Pop Montreal 2009 [Montreal, Quebec]

For eight years now, music fans and industry heads alike have been drawn to Montreal for its annual Pop Montreal fest. The event is something like Canada's version of CMJ, and one week a year the "Paris of the North" offers up its mixture of old-world sensibilities and modern metropolitan appeal to even the most haggard of hipsters. More than just a music festival, Pop Montreal has evolved into a full on multimedia event with bands, movies, seminars, lectures, and fairs scattered amongst the metropolis for five solid days of unending entertainment.

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- Wednesday

Our first night landed us at Sala Rossa, which housed a concert hall upstairs and a tapas restaurant down. After indulging in a healthy meal of paella and downing a pitcher of sangria, we headed upstairs to catch the Jay Reatard-curated Shattered Records showcase. Reatard was already on stage as we entered, playing bass for Memphis youngsters Useless Eaters. Taking their name from a U.N. Kissinger policy report, their punk/hardcore vitriol seemed to me more in line with early-80s NYC than late-aughts Memphis. Though still a little rough around the edges, the groups' exuberant youthfulness gives them a potentially bright future.

Nobunny were up next, and the human/jackalope hybrid that goes by Justin Champlin emerged triumphantly wearing a giant novelty bunny head, immediately casting it off only to reveal yet another more modest bunny mask beneath. The horny hare and his band ripped through their set of ecstatic punk tunes that referenced The Ramones as much as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Dancing around in his underwear and pulling glitter out from his nether regions, Nobunny exuded pure fun and gave me a respite from my usual stance of chin-stroking pretension, if only for a brief few moments.

Continuing the latent homoeroticism that wafted through the evening were San Francisco's Hunx and his Punx whose spandex-clad and caped singer managed to bring up gay sex between every song. Although the group had some pretty catchy punk numbers, I generally find it hard to take that much spandex seriously, post-Freddy Mercury. Nebraska's Box Elders came up next and undoubtedly were the stars of the night. Drummer Dave Goldberg was the most enjoyable to watch, nonchalantly hammering out super dynamic percussion, all while standing up and playing the organ at the same time (possibly chewing gum as well).

Jay Reatard closed the night with one of his last shows with longtime band mates Billy Gibbons and Stephen Pope. Seems the boys have grown tired of dealing with Jay's antics and have gone back to their boring wives, oops I mean lives. But despite the public derision, ex-band mates Billy Gibbons and Stephen Pope can be happy they at least walked away without ever getting urinated upon.

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- Thursday

Sala Rossa housed several of the best shows of the fest and had me returning there twice again before the weekend was through. On Thursday night, the club hosted a solid helping of noise-punk. Openers TV Ghost warmed up the crowd with their discordant new wave and perfectly coiffed Flock of Seagulls hairdos. Aids Wolf singer Special Deluxe was spotted near the stage dancing like someone afflicted with autism or at least an advanced case of Asperger's syndrome during the set. Her band, with their brand of Beefheart-influenced no-wave hardcore, went on right after and saw the Montreal native continuing to adeptly play the roll of escaped mental patient, but was almost trumped by an elderly man with a white ponytail and tracksuit doing splits and handstands on the floor near where Deluxe was inserting the whole of the microphone ball into her mouth. I had to do a double take to make sure reality hadn't morphed into a David Lynch movie. Local act Red Mass (ex CPC Gangbangs) followed and pumped out some theatrical hardcore punk, something like Fucked Up doing Rocky Horror Picture Show replete with face paint and capes once again. Personally, I found the spectacle a bit distasteful and waited somewhat impatiently for The Intelligence, whose jumpy brand of upbeat surf synth agit-pop was enjoyable enough, but before long the singer's nasally voice began to grate on me. Thus, we decided to head back to the hotel and call it another music-filled night.

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- Friday

On Friday night, across the street from Sala Rossa, Casa de Popolo was the location of yet another noise rock extravaganza. FNU Ronnies played early on, ripping through a set of hybrid post-industrial hardcore punk, but it seemed the group had some difficulty finding that "x" chemistry, and several squalls of undesired feedback put a damper on their performance.

After Ronnies, we hustled down St. Laurent to Club Lambi where Ian Svenonius was giving a sermon in his most recent project Chain and the Gang. Svenonius was on an evangelical tear, offering up revisionist history lessons concerning the JFK assassination, the notion of money as debt, and other such quasi conspiratorial/Situationist missives we've come to expect from the dude, all to the soundtrack of some vaguley psychedelic lounge music. But the lack of ventilation at Lambi had us heading back to Casa Del Popolo to catch the tail end of the Terrible Twos. After downing a number of whiskey shots, Timmy "Vulgar" Lampinen and his band Human Eye took the stage, sputtering out their demented brand of explosive art punk. Like someone sticking their finger in an electric socket, Timmy flailed around the stage in the throes of electroshock all while synths buzzed and guitars wailed in a wild flurry of serious rock destruction.

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- Etc.

Pop Montreal wasn't all about young blood, though, as a number of reunions were featured prominently this year as well. Rue De Catherine's Le National was seated deep in the seediest part of Montreal and housed two of the bigger reunions. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks trollopped through their set of acerbic no-wave there on Friday night. As the group wrapped up their set, Lydia Lunch triumphantly declared, "There are no encores for Tennage Jesus and the Jerks, and that's the way it's always been!" Os Mutantes filled the house the following night, and though they served up some old classics like "Baby," "A Minha Mehina," and "Panis Et Circeses," the set was mainly comprised of material off their new album, which had just a but too much of a Miami Sound Machine flavor to me. Faust rocked the Ukrainian Federation Saturday night, offering up some old classics like "It's a Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl)" and "Sad Skinhead" amidst a flurry of grinder sparks on sheet metal and cymbals.

La Tulipe, one of the Montreal's more professionally run venues, accommodated a number of Pop Montreal's larger shows. On Thursday night, Mono served up some epic post-rock amidst a fantastic laser-light show. Local hero Kid Koala played the night following with his accompanying band The Slew and ripped through a set of hard rock/turntablism mutant jams that had the hometown crowd buzzing with excitement.

Meanwhile, seminars, lectures, and record fairs were peppered around the city in addition to the never-ending concert log. At the Ubisoft Center, we caught a screening of Sufjan Stevens' The BQE. Its juxtapositions of hula-hooping cheerleaders and Stevens' own super 8 footage of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway cured my burgeoning case of home sickness. Stevens arranged the film in a tri-panel manner, inverting video, and manipulating their speeds, bringing to mind Philip Glass' scored Koyaanisqatsi. At the Ukrainian Center on Saturday and Sunday, a record fair buzzed with busy-bodied vinyl fetishists, and though I scored a fairly cheap copy of Terry Riley's Persian Surgery Dervishes, the Canadian pricing was a bit to steep for my wallet. Back at the Ubisoft center on Sunday, we attended some lectures on home recording, pranced through the room-sized Theremin, and took in the smells of fresh solder at the circuit-bending workshop.

We capped off a full weekend right back where we started: at Sala Rossa. One of the few shows we attended with psychedelic leanings, White Hills opened for touring partners Wovenhand. Fresh off their new Thrill Jockey EP Dead, I was ready to get my first real dose of mind expansion of the fest. But unfortunately, the Hills fell a bit flat for me, and though they succeeded in belting out some serious wah wah, the riffage itself felt a little too post-grunge for me. Continuing in that sentiment were Wovenhand, whose Brett Michaels look-alike front man had one too many Eddie Vedder-ish ecstatic eye rolls into the back of his head for me, forcing us to promptly leave and finally accept that our vacation was coming to a close.

Despite all the amazing music we witnessed, I still couldn't cram in a number of wishlisted acts -- Butthole Surfers, Glass Candy, Thee Oh Sees, Fresh and Only's, An Albatross, Desire -- but no matter. The hyper-active night life, poutine french fries, and all around good-time vibe of the city made Pop Montreal something I'm confident I'll be returning to next year.

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