photos by Alexandre Bédard; words & additional photos by Bill Pearis
The final day of M for Montreal is traditionally the busiest, with an entire afternoon of Francophone bands and then the big show at the Metropolis theater. This year was even more packed, with a second tiny stage that was for "international delegates" only in Metropolis' Savoy Room to keep us entertained between acts at the main show.
Our badges also got us in to see M83 who were playing around the corner from the Metropolis at Société des arts technologiques (Le SAT) which was without a doubt the best show of the weekend. M83 play two sold-out shows in NYC this week: tonight (11/22) at Webster Hall and tomorrow (11/23) at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I'm a pretty casual fan of the band but the combination of great material, a fantastic live band (including keyboardist/vocalist Morgan Kibby), plus a killer light show and sound added up to one of the best shows of the year. The crowd was way into it and you couldn't not be swept along. If you can weasel yourself into one of these shows, I highly recommend doing so as M83 are firing on all cylinders right now. Not sure how much of the light show was M83's and how much was the venue's but it certainly made a giant impact for those of us who didn't force our way to the front.
There were a couple other bands who played the final night of M who are swinging through NYC soon so let's hit them first. Karkwa headlined the Metropolis event, which might have even been a small show for them. Even before winning the Polaris Prize last year for their album Les Chemins de Verre, Karkwa were selling out 3000 capacity venues in Montreal. Which makes the fact they're playing Rockwood Music Hall on December 8 all the more crazy. There has to be fans driving down from Montreal for the chance to see them in such a tiny space.
I saw Karkwa at M for Montreal three years ago when I dubbed them French-Canadian Radiohead but that tag doesn't really stick so much anymore. With Les Chemins de Verre the band have more easily digestible song structure but retain that soaring, widescreen sound. Yes, they sing in French which is the main reason why America has yet to care, but if you can listen to Sigur Ros and not worry about what they're saying, you can do it here. Karkwa are compelling live, absolutely worth checking out in such an intimate setting.
The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers were the other highlight of the Metropolis show. I was impressed last year, but the band have just gotten better as performers thanks to near-constant touring. That touring brings them to Joe's Pub on December 7 and Union Pool on December 8.
While not the type of music I normally listen to (KEXP/KCRW alt-folk), there is no denying they're skilled songwriters and a knockout live band. And clever arrangers too, prone to inventive instrumentation. In addition to a full-time harpist, Andrew Barr plays a "threaded" acoustic guitar which allows for a bowed-like sound, and homemade guitars and banjos. They really are great live and it won't be long before they are playing much bigger venues.
The rest of the Metropolis show was filled with Big In Montreal acts: Stonesy rockers Galaxie, Random Recipe's crunchy hip hop, the lovely and talented Marie-Pierre Arthur (very Patrick Watson-ish), and Arianne Moffat.
Half Moon Run
In the Savoy Room, the "international delegates" got a second shot at seeing Half Moon Run who had wowed a lot of folks the day before. The room was packed for them and it's rare that a crowd of industry folk demand an encore but we did just that. Expect to be hearing a lot more about this trio soon.
The Savoy Room also had two sets for D'Eon who looked like Andrew WK but but whose music was an eccentric mashup of slo-jam R&B, mid-90s jungle, '80s New Beat and goth. It was weird, fun, most of the room was not paying attention but I kinda loved it. You can stream his album Palinopsia at the bottom of this post and D'Eon's got a split-12" out now with Grimes as well. Look out for this guy.
During the day Saturday was the annual Francophone showcase at Cafe Campus featuring eight bands, none of whom sang in English. Highlights were Fanny Bloom who fronts the kitschy, very French-sounding La Paterie Rose but whose solo material (the album's out early next year) was much to my taste. She's a real charmer.
I also liked Karim Oullet who opened the show and brought a bit of world music flair to his set. We also got the kooky hip hop group Alclaire Ensemble who all wore silk masks; the Franco-Celtic sounds of Canailles; Alfa Rococco who are like a Montreal Roxette (sort of, less cheese though); Peter Peter who reminded me of The Gin Blossoms (a little dull); Jimmy Hunt played Chanson-style folk (pretty good); and Alexandre Désilets whose set I missed due to a need for food. It's hard to pay attention on an empty stomach.
More photos from M for Montreal's Saturday showcases, a stream of the D'Eon album and tour dates for Karkwa and The Barr Brothers are below...
Karkwa - 2011 Tour Dates
Dec 1 Ritual Nightclub Ottowa, ON
Dec 3 The Grad Club Kingston, ON
Dec 6 Schuba's Chicago, IL
Dec 7 Brillobox Pittsburgh, PA
Dec 8 Rockwood Music Hall NYC
Dec 17 Metropolis, Montreal QC
The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers - 2011 tour Dates
Nov 22 Providence Performing Arts Center Providence, RI
Nov 30 Higher Ground South Burlington, VT
Dec 01 Cafe 939 Boston, MA
Dec 02 StageOne Fairfield, CT
Dec 03 One Longfellow Square Portland, ME
Dec 06 Jammin Java Vienna, VA
Dec 07 Joe's Pub New York, NY
Dec 08 Union Pool Brooklyn, NY
Dec 09 World Cafe Live Philadelphia, PA
Dec 10 River Street Jazz Café Wilkes-Barre, PA