Register Tuesday | June 18 | 2019

Pop Montreal 2007: Day one, the morning after

Bleary-eyed bliss with Patti Smith, lockstep weirdness with Pere Ubu, and afterparty bangers.

Patti Smith and A Silver Mount Zion, Ukrainian Federation Patti Smith ambled grinning into the cool beige and grey box of a McGill opera studio two stories underground yesterday. With her ragged shirt, warm gaze and faded hair, Smith was an incongruous, organic presence in a high-tech bunker designed to resist the incursion of sound. When photographers clustered in front of her, whirring and flashing, the sixty-year-old musician revealed an enormous Polaroid camera older than many of the journalists in attendance, cranked out the bellows, and good-naturedly snapped back at them. Talkative without being urgent, she turned one-sided questions into two-way conversations with journalists; after all, she is still a literary-minded rock fan like many of them, and played down any claims to virtuosity in performance or familiarity with current pop music – “I listen to Jimi Hendrix and Wagner, what do I know”. Instead, Smith drew an analogy between her compatriots and the great Detroit Pistons teams of the 1980’s and early 90’s, rough and workmanlike in contrast to the sleazy rock gods and slick Los Angeles Lakers squads that swaggered through arenas during the Reagan years. Smith may have, as she claimed, “crawled onto the stage as a fan, with no particular talents”, but she exhibited some very particular talents in front of a worshipful crowd at the Ukrainian Federation.  After reading a poem solo, the band picked up their instruments and began moving into a song, only to have Smith cut it short just as a mood was beginning to form as she didn’t feel comfortable playing the acoustic guitar.  The eight members of A Silver Mount Zion, the backup band that she had met just a few hours before, took it all in stride. Throughout the night, they showed an awesome control of dynamics, scaling clouds of noise one moment and softening to a single resinous violin note the next.  Between musical numbers, when Smith shared poems and exhortations with the audience, the band put down their instruments and sat on the stage, many with their eyes closed and sly smiles on their faces, and took it all in like the rest of us. A Silver Mount Zion play facing one another in an open-ended circle, amplifiers ringing the stage like a ruined wall of grey stone, and Smith seemed perfectly comfortable to stand in the centre and be blown along by their great distorted storm.  Audience members shouted questions and entreaties, but Smith was not interested in giving instructions.  When an audience member called out and asked if we could stand, she shrugged, leaned out to us over the front of the stage, and suggested “You can do whatever you want, and if somebody doesn’t like it, you can give them five bucks and tell them to go home.” Pere Ubu, Théâtre National Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas is a markedly different sort of person, remote and self-contained, but took a similar tack, coming off as expressive and powerful but not in the least bit urgent.  The band was impeccably precise, sounding like the soundtrack to a Martian attack, Robert Wheeler’s synthesizer and theremin swooping and growling over guitarist Keith Moliné’s titanic surf runs.  A contingent of young men whooped and moshed in acknowledgement of early classics that were likely older than they were, accompanied by the appreciative nods of the studious greying set – “ex-punkoids entering their midlife crisis” in Thomas’ own words – posted near the soundboard.  In a long black coat and leather hat, the massive and bearded Thomas struck an inscrutably Wellesian figure, stopping two songs to correct his words or admonish the crowd for clapping along, closing his eyes for most of the show and sitting down heavily during instrumental breaks to make his steady way through several beers.  Most in attendance seemed ready to give him the credit of his long tenure, and let him be as finicky as he pleased. Blingmod, Giovanni Marks, Radio Radio, and Daybi, Club Coda The night and the expectations loosened up considerably as people made their way to the afterparty on a stretch of Saint-Laurent with heavy equipment strewn everywhere between shoals of concrete and gravel.  When I came in through the blank steel door of the recently-opened Coda nightclub, Vancouver MC Daybi was performing on the low platform in front of the room. He failed to make much of an impression and had way too many of his boys onstage with him, hype men without the hype. Things changed quickly when Moncton’s Radio Radio bounced onto the stage, at around 1 AM, two of them taking up laptops, turntables and and samplers to knock out bloops and booming thwaps, and two MCs moving to the front of the stage to trade lines and take swift control of the crowd.  You have not heard the last of Radio Radio. Nor have you heard the last of Giovanni Marks, the Los Angeles MC also known as Subtitle. He accompanied Montreal loopjockey Blingmod, who put raps like Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” through the grinder and cranked out club bangers. Marks’ mind operates in a different layer of the atmosphere than that of most MCs: the wordsmith also known as “the Thyzzaphist” has angles and topics that few rappers are even aware of, and in a short year of being in the mix with Montreal artists seems like a permanent feature of the landscape.  He spent much of the set with his long-limbed form folded up behind a speaker, dispensing wisdom through a wireless microphone and occasionally emerging to lope around the dancefloor, exhorting the audience into understanding that “the whole room is a stage”.