It’s been said that one good thing leads to another, and so it was; while I was at Bar La Ritz the other week to review NOBUNNY, I spotted Calum Dowbiggin Glew and Matisse Gill of Frisky Kids in the front row. I’ve been loving these guy since I saw them play last September at Bar de Courcelle, and I asked them if they had any gigs coming up. They told me they were playing at La Vitrola for the EP release of Bodywash on November 27th, so I decided to check it out.
This was my first time at La Vitrola, the latest Montreal venue by the owners of Casa de Popolo and Divan Orange. It’s a sweet little upstairs space on Saint Laurent, a nice sized venue with a sizable dance floor (albeit a bit sparse on lighting, but that’s a photographer’s gripe!) The place had a nice little chill zone off to one side, but once the first act took the stage the floor quickly filled up.
Venus opened their set with a cover of Kylie Manogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” a great choice that got the crowd dancing and gave an idea of what the band was about. Venus are a five-piece act featuring Sophie Ogilvie-Hanson (vocals / guitar), Markus Stahl (backing vocals / guitar), Chris Steward (backing vocals / bass), Benn Gabriner (synths), and Paul Finckel (drums). They had an interesting blend of dreamy disco funk with an almost 60s Doors-like vibe on the keyboard, with pure, clean vocals over some funky bass lines and atmospheric guitar licks. Despite some soundboard issues with the bass and vocals overpowering the other elements a bit, I was pleasantly swept up by the mellow, sensual sounds of their original tracks like “Chasity” and “Hurt U,” reminiscent a bit of Sneaker Pimps but with more 80s synth stylings. I enjoyed this tripped-out take on disco and will definitely flip this the next time I’m expecting romantic company.
Next up were Frisky Kids doing what they do best, rocking the pants (or was it shirts?) off the crowd! This trio of Montrealers has perfected a tight, fun-loving, garage-rock sound that currently has heads banging and asses shaking all over Montreal. Calum and Matisse alternated vocals; their voices are raw and infectious, both possessing unique timbres. They were backed with beautiful vocal harmonies and powerhouse drum riffs by Matt Grant. The music is catchy, fun, fast-paced, and well-polished, with humorous, heartfelt lyrics. Every song feels like it could be a single. Watching them whip the audience into a twisting, pogoing, crowd-surfing frenzy, I got the feeling that I was witnessing young rockers just before they blow up big. They kept the crowd moving with song after song off their latest self-titled album before closing their set with their two best-known singles, “All The Girls” and “Enchanté (Won’t You Come Around)” (my personal pick for earworm of 2015.) It was hard to tell what the crowd was chanting more that night, “Enchanté!” or “Take it off!” The band obliged the crowd on both fronts, peeling off layers of plaid shirts during their set before ending it with their popular hit. Clearly their stage game is as tight as their sound and only getting better.
Bodywash followed next; the show was delayed by some technical setbacks, but the crowd cheered supportively, eager to hear the new EP material from this Montreal synth-pop outfit, which is a reformation of the group formerly known as Cult Classic. Once they got going, they built up a lovely, languid lather of sounds (as the band name suggests). Chris Steward returned to the stage from his earlier set with Venus, this time on vocals and guitar. Accompanied by Rosie Long Decter on vocals and synths, the duo produce a sound that is both delicate and dreamy, further elevated by eclectic contributions from Adam MacPherson (guitar), Tom Gould (bass), and Austin Pine (drums). The four-track EP was recorded and mixed at McGill Sound Recording Studios, and you can check out the single “Nothing At All” on Soundcloud. It has a chill Mac Demarco-vibe with a lot of intricate instrumentation laced throughout. There was some gentle, complex magic being woven on stage that night which was not lost on the crowd, who seemed lulled into a pleasant reverie that built towards a fantastic swell by the end.
Finally another Montreal act Fleece closed out the night. I gave their LP Scavenger a listen prior to the show; both Fleece and Frisky Kids made my top five albums of this year. I was pleasantly surprised that their live show veered away from the psychedelic, jazzy grunge sound on the album towards an almost afro-funk party vibe on stage that night. I later learned that there was a change in the line up for the evening, and Fleece regulars Mathew Rogers (vocals/keyboard), Gabe Miller (bass), and Ethan Soil (drums) were joined that night by guests Jameson Daniel (lead guitar), Megan Ennenberg (back-up vocals/ acoustic guitar), and Ben Mayer-Goodman (percussion). With this new energy present, the band provided something unexpected but highly danceable for the crowd. I was happy to hear “Aliens” and “Demanding” off the LP, along with some new material and some outright jamming. While I enjoyed the jazzy riffs at the front of the stage, clearly the party was in the back. Watching Soil and Mayer-Goodman rock it out on percussion with a full kit plus a bongo, shakers, and a surprisingly tasteful use of windchimes, it was hard not to feed off their combined energy and get into this groove.
It is clear from the diversity and complexity of sounds laid out that night that Montreal has a whole lot of exciting new music on the rise. It was a pleasure to sample this tasting board and I will be back for seconds.
Written and Photographed by Courtney O’Hearn
*edited by Kate Erickson