M for Montreal 2012: day 1 review (Suuns, Half Moon Run, Blue Hawaii, Mozart’s Sister, Eight and a Half + more)
by Bill Pearis
Suuns at Casa Del Popolo, 11/14/2012
The 2012 M for Montreal festival kicked off last night in its namesake city with a pair of conjoined shows at La Sala Rossa and Casa Del Popolo which is just across the street on Saint Laurent Boulevard. The evening began with instrumental quartet Esmerine whose neo-classical sound included cello, an orchestral xylophone (which was sometimes bowed) and elaborate projections that were somewhere between shadow puppet theatre and animation. I have a feeling the short set times M allows (most bands got 25 minutes) was a hindrance for Esmerine whose music hinted at Godspeed builds... but without that type of explosive payoff. Would love to see a proper set.
Blue Hawaii at Casa Del Popolo, 11/14/2012
Next I shuffled across the street to catch duo Blue Hawaii, featuring Raphaelle Standell-Preston from Braids on vocals/loop pedals and Alexander Cowan who manned a bank of samplers. I'd missed them at CMJ (and at our own CMJ show in 2011) and am usually a little wary of electronic acts like this in a live setting but the two managed to be pretty compelling, thanks in no small part to the stage presence of Raph who clearly enjoys being able to move around more, even if her repeated tries at getting the crowd of "international delegates" (journalists, music supervisors, etc) to dance. Certainly the music warranted it, their upcoming album Untogether imagines a world where the Cocteau Twins were produced by The Aphex Twin. There's also a sonic similarity to many of their Abutus Records labelmates (Grimes, D'Eon) but Blue Hawaii have their own sound.
Eight and a Half at Sala Rossa, 11/14/2012
Back over at Sala Rossa, it was Eight and a Half, a project from Dave Hamelin and Liam O'Neil of The Stills along with Justin Peroff of Broken Social Scene. Their debut album came out earlier this year and is pretty good, with the kind of drama the Stills were known but set against throbbing analog synths. Live, it was a little underwhelming though Hamelin gave it his best, still swinging for the bleachers, persona-wise, throwing himself into his guitar in a way maybe the music didn't warrant. Or maybe it was just the crowd.
Mozart's Sister @ Sala Rossa, 11/14/2012
Next up was Mozart's Sister, the solo project from Caila Thompson-Hannant of Think About Life (and Shapes and Sizes before that) which brings and electro twist to R&B style pop. Anyone who has seen her other bands live before knows she has an amazing set of pipes and a magnetic stage presence to match, which is more than enough to carry the minimal live show which included a guy on bass and a second singer (last night was the debut of this configuration). It was also enough to make up for the sound issues that were clearly frustrating the hell out of Thompson-Hannant, who cracked jokes through her annoyance.
Suuns at Casa Del Popolo, 11/14/2012
Once again time to head over to catch Suuns at Casa Del Popolo which is probably the smallest room (holding maybe 75 people) the band have played in some time. Most of the set was new tunes from their upcoming sophomore LP, Images du Futur, which is out in March. These showcase sets can often stifle the energy out of bands, but Suuns crushed their 25 minutes, their menacing groove seemingly intensified. Powered by amazing drummer, the new songs sounded great and the set was capped off by Zeroes QC standout "Arena" which had singer Ben Shemie going into guitar attack mode overdrive. Easily the best set of the night. They play a more proper show on Friday (11/16) at Sala Rossa with D'Eon, Sun Airway and Memoryhouse that I may have to make time for. If you want a taste of Images du Futur, Suuns just premiered the first track, "Edie's Dream," yesterday and you can stream it via YouTube below.
Half Moon Run @ Sala Rossa, 11/14/2012
The night ended with a headlining set from Half Moon Run who played M last year as unknowns (and many folks' discovery of the week) but clearly that status has changed in the last year, which has seen the band at SXSW (where they played one of our Hotel Vegan day parties) and toured with Metric. There were genuine screaming fans there last night who sang along to "Call Me in the Afternoon," "Full Circle," and "Dark Eyes," standout cuts from their debut album which came out earlier this year. The band's onstage confidence (which was already pretty high last year) has grown exponentially. With memorable songs (somewhere between folk rock and Radiohead), three part harmonies and a stage show that features much instrument switching and extra percussion, they seem ready for bigger stages, in Canada at least. Next stop, America?
Today's (11/15) line-up includes names I know (PS I Love You, Young Galaxy, Mac Demarco, No Joy, Cosmetics, Memoryhouse) and some I don't (Folly and the Hunter, Whitehorse, Kandle, Maia).
Stream that new Suuns track below.
Suuns - "Edie's Dream"