Montreal, Quebec has always been at the pinnacle of arts and entertainment in Canada, if not in all of North America. Aside from deliciously artery-clogging amounts of poutine (the secret is in the fries) on every street corner, a hearty smorgasbord of lively bars and pubs, and some of the prettiest people on the planet, the city is inundated throughout the year with various festivals and events. In fact, there are so many festivals in Montreal that it’s hard to keep track and even locals may be desensitized as to “what’s going on this weekend.”
It would be a shame for music lovers to miss out on the M For Montreal festival though, whose sixth edition ran from November 16-19th this year. Though not as big and flashy as the Montreal Jazz Festival or Osheaga, M For Montreal possesses a low-key charm, easy accessibility, inexpensive tickets…and one high-quality line-up. Even though the bill is generally made of Quebec musical acts that many outside of the province haven’t heard of, that just means you’re a show away from discovering your new favorite band. And really, who doesn’t like getting the jump on things before everyone else does?
Consequence of Sound‘s Karina Halle braved the (surprisingly mild) weather, drank copious amounts of Jameson, and ran up and down St. Laurent street checking out the classic venues while falling in love with a new band each day. M for Magnifique!
The Savoy Room – Saturday, 10:45 p.m.
“Hey, it’s the French Andrew WK,” my compadre pointed out as the lanky, long-haired artist D’Eon stepped up to his keyboards for his showcase in the tiny Savoy Room. Well, not quite. As a solo artist armed only with his keys and his voice, D’Eon was a master of mixing the elements of dreamy synth-pop with funky R&B esque 80’s beats. It was fun, hypnotic and hinted at promising things to come from this Montreal artist. When Thom Yorke gives a special shout-out to this guy on his blog, it’s not hard to see why.
La Sala Rossa – Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
A local troubadour, Daniel Isaiah and his band coaxed festival goers into an easy state of mind with his Mark Knopfler-style of soaring and soulful guitar riffs and his Chris Isaak-like voice (complete with pompadour). The female drummer for the band had an amazingly dedicated light touch that helped propel this live show above many of the other folk-oriented acts.
Uncle Bad Touch
La Sala Rossa – Friday, 9:05 p.m.
Uncle Bad Touch: It’s not the best band name in the world, but it sure is memorable. This rock trio fronted by Mikey Heppner (Priestess) looks less like a biproduct out of the garage and moreover a collective of friends jamming together, albeit friends who will blow your socks off with their languid brand of 60’s style rock and roll and upbeat grit. Think The Zombies meet T-Rex, then throw in one sexy female bassist and you’ve got the idea.
Club Soda – Saturday, 12:00 a.m.
Plaster had the honor of kicking off the “M For Midnight” set at Club Soda (gotta love the name) and the festival couldn’t have picked a better act to get the crowd moving and energized. With their electronic jams hammered out by just drums, bass, and keys in an undeniably grooving patter, Plaster (French for adhesive bandage) should be the next big thing at the US festivals next year.
Metropolis – Saturday, 8:45 p.m.
Already festival darlings, this eclectic, folk-group has been wowing crowds all over North America with their winning blend of professionalism and homegrown charm, not to mention their surprising array of instruments (save for Active Child, when was the last time you saw a giant harp on stage?). Though a lot of the intimacy from such a gregarious band was lost in the large Metropolis venue, the Barr Brothers were a worthy addition to the night and worth catching at the next festival near you.
Metropolis – Saturday, 9:30 p.m.
The name Arianne Moffat might not ring a bell for you, but the singer is like royalty in her home province of Quebec. After performing her first “en anglais” set at the Metropolis (to her legions of very enthusiastic fans) it was easy to see what all the fuss was about. To put it simply, Moffat has spunk. Her infectious performing style, non-stop energy, and seamless mix of her top-notch vocals with fun and frantic beats from her tireless live band got people moving and newcomers taking note.
Bran Van 3000
Club Soda – Saturday, 2:00 a.m.
It’s been over a decade since Bran Van 3000 were pondering “What the hell am I doing drinking in LA?” from their 1997 hit “Drinking in LA” and though time has certainly gone by (and I myself wondered “what ever happened to…”), the group is back with gusto. Fronted by James Di Salvio, the set involved tracks from all four of their albums (plus their latest LP, The Garden) and brought together past and present collaborators to create one giant musical family on stage. They ended the night at three in the morning with over-sized angel wings and a flurry of confetti.
Galaxie – Metropolis
Photo by Alexandre Bedard
Metropolis – Saturday, 11:00 p.m.
The only thing missing from M For Montreal was a heaping of really great rock bands, but the city’s own Galaxie more than made up for that with its thick, heavy sound and old-school guitar stylings. A little bit of the Foo Fighters, a little bit of bluesy basement rock, and a frontman (Olivier Langevin) who wasn’t afraid to slam down on his knees to solo, Galaxie left the crowd’s ears ringing and wanting more.
Club Soda – Saturday, 1:00 a.m.
No, I’d never heard of Misteur Valaire before. And no, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially when four musicians in white suits and hipster glasses came out on stage. But when the horns kicked in, the keys resonated, and the drums beat to a rhythm that would make your grandma proud, something of an epic performance rolled on by. From constant stage-diving and crowd-surfing, to outfit changes, to boy band meets West Side Story-finger-snapping, to sparklers, this electro-funk-dance-theatre hybrid failed to let anyone’s heart rest. Days later, the performance still has me reeling.
For A Minor Reflection
Casa Del Popolo – Thursday, 9:05/10:05 p.m.
Having already played SXSW and a slew of other festivals, the Icelandic trio For A Minor Reflection will have you reflecting in a major way. Their intricate brand of instrumental and cinematic compositions, plus their energetic and dedicated stage presence, left the small crowd (less than 100 peeps) at the Casa Del Popolo buzzing from the mass of talent in such an intimate setting. Sure, their first song clocked in at 17 minutes and nearly took up the whole showcase set, but those that were savvy stayed for their second set and were wowed all over again. Think Explosions in the Sky, think GSYBE, and then think For A Minor Reflection.