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POP Montréal 2016: A Travel Journal + Photos

on September 26, 2016, 4:30pm
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After arriving and checking in to our hotel, our small group of reporters gets credentialed at Quartiers POP, one of the main bases of the festival. Housed in a building called École des Beaux-Arts (“School of Fine Arts”), the space is bustling with journalists, artists, and staff members — all wearing the festival’s trademark bright orange shirts. The buzzing chatter makes this feel like the first day of school, with palpable energy and excitement for what’s to come.

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With press badges now in hand, we head toward Mile End, the lively arts district where many of the festival’s concerts are held. Our first dinner of the trip is at Nouveau Palais, a popular neighborhood restaurant. With old-school wood-paneling and tables, the spot has the charm of a greasy spoon, the kind of place where you go for some salty food to cure a nasty hangover. So it’s no surprise that Nouveau Palais does an excellent burger, with a unique, savory taste that is almost reminiscent of sausage.

From there, I jet to Métropolis for the first show on my docket: The Kills. The historic performing arts center features red carpet throughout, a seated upper balcony, and grand, high ceilings. Despite arriving exactly when opener L.A. Witch take the stage, the standing-room crowd is only loosely gathered, allowing me to easily make it to the front barricade. After overcoming a few early mic feedback issues, the trio settle in. Their slow-rolling, smoldering riffs provide a perfect match for the stage’s hazy neon lights. And throughout the set, drummer Ellie English proves to be a highlight, delivering the massive thump of the kick drum and the crash of cymbals with menace. L.A. Witch exit to a mostly packed crowd, and The Kills follow.

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Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince enter to a dark stage, with only their silhouettes and a backdrop of a volcano exploding visible. The standing room crowd packs together and erupts in cheers as they take the stage — and the duo doesn’t disappoint, thanks to Mosshart’s dynamic stage presence. Opening with the punchy riffs of their recent single, “Heart of a Dog”, as well as the slow-burning “U.R.A. Fever”, Mosshart owns the crowd as she headbangs and struts across the stage. The band then shift gears to their throwback cut “Kissy Kissy”, but I cut out early to make it to another venue in time for Eskimeaux’s set.

I head to Bar Le Ritz P.D.B., a cozy club in Mile-Ex, a warehouse/residential area that’s comparable to Brooklyn’s Bushwick or East Williamsburg. Whereas Métropolis is imposing in its scale, Le Ritz is inviting, with small tables surrounding a stage that’s slightly elevated above the floor. As I arrive, Bellows are just wrapping up their set and really hitting their stride with the wistful “Thick Skin”. (Bellows, Eskimeaux, and final performer Told Slant all share band members, with a different person taking lead vocals under each moniker.)

The band members exit the stage, mingling in the crowd during intermission. Shortly after, Eskimeaux arrive, this time led by Gabrielle Smith. Smith proves masterful at the transition between quiet intros to songs that lead into cathartic releases, like on opener “Year of the Rabbit” and “Folly”. The audience bounces along, supporting the call-and-response of “You coward! You hummingbird!” on “The Thunder Answered Back”. And throughout, the small moments of easygoing chemistry shines through for the group, like when the band members shimmy and pivot in unison or when Smith and bassist Jack Greenleaf playfully kick each other before “Sleeping Bear”. The band moves from hushed moments into a roaring peak on “I Admit That I’m Scared”.

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CoSigned NYC quartet LVL UP then arrive, giving a brief respite to the Eskimeaux/Bellows crew. The band’s searing, dueling guitars often prove overwhelming for the small space, but in their strongest moments, as seen on “I Feel Extra-Natural” and recent track “Pain”, the band put their anthemic qualities on display.

Told Slant closes out the night, and drummer Felix Walworth takes center stage. With Walworth standing behind a large drum kit, the band weave through gentle confessionals “Tall Cans Hold Hands” and “Parking Lots”. On Going By standout “Tsunami”, Walworth, Smith, and Oliver Kalb all join forces for the sweet, poignant chorus (“Isn’t this silly/ And aren’t you beautiful?”) — a great low-key way to wind down on a busy first day.

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