Zoilus by Carl Wilson

2009 Montreal Popposts #2: Friday

October 3rd, 2009

Quick-hit notes on last night at Pop Montreal:

Saw Hot Panda from Edmonton and The Pack A.D. from Vancouver for the first time at the afternoon BBQ, enjoying the milding of the weather and (as Hot Panda’s singer joked) the “double-bill with Free Food.” The Pandas may be generic indie but I cottoned to their guitar interplay as a background sound; Pack - a double X-chromosomed duo of drums and guitar whose recordings have never been able to capture my attention - turn out to be a way more compelling live act, charismatic and very funny, with guitarist Becky Black boasting a Ramones-meets-Janis (at the corner of Jett and Hyndes) throaty alto that arrows deep into the ear, even if their Zeppisms remain not quite my cup of benzodiazepine.

From there over to Benelux for beers and chat with a bunch of fellow Polaris Prize jurors. Talk of the table included grousing about regionalist bean counters, debate about how to give non-rock genre specialists more effective input (’genres are unavoidable social categories’ versus ‘fuck genres, that’s how the music business plants worms in your mind’) and how indie culture should be a helluva lot more like Newfoundland kitchen-party amateur music-making culture (with shoutout to Murder Folk Night).

Next up, my first encounter with tUnE-yArDs, after years of eloquent lobbying by Sean Michaels and Lauren Schreiber, at the museum of contemporary art - and given the crowd apparently I’m not the only one who finally smartened up and paid attention. Amazing spectacle of white cloth, white-makeup faces, a bass clarinet wrapped in tinfoil, elaborate headdresses. Resonant reed relays. Choral looping pedal vocals, mic percussion and rocked-out ukelele. I felt there was much less in the way of song than there was sound (and sight) in this show but know-betters tell me that was somewhat specific to this set. Word is that Merrill Garbus (who is leaving sister band Sister Suvi to focus on this project) has been signed to 4AD, which puts her in apt company. One of the highlights of the festival for certain.

Argued my way into Club Soda (”I’m not staying for Yo La Tengo, I promise”) to catch a set by The Horse’s Ha, apparently a project of seven years’ vintage in Chicago even though word never reached my ear till this fall. I’ve been a fan of Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day) for ages, but this configuration (with Bean on mandolin and English songwriter James Elkington of the Zincs on guitar) finds her in indie-chanteuse mode, the twang largely smoothed out of her Kentucky-born voice, to more soporific effect. Not that it wasn’t pretty, but it needed more of Fred Lonberg Holm’s scratchy oblique cello for an edge that would bring out the beauty more by contrast. My vain highlight was turning to a friend and saying, “Y’know, it’s kind of like Slapp Happy combined with Syd-Straw-era Golden Palominos” (he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about) and then, 10 minutes later, Bean saying, “This is a cover of a song by Slapp Happy.” Critical mojo risin’!

Finally it was time for the Buffy Sainte-Marie concert, which unfortunately I have to report as disappointing. No fault to Buffy and band, who came fully correct, but in the vaulted cavern of a 2/3-full Eglise Jean-Baptiste, there wasn’t enough human mass to absorb the echoing sound waves and the mix was horribly soupy - often you couldn’t understand, from my place about 3/4 back of the centre aisle, even what she was saying when she was speaking. The symbolic power of having her perform songs of native empowerment in the bosom of that abductor and abuser the Catholic church was sadly trumped by the practical sonic snafu. Nothing can stop “Up Where We Belong” from sounding gorgeous though. We split before the end to cab up and catch most of a strong Destroyer solo set at the Ukrainian Federation (in front of a pastoral Ukrainian landscape backdrop) including a new song about Chinatown in East Van. You don’t need to hear me yammer on. Dan’s voice got kinda hoarse in the last few songs but he got lots of rest and should be good to go for his show with Andre Ethier at the Horseshoe in Toronto tonight.

Rounded out the evening with Ian Svenonious again, this time at his new band Chain & the Gang’s spectacle at Lambi. Sartorially splendid, some of the set (I missed the first half) seemed like generic soul-junk that had no need for Ian Svenonious’s strut. But then he converted me with a final singalong tour de force on Deathbed Confession in which various figures on the verge of expiry first confess to the narrator their perpetration of various assassinations and other political atrocities of the 20th century. While still giving of the sixties mod jive. More than worth the wait. Followed by another soul party with I.S. on the dance floor hittin’ on chicks, so all was as it should and ever will be. Except that in a Butthole Surfers-induced fit of wariness I missed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whom I hear were short skronky and sweet-ass. Damn.

Today: DJ-lectures with Wayne Marshall, Jace Clayton et al in the symposium at 5, Faust, Os Mutantes and more. Later, skaters.

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  2. Chris says:

    About half of Chain & the Gang’s album is indeed sloppy generic soul but the other half is kind of great and fits the Svenonius persona perfectly. My favourite song’s still “Unprounceable Name”, for that jazzy bassline and surreal banality, but “Deathbed Confession” is the runner-up.

  3. Kevin Erickson says:

    Dig this: “Sympathy for the Devil” : “Deathbed Confession” :: Communism : Capitalism

    Think about it!

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