There was a blue bus parked outside Théâtre Fairmount. Etched into it, in small letters, were the words ‘Not For Hire.’ Was this an omen of things to come? Were these bands going to give me music that screamed ‘We haven’t sold out and never will’? I was excited to see.
I stepped into a dimly lit venue. It was large, spacious, and perfect for a dance party; I had hope the bands would encourage it. My only beef with the venue was the widespread use of tiny one-step drops that I figured were only there to make patrons twist an ankle. Or maybe it was a subtle and rather effective way to distinguish the drunks from others.
The first band up was Last Ex. I was excited to hear them starting on time. The first thing I noticed was the circular cacophony of instruments strewn around the stage. There were more effects processors than anyone had time to count. As they kicked into their opening track, I watched the drummer and co-founder Olivier Fairfield manipulating the stripped-down drum kit with his right hand. His left was hammering on an effects-saturated mini keyboard. Behind him was the guitarist and co-founder Simon Trottier. He played sentient notes on his guitar that filled the space by enlisting an army of effects, many that I’d never heard before. No song really ended; each bled into the next. Oh shit, Taylor Kirk rocks a double guitar! To me, their set sounded like personalized elevator music for William S. Burroughs.
I moved from my spot and ventured around a bit, eventually setting up camp beside the sound guy that was in the middle of the dance floor. The lights dimmed and he began pushing buttons. I looked toward the stage as a thumping bassline began energizing the crowd. I half expected to see the band rise up from a trap door in the middle of the stage.
The dude who I thought to be the sound guy turned out to be Jaime Fennelly, sole member of Mind Over Mirrors. He was rocking a piano with many consoles scattered about. He chose to do his set from the floor, tasting, rather than just feeling, his audience. After sufficient buildup, he stopped playing the keys and began twisting knobs like he was tweaking his first nipple. His style was mellow, yet energetic. The novelty of playing on the floor where only a handful of people could see him quickly wore off, however. As I meandered through the crowd, there weren’t many people paying attention to him anymore. His music had drifted into the background. It was still good, but he was no longer engaging.
When Tortoise hit the stage, they had two drum kits at the forefront. I was stoked. The crowd was treated to many instances of multi-drum track songs. John Herndon and John McEntire changed duties at will, often during songs. We got twice the prescribed amount of drummer faces throughout the night. (Not that they were the only ones.) Each member rotated through a plethora of instruments during their set. Normally, I’m not a fan of such tactics, as it breaks the flow of the song, but they did it flawlessly. Between each song, however, it felt empty. No one talked to the crowd from the stage. Say something. Speak, Rover. Make me feel loved.
Their third song was slow and slinky, anchored by bassist Douglas McCombs. He was drinking Tremblay. I was stoked to see him supporting a local brew, I guess. The crowd only then began getting into the show. To me, it felt like dancing music. To me, it felt like a magic carpet ride. Every part of me wanted to sway and bob. Montreal needs to learn how to cut a rug. They did come alive after each song, though. They clapped and jeered and encouraged the band into multiple encores.
The whole thing, from top to bottom, was a work of finesse. To me, they out-Phished Phish. As a guitarist myself, I must add that Jeff Parker blew me away. His styles would switch from smooth and subtle to blinding fire in an instant. His tone glowed. I appreciated his simple tip of the hat and thank you to the crowd after the encore.
No, these bands weren’t sell outs. They played their own brand of music all night; instrumental grooves, both soft spoken and raunchy. I, for one, had an amazing time.
Written by Aaron Deck
Photography by Randy Smith Captura Camera
*edited by Kate Erickson