The 13th year of this alternative music/film/art festival would consecutively execute memorable events throughout the 5-day-weekend. At times walking too fine a line between chaos and revelry, Pop delivered a satisfaction that could only accompany lucky number 13.
The setup: Pop Montreal welcomes the equinox in full force every September with 400+ big name bands and emerging local acts. From the venues in the downtown core north through the Plateau, Mile-end and Outremont, Pop wants you to explore and acquaint yourself with the city’s art.
Weather: The temperature was a big source of social fuel for the festival. Though Thursday/Friday had their chilly moments (~46°F), intense sunlight pierced all the chunky knits at daily outdoor events. Luckily, the temperature climbed on Saturday night in preparation for some intermittent muggy rain on Sunday. Though sweat-conducive, the humidity was warmly welcomed by the masses still recovering from last year’s painful winter and aided in the whimsical atmosphere of Pop’s closing night.
Necessary Investments: My valiant steed, an obnoxiously large upright bicycle (alias: Big Red), cannot be praised enough for her utility in hopping from venue to venue, dusk-to-sunrise. No events are more than a 15-minute bike ride apart, so if you’re a tourist for the festival a weekend Bixie-pass or rental from the numerous local bike shops will ensure you can experience all that Pop has to offer. No taxis necessary.
Best Stage Banter: Between heart-throbbing deliveries of “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”, “Black Kite” (for which he told us to prepare to be impressed by his finger picking) and the sincere ballad “He Always Felt Like Dancing” (sung from the elevated height of a chair on top of the stage), Sun Kil Moon joked about his own super-star status, his hatred of smart phones and feeling like a muppet on stage (complete with impression — we all lost it). The back and fourth song-recommendation and song shoot-down built a rapport that kept lightness to what could have easily been an emotionally draining set. Frank humor was interwoven with perfect regularity, mirroring the intermittent drizzle that littered the exterior Mile End potholes with puddles. Everyone left this show smiling from Kozelek’s anecdotes.
Rowdiest Crowd: At the Craft Singles Showcase, the best of Halifax delivered an insane, sloshy show to a full house at Little Italy dive Brasserie Beaubien. Though the sound quality was questionable at best, the environment was sublime and the audience welcoming. Shoes were broken, arms bruised and crowds surfed all with cheek-achingly large grins.
Best Venue for Openers: Three of my favourite pop performances were at bar/bistro/venue Casa del Popolo — the vigorous noise-rock of Dories, with elaborate basslines highlighted perfectly, a tight and heavy “slack-core” set from Concordia super-group LOC-NAR and a dreamlike performance from Brooklyn’s experimental Celestial Shore were each lapped up by the three separate mixes of eager crowds. Despite the fact that these bands were starting their respective shows, the superb mixing by the sound techs at Casa and the cozy room housing the stage (separated by a wall from the bar/bistro portion of the location) kept each event satiated with bodies and energy. Encores were demanded on multiple occasions, all for bands who played before 10pm.
Best Non-Pop After Party: When the festival’s “late night mega-parties” begin to die out, Montreal’s DIY spaces are just opening their doors. Hats must be tipped to the witching hour festivities and all Canadian dream lineups (feat. Freak Heat Waves, Quaker Parents, Telstar Drugs and CROSSS) witnessed Friday/Saturday provided by fresh DIY space Poisson Noir. This being said, Sunday night’s Guerilla Toss show at the increasingly recognized Drones Club was too phenomenal to deny. The combination of growing haze in the streets, sleepless hysteria and the killer performance from the brilliant dance-punk band had the crowd ecstatic. Guerilla Toss was provocative, thrilling and a Pop-weekend highlight that didn’t technically preform in the festival.
Most Awkward Encounter: After wandering to the Pop HQ on Saturday afternoon, a handful of people found themselves witnessing a recording of the podcast Psi Factor and the Cougar. Casually being interviewed in the Salle des Artistes adjacent to a disheveled post-party hallway was Ty Segall and Mikey Heppner. The term interviewed must be used loosely here as the podcasters essentially bumbled through their own boring anecdotes without really asking questions of interest to the artists. Things only got stimulating when an attendee, self-identified as Commander Andy Clark had his audience question turn into an invitation to join “the Coug” on his couch and talk about his divorce, love-zines, and recent move to Montreal. The rest of the viewers were squirming right out of their dehydrated skin.
Biggest Disappointment: No casual run-ins with Sheryl Crow and thus no opportunities to use bird-related puns as greetings. Additionally, before Sun Kil Moon went on stage Richard Reed Parry was witnessed apologizing for his height to some nearby attendees, “Are you sure it’s okay? Can you still see?”
Most Picturesque Show: The crisp fall air kept fans bundled and jittery in Little Italy during Moon King’s afternoon show on Friday, where despite copious hot dogs and a charismatic set from the group, onlookers fell flat and focused on the stunning sunset. The lighting and wind were in a beautiful combination with Daniel Benjamin’s dreamy alt-pop tracks, and despite a lack of audience enthusiasm this show was impressive for their first outdoor offering.
Afternoon Delight: Prior to Moon King Friday afternoon, local new-wave mood-rockers She Divides gave a warm performance surrounded by stylish goods at vintage shop Empire Exchange. Though hangover was in the air, front woman Tess Roby was our hair-of-the-dog, singing sultry, dark pop songs and getting the crowd buzzed.
Most Nostalgic Performance: The Unicorns didn’t try to reclaim relevancy when they closed the festival on Pop’s Sunday night. Their amusing self-awareness was complete with projections of Windows `98 screen savers, and there were no elaborate alterations to their classic tracks but instead honest deliveries of their 2004 melodies as we all came to love them.
Best Crowd: Though greater in scale, The Unicorns’ performance is rivaled in flashback-power by the intimate show put on by Why?, who connected with each spectator who belted along to tracks from fan favorite albums Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash. Yoni Wolf was grateful and so was the audience, who filled La Vitrola with affection and devotion for the group.
Best Quote: The Unicorns took a moment during their set to remind the audience something along the lines of “Just remember that this is fun… cause if you don’t than it won’t be fun anymore.” This notion captured a recurrent feeling shared by many acts, the awesome pop staff and the volunteers. Harsh critiques have their time and place, but so does gratitude for transitory bliss and 120 drunken hours with your new best friends.