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M for Montreal 2017 underway: Martha Wainwright, Leonard Cohen tribute & more at night 1

The 11th edition of M for Montreal is currently underway, having kicked things off Wednesday night (11/16) at historic Mile End venue Rialto Theatre. Usually the first night is entirely dedicated to on-the-rise performers, but this show was headlined by Martha Wainwright whose new album, Goodnight City, was just released last week. At this hometown release show, Martha was joined by Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) who produced the album and served as bandleader, with one hand on a grand piano and another on a stack of keyboards. Martha really let it all hang out, and it was a showstopper of a performance, capped by a trancendent cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel.” It would not be the last Cohen cover of the night. (Martha will play NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge on Friday, November 18 with Bernice).

Also in the main Rialto Theatre on Wednesday night: orchestral pop ensemble Groenland, and Joe Grass whose sax-fueled growl was somewhere between Tom Waits and Morphine.

Upstairs in the Rialto Hall were three newer acts, the best of which was Wilsen, who are based out of NYC but have ties to Canada and England. Montreal’s John Jacob Magistery mixed atmospherics and anthemicism, and Aliocha were technically impressive but a little lacking in personality and memorable tunes.

After Martha’s set, we were invited back up to Rialto Hall for a surprise tribute to Canadian icon Leonard Cohen whose death last week was still very fresh on Montreal minds and hearts. (The shrine outside his home was within walking distance of the theater.) Pulled together just a couple days before, it featured members and performances by Joe Grass, Plants and Animals, Ariane Moffatt, Marie Pierre Arthur, John Jacob Magistery, Leif Vollebeck, Katie Moore, Lil Andy, and Le Trouble, as well as poetry readings, anecdotes and more. It was still going when I left Rialto at 1 AM.

A few iPhone photos from M for Montreal day 1 are in the gallery above. If you’re in Montreal this week, stop by the BrooklynVegan showcase on Friday (11/18) at Casa Del Popolo with Cindy Lee, New Fries and more. Stay tuned for more coverage from the fest.

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