POP Montreal 2016 superlatives
So yet another year of POP Montreal is in the books, ladies and gents, and the atmosphere and experience of the festival is still as cool and rewarding as ever. In fact, my experience was such that I feel like giving out some “awards”, if you will, to many different areas of this year’s five-day venue-hopping marathon. Without further ado, here they are:
Most impressive solo artist: Wally Badarou
Playing his first ever solo show at the ripe age of 61, Wally Badarou – the French musician known for performing with Talking Heads, Fela Kuti, Grace Jones and Robert Palmer among others – brought an old school approach with a new school setup to Sala Rossa on the first night of the festival. Although his solo material isn’t nearly as recognized as that of the artists he’s played with over the years, it was still eaten up lovingly by the crowd, even if the sweltering hot temperatures inside the venue caused some people to head for the exits a bit early. Fellow influential old-timer John Cale – performing at the Rialto the following night – was also a big highlight for me this year.
Most impressive local band: Caveboy
After sadly arriving too late for Angel Olsen at the Rialto – more on that later – I instead biked up north to Bar Le Ritz PDB to watch Montreal trio Caveboy (opening for the brilliantly-named U.K. duo Let’s Eat Grandma), and my dismay over missing Olsen would be short-lived. Mixing ‘80s-indebted new wave tunes with a sprinkle of dance-punk, as well as melodies appealing to fans of artists as classic as Bruce Springsteen and as modern as HAIM, their catchy repertoire of material – plus a brief cover of Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around… Comes Around” – made for a rightfully well-received set. Side note: Bar Le Ritz, which I’d surprisingly never been to before this show, wins my vote for coolest and most laid back venue of this year’s festival.
Hottest venues (literally): TIED – Sala Rossa and La Vitrola
As great as the venues in Montreal are – particularly those in the Plateau/Mile End area – and as much as the temperature outside is definitely dropping to mark the beginning of autumn, some of those venues tried a bit too hard to compensate for it; prime examples being Sala Rossa (where I saw Wally Badarou) and La Vitrola (where I saw Solids). While both shows were great, I became increasingly drenched in sweat to the point where I could barely handle being inside anymore. Needless to say, stepping outside afterward felt like discovering heaven.
Biggest inconvenience for getting to shows: Uber
The fact that Uber surge prices were anywhere between 1.7x to twice the regular fare while trying to get to POP shows – even on weeknights – is proof that not only are taxis still able to compete with them, but those surges are just another reason for cab companies to make a stink about Uber’s mere existence.
Biggest mistake you could make ahead of bigger shows: Getting there too close to the start
I pled guilty to this twice: first for the Kills and secondly for Angel Olsen, as I arrived at both shows roughly 15 to 20 minutes before their sets were due to start. This isn’t Osheaga where you can flip between stages fairly easily; the venues in this town are spread too far apart for that. Your best strategy is always to get there as early as possible – case in point: the round-the-block lineup outside the Rialto for Olsen, more than an hour before her first opening act.
Best non-musical activity: The Pop vs. Jock game
Making its return after last being played in 2014, Win Butler’s Pop vs. Jock basketball game was as entertaining and flat-out fun as ever, with Nikolai Fraiture (the Strokes), Chris Thomson (Vampire Weekend) and Martin Starr (actor on Silicon Valley) hitting the court as well. Although lacking the memorable half-time show and near-full crowd of two years ago, it was still a highly enjoyable ball game – not to mention Régine Chassagne returning on the organ, highlighted by her playing along to Skepta’s “Shutdown” during the pre-game warmups.
Biggest bummer about POP Montreal 2016: Missing out on certain acts
Though I was disappointed to miss out on the Kills and Angel Olsen like I mentioned earlier, those instances were completely my fault. What was more disappointing was having to miss out on performances due to where they were placed, and when. Due to unfortunate scheduling, I had to skip acts I otherwise would have checked out like Groenland, Cold Specks, Diet Cig and Sebastien Grainger. Luckily, I would catch one fairly hyped up show in Holy Fuck at the Fairmount Theatre, and they unquestionably delivered the goods.
Best thing about POP Montreal 2016: The sense of community
Even if I didn’t get to check out as many shows as I wanted or experience the festival to its fullest this year – having a full-time job throughout the week will do that to you – I’m always reminded of why I love POP to begin with: how small it feels, even if it’s spread all around different areas of a place as big as Montreal. The bands may not be household names, but the feeling of being able to congratulate bands at their merch table after their set and have friendly conversations with them – as well as potentially make new friends in the crowd and discover some amazing new music together – is always a great one, and one that big-time festivals in this city like Osheaga sorely lack by comparison.