POP Montreal Day 3: Burt Bacharach, Chad VanGaalen

Here’s a Zen koan for you: Would it be a Burt Bacharach concert if Burt Bacharach wasn’t there? In the case of this 80-year old living legend, overshadowed by studio musicians and back-up singers in the daunting environs of an ornate church, the answer is, sadly: yes.

Sure, Burt was physically present, playing the piano, and every now and then he’d stand up to deliver a gravelly-voiced homily on love. Yet his performance last night resembled nothing so much as a nicely choreographed performance by a tribute band that just happened to include the man being eulogized in song. Maybe it was the fact that the set was comprised of weird, A.D.D. medleys that sewed snippets of the hits together; maybe it was, as I heard someone remarking later, that Bacharach’s earnestness detonated the average hipster’s irony meter. Regardless, it was an odd and occasionally uncomfortable bummer. (Irma Thomas, on the other hand, would have owned every square meter of this house of worship. Oh well.)

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We escaped and grabbed a cab to the Ukrainian Federation, where we caught the better part of Chad VanGaalen’s set. The solo artist was backed up by the members of opening act Women, and his dense, riotiously energetic set proved the high point of POP thus far. (VanGaalen’s far from under the radar, and I feel idiotic for admitting that I ‘discovered’ him at a cocktail party two hours before the concert. He was a nominee for last year’s Polaris Prize.) In this age of indie rock oversaturation it’s hard to find a way to make the basics work, but VanGaalen nails it. His voice recalls Sub Pop labelmates the Shins and Band of Horses, yet fractured and warbling, less echo-laden and arena anthemic. And VanGaalen wins bonus points for covering Brian Eno’s “Golden Hours,” trailing off at the end to scat-sing the instrumental interlude that he was unable to replicate. It’s inexcusable that I missed this guy for as long as I did; don’t make the same mistake.

The remainder of the evening was spent watching homosexual porn accompanied by a live musical soundtrack, which is not how we normally spend our Friday nights. It was quite a trip—violins, impromptu raps, plenty of cinematically inventive crotch shots--and worth a post of its own. Stay tuned.

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