POP Montreal 2014 Festival Highlights

Another POP Montreal festival has come and gone, and this year’s was as good as any. Taking over venues and taverns around town from last Wednesday to Sunday, the festival presented over 600 artists in just five days, making for one crazy schedule. While the talent at this year’s edition was endless, here are some of The Main’s POP Montreal 2014 festival highlights.

Sun Kil Moon

We were told that Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon was a genius, so naturally we went to check him out. Kozelek and his backing band played at the Mile-End’s Ukrainian Federation last Wednesday night and there was scarcely an empty seat in the house. A mix of folk and alt-rock, Sun Kil Moon is now the solo act of Kozelek, although he has been playing with bands under this moniker and Red House Painters for decades. What we experienced is hard to put into words, but the genius of his songwriting definitely shone through. His years of experience are evident in his songs’ heart-wrenchingly honest lyrics and raw sound─seeing him in concert is like listening to a diary sung out loud─while Kozelek himself clearly takes pride in being a vet. “Pitchfork labelled my new album BenjiBest New Music’ and now everyone says it’s a hit,” he growled, “well, listen ─ I’ve been writing hits since before you were even born.” ─Leah Concepcion

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Timber Timbre

The words ‘creepy’ and ‘sexy’ are rarely terms you want to hear paired together in the same sentence. However when it comes to local rock titans Timbre Timber, creepy and sexy are undeniably intertwined: their music forever representing the darkest aspects of roots music in its most sultry form. Performing last Friday night to a packed Metropolis crowd, Timber Timbre proved that simplicity is key. With glowing red lights and a blinking, neon ‘Hot Dreams’ sign hovering over the band’s heads – representing their latest Polaris-nominated record of the same name – Timber Timbre transformed the Metropolis into an eerie motel, adding to the overall seductiveness of the set. Working their way through Hot Dreams, as well as a few fan favourites like ‘Blackwater,’ Timber Timbre performed their well-nuanced set marvelously, making the entire crowd swoon to the music as lead singer Taylor Kirk beckoned them forward – welcoming them with his husky voice to the world of Hot Dreams. – Courtney Baird-Lew

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No Aloha

The Montreal-based surf-punk band No Aloha (formerly She’s) played an awesome set at Analogue Addiction’s POP showcase on Friday night. Since we last spoke, the group has played shows all across Canada for their first full-fledged tour, and the experience they gained from being on the road really showed. Tighter than ever, the band played with confidence and the crowd at Quai des Brumes was all smiles. With some unreleased songs up their sleeves and a new name to boot, you can expect some great things from No Aloha in the future. ─Leah

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Schoolboy Q

Schoolboy Q’s much-anticipated show at Olympia last Saturday night was one for the books. The very first Pop Montreal show to have a metal detector and police frisking you in bulletproof vests, the venue was filled with bucket hats and backwards caps galore; the crowd a mishmash of teenagers and twenty-somethings, all waiting in anticipation for the ‘Man of the Year’ himself. The always excellent High Klassified managed to send the crowd into a frenzy even before Q took the stage, a cloud of smoke filling the theater as people slowly trickled in – the lineup outside wrapping it’s way around the next block. When the man himself finally took to the stage (and apologized for being late), all the waiting was undeniably worth it – with Schoolboy Q working through his first major label release Oxymoron, and putting on the most hype set of the festival. – Courtney

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Against Me!

Judging from their energy, it’s hard to believe that Against Me! has been around for seventeen years. Opening for The Gaslight Anthem last Thursday night, the seasoned punk band performed with endless enthusiasm and even started their set ten minutes earlier than scheduled. From the way they were received by the audience, however, it was clear that these guys have a lot of long-time fans ─ the crowd cheered and jumped around throughout, especially when they played songs from their hit album from 2005, Searching for a Former Clarity (“Don’t Lose Touch” was a crowd favourite). Their chemistry on stage was another indicator of the foursome’s experience, with the whole band playing an impressively tight set and singer/guitarist Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) shout-singing like a pro. ─Leah

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Montreal-based Ought made their way through their excellent debut LP to a packed, sweaty crowd in the Piccolo Rialto basement last Thursday night. Feverish post-punk at its finest, the foursome made every possible ‘best-of’ list last year for their Constellation Records debut More Than Any Other Day, which harks back to the frenetic early days of The Talking Heads, and even Gang of Four. Opening with a short, humble introduction to their set, lead singer Tim Beeler thanked the crowd not only for showing up, but for being there: present and in the moment with them in space and time. Well-nuanced and expertly paced, their entire set was energetic and fluid – the band giving the crowd their all, and leaving nothing behind. – Courtney

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How Sad

It’s no surprise that Montreal’s How Sad was one of our favourite performances at POP this year. Their set during Passovah’s POP showcase at Divan Orange was less upbeat than usual, however. Though they played some of their energetic hits from their last EP, Indian Summer, the band seems to be moving in a direction that’s a little darker, a little more retrospective. Performing new songs that had an 80’s, glam-rock power ballad vibe, front-man Harris Gilbertshper sang with feeling that hit the gut, despite having slightly lost his voice while on tour in Europe. They’re still bound to make you dance, but their new songs’ slower synth melodies and melancholic lyrics also leave time to reflect. ─Leah

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La Luz

Seattle-based surf rock outfit La Luz were a wonderful surprise at this year’s installation of POP. Opening for Ty Segall last Saturday night, the all-woman band charmed the crowd with their expertly composed, nostalgic riffs, wonderful harmonies, and killer, knee-knocking dance moves à la Chuck Berry. While they still need a few more years experience to reach their full potential, their set was fun and energetic – with keyboardist Alice Sandahl crowd surfing like a pro during the last half of their opening performance. In short, La Luz are much more than the standard ‘surf rock babe’ band that they could potentially be marketed as, but are rather truly talented musicians that are a doo-wopping force to be reckoned with. – Courtney

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We happened to catch Smokes at the Cabaret Playhouse on Thursday night and were super impressed with their sound. An up-and-coming trio who have already shared the stage with the likes of PS I Love You and Alden Penner, Smokes’ music is best described in their own words: “raucous pop melodies, a penchant for the dramatic, and a desire to sweat profusely.” Although they had an equipment malfunction (okay, maybe two), the band gave it their all, with lead singer Nick Maas singing/screaming with overwhelming feeling. Maas’s distorted guitar hooks, along with Jeremy MacCuish‘s hard-hitting drums, were beautifully balanced by Patrick Cruvellier‘s electric violin, which added sweeter melodies to their otherwise gritty sound. Joining POP’s artist list at the last minute, Smokes’ innovative sound was definitely a refreshing addition to festival. ─Leah

Feature image by Susan Moss.