Back in its first year, 2002, Pop Montreal helped me discover the city’s nooks and crannies via music, and the festival still manages to find new venues for bands to make their own. Pop Montreal’s venue choices have included the tried and true, but it’s the unusual and interesting locales that have stuck in my memory. Maybe that’s how memory works though, a strange environment just solidifying good music and a good time…
10 Great Pop Montreal Venues…
1. I feel like the most transcendent shows I’ve seen have been at the Ukrainian Federation (pictured above)– something about sitting in semi-comfortable wooden theatre seats, talking with people, staring at the painted backdrop on stage (a forest scene, a lake, mountains, all memories are a water-colour blur), waiting for music that defies categorization: Joanna Newsom, Faust, Van Dyke Parks, Destroyer, Tune-yards and many, many more.
2. The acoustics of certain churches are often better suited to choral harmonies and silent worship than rock n’ roll bombast, but every Pop Montreal show I’ve seen at Eglise St. Jean Baptiste on Rachel has left me feeling closer to God regardless: Patti Smith, Burt Bacharach, Buffy Sainte-Marie, all classic and wonderful.
3. And sometimes a band completely eclipses a venue. In the category of “bands that blow the doors off a venue so hard that they’ll be headlining doorless outdoor festivals within the next year”: yeah, I saw Interpol in 2002 at The Jupiter Room, when the “stage” was a three-inch riser in the back of the room, next to the bathroom hallway. The place was understandably packed and sweaty as the band lit into songs from their debut Turn On The Bright Lights.
4. In 2002, the Mile End neighbourhood wasn’t the hipster mecca its become (and even that’s arguable), but it was on its way – an indication of that was the somewhat defunct Rialto Theatre opened its doors to Pop Montreal, holding promise as a future show venue. And though the elaborate old theatre’s evolution has been slow (this year has been a good one though!), inaugurating it with The Dears and Stars, along with some of burgeoning Broken Social Scene, was a pretty sweet move.
5. On the arguable border of Mile End and the Plateau, rock institutions La Sala Rossa and Casa del Popolo have seen everything and everyone over the years, at Pop Montreal and otherwise. Lee Fields and the Expressions, Sharon Jones, Naomi Shelton, The Unicorns, Arcade Fire, and thousands more in the soft red glow of Sala and in the once-cramped (and we loved it, right?) quarters of Casa, now oh-so-roomy with its second space dedicated to shows.
6. When I wandered onto the second-floor lounge of the Armoury des Canadian Grenadier Guards on a sunny Sunday afternoon in 2006 while Puces Pop craft fair and record sale went on below, I didn’t expect to see Patrick Watson pounding on a grand piano in the middle of the room. I remember thinking: This beautiful weirdo needs to be huge. A couple of years later he was on the main outdoor stage at Jazz Fest.
7. I’m guessing that this Thursday’s Arcade Fire show at Quartiers des Spectacles will go off without a hitch, but outdoor shows can be unpredictable – unstable autumn weather, unstable power supplies, unstable musicians who rarely see daylight – but the Pop Montreal all-afternoon lineups at Parc des Amériques have always been a good time. Featuring local and Canadians acts, and surprise drop-ins from others, the free shows were a good place to make discoveries while meeting up with friends and maybe even resting a little.
8. Dive bars are often the places to go if you want to be surprised – delighted surprised or baffled surprised, it’s a risk worth taking. In 2005, in a bout of venue hopping, I found myself at Missy Bar, these days all spiffed up and lacking in stale-beer smell, but those days, rough around every edge, well, rough right into the middle. But that’s where You Say Party! We Say Die! made a fan of me. This year, check out L’Esco, 3 Minots, Barfly and other holes in the wall. And, not a dive bar but definitely a dive, Cinema L’Amour hosted a brilliant night a few years ago: locals L’il Andy and Ideal Lovers covering Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night.
9. Getting out of the Plateau and Mile End – to northern venues like Église St-Édouard, CFC and Il Motore and to southern venues like the Corona Theatre is a necessity to fully experience Pop. The beautiful Little Burgundy/St-Henri theatre is located next door to restaurants and bars and, if you’re too satiated, has a full balcony for lounging. The Corona is a friend to sit-down folk concerts and more obscure sounds, like 2004’s Les Georges Leningrad and Tim Hecker show. This year, the Corona hosts three great shows: Steven Malkmus, Laura Marling and Girls.
10. Loft parties in unnameable loft spaces, late at night, often poorly lit and even more poorly ventilated, with bands and DJs of note taking the stage by surprise – we wouldn’t have it any other way. The spirit continues in 2011 with late-night parties at Église St-Édouard and possibly elsewhere… keep your ear to the ground.
Pop Montreal, September 21-25, 2011