POP Montreal Day 1: Winter Gloves, Vetiver, The Clips, Woodhands, An Orgy of Keytar

Categories: POP Montreal

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Last night's POP Montreal opening party kicked off in an appropriately contrarian locale: a cavernous poutain-and-pool dive downtown. Attendees scarfed freebie hot dogs and beer under the florescent lights, carb-loading for the inaugural night of live shows. (Proving that you can never really escape New York, Todd P was there. For the record: he did not appear to be eating from a styrofoam vat of gravy and french fries.) The official series of POP posters were hung from the rafters, designed—as in previous years—by illustrative genius and All Around Nice Guy, Jack Dylan, who we'll be checking in with later in the week. And like most sprawling music festivals, the biggest dilemma was figuring out the best way to wade through too many options.

Our own evening started off with a trek a few blocks eastward to the beautiful La Tulipe theater to catch a local act, Winter Gloves. First strike against them: having a debut album that shares its title with a Nick Hornby novel. Second strike: a penchant for semi-tortured pop falsetto, which didn't seem to bother the gaggle of adolescent girls mooning at the lip of the stage. (It may be why a publicist friend compared the band—admiringly—to Maroon 5.) Winter Gloves was followed by the self-described "aggressive trip-hop" of Beast—think Portishead, but a bit angrier, more androgynous, and vaguely Wagnerian. We fled in fear, missing the headlining act, You Say Party! We Say Die! (That may have been our last chance to see them in a while; as I previously reported in the Voice, YSP!WSD! is one of many Canadian groups who've had less than amicable run-ins with the border authorities. Let's just say they won't be visiting New York anytime soon.)

Next stop was La Sala Rossa, an appropriately crimson bar and venue above a Spanish tapas restaurant. The big draw was Valleys (formerly There Were Valleys), a bedroom pop ensemble whose charmingly layered songs recalled the mellower side of the Califone / Modest Mouse collab, Ugly Casanova, mixed with a bit of Ida. They abided by the "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" doctrine perfected by their Montreal forebearers, throwing in a French horn here, an xylophone there. (Another cherished Montreal habit: playing simple percussion while standing up. This never gets old.) Valleys is evidently releasing an album in early 2009—this interview sheds a bit of light on the band's future plans.

Headlining act Vetiver, from San Francisco, was a big, wet, alt-country disappointment. There's certain genres that don't need any new and unneccessary additions, and plaintive, Americana roots is one of them. We whiled away the set's boredom by deciding which band member we'd fight, if given the chance. Verdict? The bass player, pictured below—though it's very possible this was due to jealousy of his sweet corduroy blazer.

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After the set we made our way a few blocks south to the Portuguese Association to catch The Clips and Woodhands. (Another boon for POP Montreal: the reliance on offbeat cultural clubs and other eccentric spaces, in addition to the tried-and-true bar circuit. A few years back I caught French musician and occasionally Feist collaborator, Gonzales, dressed as a monk and playing experimental piano in an ornate Catholic church.)

The Clips, from Vancouver—"no e," they clarified—mixed a frantic, skittish Thom Yorke vibe with some respectable dance-punk moves and plenty of hand claps. (The similarities occasionally got too close for comfort—at one point I was sure they were playing a Radiohead cover that, turns out, was most definitely not a Radiohead cover.) They were also reminiscent of our own Annuals, though they shared that band's same Achille's heel: well-wrought, quirky indie rock can get a bit boring if it's played too safe, no matter how many distorted synths and heartwarming-cameos-from-violin-playing-younger-cousins you throw out there.

The night ended with Woodhands, a drum-and-keytar duo who proved that White Boy Electro Funk is alive and well these days, and that all gawky, pale dudes with glasses can one day grow up to be Chromeo (or at least the Rapture.) No full-on dance party ensued—but it was only Wednesday, after all, and everyone (i.e., myself) was fairly worn out from air travel and chugging lukewarm bottles of Griffon Blonde.

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Another evening of music to come—plus a "POPTail" cocktail party, not to mention a certain VP debate at 9pm. (While it may be amazing to Americans, our Northern neighbors have their own political election cycle to attend to—one that has nothing to do with ours. That said, people are apparently pissed that the government has scheduled Quebec political debates on the same night as the Palin-VS.-Biden showdown. The Canadians want their hockey mom.)

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