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POP Montréal 2016: A Travel Journal + Photos

on September 26, 2016, 4:30pm
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I make my way to Église Saint-Michel-Archange with another reporter to check out the record fair. The structure is grand and imposing, and within many older folks hang out while eating pastries and perusing record collections. I actually don’t have a record player, although I do enjoy looking at the old cover art for LPs. I’m glad I go anyways, though, because I meet an older photographer, Ralph Alfonso, who’s selling original black-and-white prints of his photography from the ’70s. The all-star cast of musicians he’s photographed includes Iggy Pop, Blondie, Patti Smith, Ramones, and many, many more. He says that he has one of the few photos of Ramones with all of the band members smiling — the band would later commit to not smiling in group photos. He also has incredible shots of Iggy Pop and remembers that David Bowie strategically placed himself in the shadows when playing keys on that tour so he wouldn’t be easily photographed.

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After departing, we slowly make our way down Boulevard Saint-Laurent to Schwartz’s Deli for lunch. The restaurant is renowned for its viande fumée (smoked meat) sandwich, and the line for the full-service restaurant winds out the door. We dip into the take-out side of the restaurant for quicker service with a more limited menu and actually manage to grab a seat at the counter.

This restaurant reminds me of the type of cult restaurants in New York City, where somewhat brusque staffers try to shepherd along the dawdling tourists. After receiving our orders and grabbing a seat, I unwrap the meal/tiny present. This reveals a compact sandwich, piled high with pink meat between two supple pieces of rye bread. A dollop of mustard at the center of this delicacy provides just a hint of a contrasting taste, but it’s mostly gloriously briny and tender. The French fries — extra crisp on the outside, but pillowy soft in the center — are a highlight as well.

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After wandering around, popping into funky thrift shops and punk music stores on the block, I prepare to go out for a final night of music. By Sunday evening, many attendees already have left town, but I make my way over to Divan Orange for one final gig, which features Montréal’s St. Lawrence Warehouse Company on the bill.

The neighborhood is quiet, but the bar hums with life. The long, rectangular hall is packed all the way up to the cramped stage, where St. Lawrence Warehouse Company’s members soon squeeze onto. With six members, it’s an accomplishment that nobody gets knocked off. The band features a vast array of instruments, including, but not limited to, saxophone, violin, accordion, flute, and xylophone. The equipment lends itself to massive folk stomp-and-clap sing-alongs à la The Head and the Heart, but the band showcase impressive sonic breadth. The styles of their tracks vary immensely during their set, especially as different instrument players take lead vocals. The accordion player weaves a dark, rip-roaring tale about not liking the person he sees in the mirror; the guitarist leads the penultimate track, “Best Friend’s Clothes”, an exuberant drinking song; the flutist brings the set to a close with the gentle, wistful “Grace”. Despite the earlier, more energetic tracks in the set that get the crowd bouncing, the closer feels like a fitting end for the last concert I’ll see this week.

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The cool air is refreshing stepping out of Divan Orange. I opt to walk back to the hotel, past Schwartz’s Deli, past Quartiers POP, past Métropolis. After five days of non-stop music and partying, the city settles into a peaceful slumber.

I think about a quote from artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s discussion about how art can be separated into two categories: magic and deception. The former can enact change; the latter looks pretty but lacks substance.

“That’s what art should always be doing: making things happen,” P-Orridge says during the talk.

It’s safe to say that in the past week, POP Montréal captures some magic.

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