For a lot of folks, the highlight of the 10th edition of Pop Montreal, which ended last Sunday, must have been the big Arcade Fire blowout at Place des Festivals, and not without reason. After solid sets by Kid Koala and Karkwa, the Polaris-, Grammy-, Brit- and Juno Award-winning band – who hadn’t played in Montreal since Osheaga 2010, i.e., before The Suburbs was even released – demonstrated how touring extensively around the world for the past year had made them become tighter than ever. This homecoming show felt like a victory lap of sorts for Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and their bandmates, who also took the occasion to give a tip of the hat to organizations like Kanpe and Partners in Health, which perform humanitarian aid work in Haiti.
It was a great concert, but that was to be expected. Likewise, after taking in the Morrissey-ish vocals, nervy guitar riffs and two-drummer action of Pat Jordache and co. at the Ukrainian Federation on Friday, then moving on to the Théâtre Rialto for Jean Leloup’s Electric Voodoo Night, I knew I was in for a memorable experience. The iconic Québécois singer and guitarist can be unpredictable, but he’s certainly never boring. His set that night was sometimes sloppy and definitely all over the place, but it was also a whole lot of fun. In addition to a few tracks off The Last Assassins’ recently released debut LP (The Wheel, Winter, Dead Birds, etc.), Leloup played many of his best songs, including Faire des enfants, La Chambre, Les Fourmis, La vie est laide and Vieille France, and even early stuff like Laura, Think About You, Cookie and L’amour est sans pitié. He was well supported by bassist Charles Yapo, keyboardist David Mobio and drummer Alain Bergé, plus Virginia Tangvald on back vocals (fellow Last Assassin Mathieu Leclerc kind of disappeared for most of the show!).
That’s all well and good, but to me and many others, what makes Pop Montreal special is the opportunity it offers to make discoveries. As such, I was happy to find myself at O Patro Vys for the performance by Marques Toliver, who totally blew me away. Here’s a true original, an African-American from Daytona Beach transplanted to London who sings very emotional R&B while playing classical violin – think John Legend meets Owen Pallett.
Another nice surprise was Pigeon Phat. I’ll be honest, I went to their gig at Club Lambi first and foremost because I’d heard that Pony Up! singer-keyboardist Laura Wills was part of their lineup, but I really got into their new wave-influenced indie rock and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them.
All the same, my best moment at Pop this year had to be the last half-hour of the Ponderosa Stomp Revue, which I was able to catch late Friday night, after the Leloup show. When I got there, the Cabaret du Mile End was grooving hard to the sounds of The Velvelettes, a girl group who recorded for Motown in the 1960s. Playing beside them was an awesome seven- or eight-piece band led by the great Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal, who brought the house down by playing the super-funky instrumental Monkey in a Sack during the encore. And then it got even better when Ralph “Soul” Jackson proved that his nickname was well-deserved with an extraordinary rendition of Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay. Hopefully the Ponderosa Stomp Revue will become an annual feature of Pop Montreal!