Last year, we published our first-ever international issue. We've always tried to look beyond our shores for great music and film, but recently we've stepped that up a notch, attending music festivals in Norway, Germany and most recently Canada, where I had the privilege to attend M For Montreal (or M Pour Montreal for you Francophones).
More a showcase than a festival, the three-night schedule (Nov. 20-22, 2008) is designed to ensure that visitors catch all 16 acts from Montreal and five from Toronto, and I only missed two of the 21. I went in having heard mostly nothing about any of the acts except We Are Wolves and singer/songwriter Colin Munroe.
The first band to catch my attention was The National Parcs, a multi-cultural, poly-rhythmic outfit whose stage show gave life to their funk-folk-rock. The projected video had band members banging sticks, smashing rocks, tossing logs and splashing in a river, all to the beat of their intricate rhthyms. The stop-motion effects and fish-eye images, along with a well-lit water-bottle jug performance made me think these guys were made for the festival circuit. They'll win over the jam-band crowd if they can get in front of them.
The highlight of the evening, though—of the festival, really—was the insanity of Duchess Says, a dance-punk quartet led by fearless singer/guitarist Annie-Claude (pictured at top). With a crazy look in her eye, she spent the set thrashing about (and off) the stage, reminiscent of Pylon's Vanessa Briscoe Hay. She whipped the giddy indie rockers into an honest-to-God mosh pit, and then stepped down into the crowd, and wrapped them up with her mic chord. Then she dragged them up onto the stage with her and shoved them diving back into the waiting arms of their comrades. At one point she looked like she was getting trampled by a pile of fans on stage, her key-tar carelessly tossed underfoot. In between all the screaming was lovely, bubbly singing, making her seem that much more possessed.
The second night, I was looking forward to buzzy, quirky indie pop bands Winter Gloves and Woodhands, but the surprise of the evening was the more straight-up rock act Arkells with their crunchy guitars and melodic keys. Check out songs from their debut, Jackson Square, on the Arkells MySpace page. Woodhands sported the second key-tar of the festival, though. Sweet.
The final evening left behind the much smaller rooms of Caberet and Studio Just For Laughs for a huge theater called Métropolis. Comedian Jon Lajoie emceed the night to ever diminishing returns, but the music was solid, particularly from Karkwa, whose soaring riffs sounded a little like Coldplay in French, and the noise rock of We Are Wolves. Less appealing was the flambouyant showmanship of headliner Pierre Lapointe.
Creative energy continues to buzz in the city that launched Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. November might not be the warmest time to visit lovely Montreal, but the music makes it all worth the trip.