The one logistical straightjacket of this festival is the programming glitch of putting on too many shows at once. Late Friday night, I hovered over a trough of scotch at the Green Room in the hope that this would help with my decision-making. Spurred on by further examination of the timetable and by an off-key, balloon-wielding band that wanted to be from Toronto, I realised that headliner Roky Erikson was due onstage any moment down the boulevard.
So I burst into the night, flagged a taxi and headed south (it felt like south), and chatted to the cabbie as the scotch began to warm my cockles. He was impressed with the reach of this music festival into his poker haunts and TV football venues that have been run(down) for decades as non-profit social clubs and community organizations. Impressed, I say, but also worried. I sympathized with him but did not have the heart to tell him his game rooms were on their way out of his hands. If Montreal is anything like the shires at home, artists are the shock troops of gentrification, and the only way to get that roof fixed is by charging overeducated indie rock kids fifteen quid to see mental patients on a day pass perform. Sorry, mate.
Roky Erickson and the Explosives, Associacao Portuguesa
Roky Erickson's contagious cult memes packed this joint so well that it could have been Austin, Texas before it slipped into a seedy American War Veteran's hall vibe.Roky hit the stage ghost-faced under his mental institution haircut, and rather than look at us, he opened his vacant eyes backward into his abnormal brain. His expressions twitched from pain to ecstasy with a wiggle of his lip as he tore through "Two-Headed Dog" and "Creature with the Atom Brain." It was your basic fifties sci-fi blues-rock, but the legend failed to move us. Roky may be the well-spring of the garage rock phenomenon and possibly even Devo and the Angry Samoans, but I couldn't help check my schedule as I watched this rehabilitated acid casuality try to move a crowd with a psychotic crescendo of a trump card (in 'You're Gonna Miss Me') that would be better viewed on youtube as Roky's current version could not connect with the window pane lightning of 1966.
Royal Mountain Band, Starvin Hungry, Café Campus
Virtually everything on the schedule at 11pm was vetoed by Gin and Tonics in another Portuguese football hangout, where the discussion about Montreal's je ne sais quoi and why the fact that so much music is coming from a town where no one speaks English is anybody's guess.
At first glance, it seems to me they've done away with all the upwardly mobile louts and have replaced them with very sexy French people. My traveling companions of the New York and Los Angeles variety were aching to find something very 'Montreal' - something worth raving about to their offices at home - so we headed over to see The Royal Mountain Band, a vintage 70's rock/soul/R&B five-piece. Watching them was a throwback to my Alan Price days, when I lived in the smoky Soho cabarets dizzy with these sounds. The Royal Mountain touch on the Small Faces, but I suppose this will be lost on Hollywood which has cast these good men as The Band in the upcoming biopic about Robert Zimmerman, featuring Kate Blanchet as one the many Dylans.
We get, into the bargain, Starvin Hungry, another Montreal staple that happens to have the best sounding snare drum I've heard in these parts. I had to close my eyes to protect myself from the spectacle of the auto mechanic frontman that reminds me of my homicidal brother-in-law. My perineum ached through the entire set and if I hadn't spilled scotch all over the rest of my contracts, I'd have signed them on the spot.
It was late and there were no more bands scheduled, but I was up for another and so I started to think. Montreal, Montreal, Montreal. The only contacts I've ever had with this town were made back in its heyday when the place was making us money with Men Without Hats. I decided to call my old mate, Denis, who told me he was having a party. Pop Montreal party, no less. 'Small world,' I said.
Pop Montreal Afterparty [location withheld]
I wound up at Mr.Wolfe's loft on St-Laurent. I met Denis back in '79 when he was just a scruffy monitor guy for the Hats on their first trip to London. They were playing a showcase for Virgin Publishing and Steve Pross, who signed them to Statik Records. That scruffy soundman has come a long way and has a nice little studio built up around a baby grand, filled with local rock stars and leggy women.
We gathered in the studio, sunrise on the make, and smoked, snorted and drank as local piano man Patrick Watson held court with Gary Lucas and a songbird by the name of Denitia Odigie. Watson respectably hammered out Beach Boys tunes and then slipped into something a little more comfortable. Oh, and Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes, who are very loved here, very ubiquitous, very good looking, and are the only little Montreal friends with whom I can commiserate on the loss of Syd Barrett and most of my hair.
Over at the bar area, I and my gang of heavyweight cronies were recounting the bad old days when Montreal was a backwater in the Age of Metal. I tried to be sociable and kind to the ladies, but by that point my breath was offending the under-thirties and the bar was out of mint schnapps, so I made my exit.
I headed back to my hotel, ambling after a morning gull that had stolen my last cigarette. I laid my scotch-sodden recording contracts across the radiator to dry before falling into a forgettable dream.
(We received a call from the MUC Police at 1:40 p.m. the next day, informing us that Mr. Fetch was in a holding cell after having been discovered by children in the morning, sleeping on a pizza box two blocks East of his hotel.- Ed.)