by carl wilson

Pop Montreal: The Omnivore's Smorgasbord

Shogu Tokumaru, seen here not at Pop Montreal. (Photo by Elchicodelaleche.)

My Pop Montreal retrospective semi-essay appeared (in miniature deep in the Review section) in der Globe today. It got chopped and screwed somewhat in der editing, tho, so I'm a-gonna put the raw version up for you on the jump, gussied up with linkage.

Hoped to share a few other notes today but had to finish up some hack assignment for some Spanish hipsters (honestly) + haven't had a chance. Stay tuned for the big love-splooge orgy for Darren Hayman tomorrow, then, as well as a report on a panel I was unexpectedly drafted onto, about the future of music criticism, as well as the improvisation panel, and some other stuff only briefly mentioned in the wrap-up.

Tucking in to an omnivore's smorgasbord of sound

October 1-5, Montreal
Reviewed by Carl Wilson

What event in the world, let alone in Canada, can let you see hundreds of youthful indie-rock fans (and their parents) thronging an ornate church to sway and swoon to medleys of hits by 80-year-old (octave-agenarian?) maestro Burt Bacharach -- and later the same night, find many of those same people lining up to view a vintage, underground gay-sex movie in a fading skin-flick house, where a live band (led by genre-mashing composer SoCalled) matches "money shots" with double-entendre choices of 1950s chestnuts such as Sea of Love?

It could only be the annual Pop Montreal festival, which celebrated its seventh anniversary in a shower of melody, noise and spectacle this past weekend.

Sociological studies recently have documented a new order of western cultural tastes: The old high-art/low-trash hierarchy has been supplanted by the reign of the "omnivore," in which the most sophisticated audiences set themselves apart by consuming as wide a range of styles and backgrounds as their eyes and ears can suck up.

Pop Montreal is an omnivore's smorgasbord, the Bayreuth Festival of this new paradigm: It makes both that venerable Wagner marathon and more straight-up rock festivals such as Glastonbury in the U.K. (where rapper Jay-Z was jeered this summer) seem by comparison like out-of-it rubes who haven't yet learned how to rub their bellies while patting their heads.

A plurality of the acts that flood the clubs of St-Laurent, St-Denis and other central Montreal streets during the five days of Pop each October might still be guitar-based bands and singer-songwriters - such as Peterborough, Ont.'s cabaret-rock cabal The Burning Hell, who may have scored the most timely chant-along of the week with a song paying ironic tribute to the 1944 Bretton-Woods monetary-policy conference: "And the bankers sing: 'I can't get enough of the green stuff/ I can't get enough of the green stuff.' "

And yes, many of the big names on offer are those to whom rock scenes generally look for inspiration, such as post-punk icon Nick Cave, who scalded a super-sold-out Metropolis on Thursday, or UK bands Wire and The Wedding Present, who put the fest to bed in a blanket of feedback at the Theatre National on Sunday. Others, such as Florida band Black Kids, who played to a screaming Cabaret Juste Pour Rire on Saturday, are recent darlings of blogs and hip music sites.

But the festival also anticipates - and stokes - its audience's more eclectic desires by programming dance-rock (Hot Chip, Brazilian Girls, Ratatat), hip-hop (Shad, k-os), dancehall (Jamaican pioneer Sister Nancy, Toronto's promising young vocalist Bonjay), heavy metal (Watain, Withered) and bruising-beat remixers (The Bug, Pink Skull, Montreal's own increasingly touted Megasoid crew) -- but also, crucially, titans and "unknown legends" from previous generations.

Its audience has come to trust the curators' calls. There was no better example this year than Irma Thomas, the 67-year-old "soul queen of New Orleans" who never won the fame of contemporaries such as Aretha Franklin but, judging by Thursday night's show, has outdone nearly all of them at aging well. Still vivacious in presence and stunning in voice, Thomas noted how much younger the audience was than her usual crowd, saying, "Your parents have brainwashed you well." In fact, the key hidden persuader was probably Pop Montreal itself.

(That dynamic struck again on Saturday when doo-wop veterans the Persuasions, best known for their link to Frank Zappa in the 1970s, reportedly enraptured the Portugese Association hall.)

Thursday witnessed another kind of generation-crossing marvel when the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took the stage. With seven horns and one monster drummer, almost all of them the sons of 1960s Chicago free-jazz figure Phil Cohran, this erstwhile street-corner band lived up to its name. Rugged charm and rousing chops marked their mix of funk, jazz, hip-hop, marching band and Afrobeat, despite many technical glitches. (They missed sound check thanks to our public servants at the Canadian border.)

Logistics could be a challenge. The generosity of the schedule, with up to 100 acts a night, was not complemented by the capacities of most venues, so many shows sold out long before the headliners came on, and the dash many blocks or further between clubs from set to set often got exhausting. (The festival experimented this year with renting bikes to out-of-towners, but neglected to include locks.) So even pass-holders were likely to miss much of what they hoped to hear.

Still, that left room for lucky discoveries. One was the under-publicized appearance by New York-based saxophonist Matana Roberts, one of the most vital young voices in contemporary jazz, at an improvisation workshop in the parallel "Symposium" discussion series Saturday afternoon.

Another was Japanese soloist Shugo Tokumaru's set at O Patro Vys on Friday. Aged 28 but looking a decade younger, he hushed the room with finger-picking guitar virtuosity reminiscent of the late John Fahey and a sweet set of vocal melodies that drew as deeply on 1960s psych-rock as on contemporary Asian pop.

For at least one listener, Tokumaru's music was the purest reminder that the value of an open mind is not to process a longer checklist of inputs: It's the chance that an unanticipated guest might settle in for the long haul and help rearrange your sense of human possibility.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 07 at 1:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



Hey Carl, did you ever get to see Hey!Rosetta? They are being closely watched by the music scene here as they've been able to do what few bands from the island can pull off, which is, tour.

Also, I might have a PDF of that Changing Tastes article lying around if anyone wants to e-mail me.

Posted by Kevin on October 8, 2008 9:39 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson