tonight, some combination of genuflecting at the church of Burt Bacharach (the horns keep on coming); Porn Pop at Cinema L'Amour with SoCalled, Owen Pallett and friends; synth pioneer Jean Jacques Perrey; Japan's Shugo Tokumaru; some Herman Dune, and late at night, perhaps a taste of Hey Rosetta, and a nightcap of Semi-Precious Weapons and Fritz Helder. Unless something else comes to mind.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 03 at 5:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)



It wasn't intended as bashing, Mark. I had never heard of Irma until "After the Rain" came out a couple of years ago, because (a) Irma isn't actually that famous and (b) I didn't grow up with much of that kind of music, being from this part of the world.

It was very much my impression from the total lack of response to the things she said along those lines, and the fact that the cheering for the beginnings of songs came from very small pockets in the room - didn't seem like a crowd of fans to me. I compare that to the cheers at the Burt concert, where it was clear that everyone knew those hits.

My percentage estimate might have been too low, though, sure - it wasn't meant to be scientific. It could have been a quarter or a third of the crowd that knew her stuff fairly well. But the feeling in the room wasn't that it was the majority.

But I meant it as nothing but a compliment that this festival brings so many "unknown legends" to new audiences and that those audiences enthusiastically, open-mindedly embrace them.

Posted by zoilus on October 4, 2008 6:46 PM



"Likely little more than 10 percent of the room was at all familiar with her repertoire, being white northeastern kids in their 20s who were there because the Pop Montreal curators told them she was great, and they trust those curators, because they've earned it."

This is presumptuous and more than a little unfair, I think. Almost everyone I knew there was a big Irma fan and familiar with her work and repertoire. Do you have anything to back this up, or is it just reflexive hipster-bashing?

I agree it was sweet how apologetic she was about the new stuff--which was pretty good, all things considered!

Posted by Mark Slutsky on October 4, 2008 10:00 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson