Suoni per il Popolo wraps up this weekend with a final push of great shows. Last night, a packed, sweaty crowd at Il Motore welcomed Chad VanGaalen with open arms, hearts, and…faces? (A good Samaritan / psycho fan offered the use of his face for a butt rag. It was that hot. And Chad was that…crude.) The theme of the night seemed to be distasteful yet hilarious body humour, mixed in with a good dose of awesome musicianship. But hey, when you’re already expecting a good show, it’s the repeated bodily fluid jokes that tend to, ahem, stick in your mind.
I don’t what was going on, but the combination of a humid rainy night, sold-out crowd, and the total lack of ventilation at Il Motore made for the sweatiest night of music I have ever experienced, aside from one memorable evening at Barfly during last summer’s heat wave. Let’s just say that even casual swaying from side to side made it necessary to shed the artfully draped silk scarf I had donned for the hipster occasion. And hey, I’m just a lowly reviewer. The poor artists were pretty much dying up on stage (hence the need for a human towel), though they still gave great performances.
I was impressed by opening acts Adam & the Amethysts and Nat Baldwin. Montreal’s own Adam Waito and his glittering band offered a genuinely pleasant, if over-amplified and slightly lengthy, opening set. Nat Baldwin was charming and self-effacing; repeated expressions of surprise about the large size of the audience started to ring slightly desperate by the end, however. His minimalist mixture of classical bass and light, melodic vocals was truly captivating – definitely an artist to watch.
When Chad and his band finally came on around 11:30, the crowd was keyed up (though extremely dehydrated and in a stupor of humidity). They delivered a short but intense set of songs mostly from his newest release, Diaper Island, interspersed with some sweaty ball sack humour. His joke about tattooing a deflated basketball on his testicles fell kind of….flat…but it was refreshing and enlivening to have some unpretentious personality on stage. Given that it was the last show of their Canadian tour, inhibitions were down, an eight-week cold lent Chad’s voice a rough edge, and he gave it all he had. Though for the long-time fans, it was a little sad not to hear Willow Tree.
Even as my concert buddy and I remarked about how tedious it is that encores are an expectation these days – and how it gets painful to put in the noisemaking effort to drag a band back on stage when you KNOW they’ve already planned for it – they bucked the trend last night. I blame the sweat. After a few minutes of clapping and cheering, we realized that Chad and his band had escaped to the glorious breeze on Jean-Talon and the crowd was quick to follow them. Three minutes later, the skies opened up, and Blue Skies Turn Black became an eerie reality. This was a great –if intense – show to round off my Festival City coverage. Luckily, the Jazz Fest opens tonight, so I’ll be Roving around with you soon enough!
Suoni Per il Popolo wraps up tonight, June 25, with Montreal’s favourite dance party, The Goods featuring DJ Reinhard Wimmer at Sala Rossa. http://www.casadelpopolo.com/contents/node/74
An Uninhibited Dance Party
Junior Boys + Miracle Fortress
by Brenna Baggs
Drums. That’s what made last night’s Junior Boys show at Sala Rossa. One of my favourite indie electro acts, the Junior Boys have always graced my playlists as comfortable, pulsing synth-pop background music. On Saturday night, however, duo Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus blew me away as their recorded tracks took on a whole new density live. Thanks partially to the resounding bass that reverberated through the red room, and partially to Greenspan’s confident stage persona, I experienced the familiar tracks in a totally new way.
The evening started off with a great set by Miracle Fortress, the solo project of Graham Van Pelt, a member of Montreal’s it band Think About Life. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to sharing fellow Festival City blogger Meaghan Thurston’s proclivity for a pre-show drink (see below!) that runs into the opening act. But on a Saturday night in the middle of Suoni fever, who’s going to say no to a few drinks at Casa del Popolo, across the street? Not this music lover. It’s part of the whole experience, right? Right?
Miracle Fortress was surprisingly good – the songs I heard at least. While the vocals got slightly lost at times, they’re not really the focal point anyway, so we’ll let it slide. It was clear that Van Pelt is a seasoned performer at ease on this – and any – stage.
Primed with a great start to the evening, the sold-out crowd was buzzed to greet the main event. The duo from Hamilton, Ontario cite electronic dance music and UK new wave as some of their many influences, and an ‘80s synth pop feel is an infectious undercurrent of many of their songs. Shying away from touchy-feely lyrics, the duo’s songwriter Greenspan prefers to write about historical and literary figures, abstract events, or invented affairs of the heart. This lends an emotional detachment to many of the songs, keeping things danceable and terse, while meaning-seekers are free to interpret to their heart’s content.
After Miracle Fortress, I was ready for some good pulsing rhythms, familiar melodies, and a chilled, mellow vibe. What I didn’t expect was the sensory wallop of their set as percussion and bass filled the packed room. The bright points of the Junior Boys’ live electro pop were a danceable adrenaline rollercoaster. Going into the evening, I was unsure whether the group’s newest songs would get the aloof crowd to put their plastic cups of beer to the side and break it down. I shouldn’t have worried – a few drinks in, my fellow fans and I threw all social anxiety to the wind and got on the ride. Thanks Boys.
The Junior Boys’ newest album, It’s All True, comes out on June 14th. I’ll see you next at Secret Cities and Pujol this Thursday at Casa del Popolo. For more Suoni info, check out their website here.
A Union of Music and Politics
Shadia Mansour at Sala Rossa
by Meaghan Thurston
“When I say ‘freedom, freedom,’ you say ‘Palestine.’” So went a chant led by Shadia Mansour, also known as “the first lady of Arabic hip hop,” a British-born Palestinian singer and MC who headlined the bill last night at Sala Rossa.
Shadia raps mostly in Arabic, and while a large part of last night’s crowd was Arabic speaking, too, linguistic-deafness to her lyrics did not prevent me from being enraptured by her powerful presence. This is a woman who commands the energy of the room and whose voice and rapping is second to none.
Presented by The Artists Anti-Apartheid XVI as part of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, this was an event by and for a community of people who champion and support the Palestinian cause. The standard ‘merch’ table was replaced by a veritable shopping mall of awareness—for sale were activist-authored books, Palestinian solidarity artist prints, Palestinian-made keffiyehs, and somewhat bizarrely for a late-night event, fair trade olive oil and soap. My concert buddy left with a bag full of books for her alternative school’s classroom and if I’d saved a tenner I would have picked up Yassin ‘The Narcicyst’ Alsalman’s book “Diatribes for a Dying Tribe.”
An impressive showing gathered for openers Samian and The Narcicyst, though Samian was by far the stand-out performer among the two. Samian is of the Abitibiwinni First Nation and performs in both French and Algonquin. His rap is fast and energetic. This guy had charisma and he had the crowd bouncing.
Unfortunately, the Narcicyst didn’t capitalize on that energy; instead he had himself introduced prior to taking the stage. Making the crowd hush and listen was a major vibe-kill (I suppose he was living up to his name with this self-promoting prologue?). That downer energy continued during his set, even though he was backed by two of Montreal’s strongest singers, Nomadic Massive’s Meduza and Nantali Indongo aka I am Black Girl. Sadly, the sound guy wasn’t on top of his game and Meduza’s high register was totally lost. I also couldn’t hear the Narcicyst’s lyrics. Considering his belief in the resilient art that comes out of struggle and oppression, I think it would have improved his set if I’d known what he was saying. The special guest appearance of fellow Arab American MC and writer Omar Offendum, fresh off the plane from LA, did little to help. Maybe once he recovers from jet lag he’ll get his energy back, but it wasn’t to be last night.
Luckily, not all crowd enthusiasm was lost. Samian, The Narcycist and Shadia fed off of Montreal’s DJ Moonstarr’s beats, which received ample praise from all three and when Shadia Mansour left the stage the room broke out into Arabic circle dancing and Baladi-inspired euphoria. It was a night to remember, and proof that the Suoni fest is attracting major international artists to Montreal in a way few festivals of its size can.
Playing Tuesday, June 14 at Casa are Daniel Higgs + Heliotrope + Whilst, while over at Sala, you can catch David S. Ware + Jason Sharp. Suoni per il Popolo continues until June 23. For more information, visit: http://www.casadelpopolo.com/contents/node/74
This Dissonance Sounds Good
“The Sound of Obsession”
by Meaghan Thurston
On Tuesday night, Sala Rossa transformed to accommodate ‘The Lost Orchestras’ and their eager crowd, who had gathered to witness the live performance of Bernard Hermann’s hypnotically dissonant score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
The Lost Orchestras is led by William Hesselink, who transcribed and orchestrated the score, composed by Hermann for Hitchcock over a six-week period in 1958. The self-described “21-piece Montreal all-star mini-orchestra” (featuring members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire, Land of Kush, Bell Orchestre and The Besnard Lakes) nailed most of the pieces, including my favorite— the pulsating “Carlotta’s Portrait.” Yes, over the course of things there were some missed beats and some sly smiles among the musicians at mistakes made, but overall the group supported the demanding first violin part and kept near perfect pace with the film.
I say the Sala was ‘transformed’ because, truly, I’d never seen it arranged this way: the stage curtain framed the movie screen and the musicians positioned themselves as an island on the floor—around which a seated crowd congregated. The place was packed to the gills and respectfully hushed for a full 70 minutes.
Aside from the fact that for once Sala Rossa felt cozy and inviting, Hermann’s score was the principle agent of the atmospheric change this night. While Hermann subscribed to the belief that the best film music should not be shackled to the film for which it was originally written, the opportunity to witness its live performance alongside a screening of select scenes from the movie certainly made the concert one to remember.
New York Times music critic and blogger Alex Ross is his review of the score asked, “How much, indeed, of this film’s famous atmosphere is owed to Herrmann?” Like Ross, I think the Vertigo soundtrack is so good because the music is a ‘dialogue’ unto its own, helping to further the tension of the film which Jimmy Stewart simply could not carry. “It was Herrmann’s job to help summon the extraordinary emotions of an ordinary man” (Ross).
The music was the focus of the evening, but occasionally the musicians put down their bows and batons to allow for attention to shift to the film’s dialogue, keeping the audience captivated. I imagine you could have arrived at the show a Vertigo virgin and left with a fairly good sense of the plot.
As for the opener: said my friend supplying my tarrying drinks, there is apparently a long and noble tradition of music critics deeming the opening act “forgettable,” when in fact said critic was nursing vodka in the resto-bar downstairs. I am now either part of the club or duly kicked out for revealing the secret. Either way I missed the first act, but I heard some good rumblings during intermission about “Stimmung” de Stockhause, under the direction of Will Eizlini. Given my vodka headache this morning I am sorry to have missed it.
Next on my list of must see Suoni shows: Shadia Mansour and The Narcicyst @ Sala June 9th and Omar Souleyman @ Sala, June 13th. Happy Festival Hopping!
Out of Work, Full of Art
Glenn Jones, Suoni Per Il Popolo
by Brenna Baggs
People are sitting on the floor. Cross-legged, or hunched and hugging their knees, they lean against the walls covered in climate change protest posters. It’s just another night at Casa Del Popolo, but this one feels different – the conversations are hushed, and the smiling faces are expectant. It’s already 11:45 pm, and this mixed bag of guitar lovers have been hanging around all night to hear Glenn Jones.
Fortified with a glass of coke, he takes the stage with three guitars, a banjo, and two microphones trained on the sound box of the guitar. While he may be best known for his collaborations with improvisational guitar legend Jack Rose, Glenn Jones has had a 30-year career as a devotee and proficient of the American Primitive style of acoustic steel-stringed guitar playing. Launching into a seemingly effortless display of deft finger work, Jones leaves the audience spellbound. It’s not long before any newcomer to this nuanced and rustic style is won over by the plaintive strains filling the tiny venue.
I was struck immediately by the ruminative mental space that minimalist instrumental music provides. Undistracted by any ear-shattering overstimulation, and without lyrics to consider, I found myself feeling kind of… zen? Or rather, better able to think about the world of the musician – Jones’ banter between the songs inflected my understanding of the music following it.
Partway into his set, Glenn Jones quipped about the “working life”– implying his freedom from such a monotonous constraint. There were a few polite chuckles, a few indignant silences, until he mentioned the 23-year career that preceded his getting fired during a campaign of anti-unionism. He mused that losing his job allowed him to play with Jack Rose, which led to a North American and European tour and extensive collaboration. On that note, he left us to enjoy his composition entitled “Twenty-Three Years in Happy Valley – Love Among the Chickenshit.”
Over the next few songs, I let my mind wander. Being in such a small venue, face to face with the musician as a real person and not a celebrity, makes you wonder about their life as an artist. Getting fired created an incredible opportunity for Jones to develop his craft and gain exposure, but what was it like for him for all those years? How do we combine work and artistic passion, if we’re not lucky enough to have them align in one vocation?
This captivating evening of acoustic guitar left me with a few things to think about, and a little window of time and space in which to do it.
For more Suoni experiences, check out tonight’s experimental guitar show with Bill Orcutt at Casa Del Popolo. Rover’s pick for this evening is “The Sound of Obsession,” an orchestral rendition of the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as well as a 6-voice performance of the chant-like “Stimmung”, by Stockhausen. 20h at Sala Rossa, $15.
Future Plucky Valleys
Plucky Walker + Future Islands + Valleys,
Suoni per il Popolo
by Jake Freekin’ Smith
Do you like synths and hot beats? Yeah, neither do we. Oh wait, YES WE DO. Valleys, Future Islands, and Plucky Walker provided them for the opening night of Suoni Per Il Popolo on Sunday, good and proper. Well, proper at least.
Plucky Walker. I should preface what I’m about to say by stating that I really don’t like watching someone play along to a laptop. Plucky sang along to a laptop. That’s it. He was very dynamic, but due to his lack of diction I honestly could not understand a word he was saying anyway (the sound guy didn’t help with that). It’s not as if he triggered things while singing and went back and forth etc. No. He sang along to his laptop for his whole set. And it was thoroughly underwhelming.
Valleys. Wow. I had heard a few of their songs before the show and was into the sound. I was not prepared for their live presence at all. Marc and Tilly’s vocals combined so well with each other. It was almost as though they had the same tambour despite being different genders. All four members had great intensity, commanding the stage and the audience. Their set was varied, and heavy, and I was surprised at how few people moved along to it. Their closing song (I unfortunately could not catch the name of it) was unbelievable. It began with a heavy bass line on synth while Marc and Pascal added additional drums to the mix. It was akin to war drums preceding a cavalry charge. The beat then exploded into vocals and guitar. The song was insane and ended with both guitarists on the ground. It was a fantastic close to a great set.
Future Islands. I heard great things about this Baltimore sensation. They didn’t do it for me. The lead singer was enigmatic and frantic, albeit in a charming way. He was a lot of fun to watch and seemed to know how to work the crowd, but his band mates looked completely bored for the entire set. To watch him go berserk and see the rest of the band looking like they dropped three Valium before the show just didn’t work. It didn’t make sense. It also didn’t help that their sound was completely repetitive, making it difficult to differentiate between songs. The front man for Future Islands is a fantastic performer, but a repetitive sound doesn’t suit him, nor do his zombie band mates. I got the impression that they have a decent following here as people kept getting really excited about certain songs, but it seemed to me as though the fans that were there for that show, were paying more attention to the fact that they were hearing songs they knew, and less to what they were actually hearing.
Look out for Tuesday’s shows: The Sound of Obsession: Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo by The Lost Orchestras at Sala Rossa, and Bill Orcutt and Les Beyond at Casa del Popolo.
Suoni per il Popolo continues until June 25 at various venues. For the rest of the Suoni lineup, visit their website: http://www.casadelpopolo.com/contents/node/74