An evening at Casa del Popolo, one of Montreal, Quebec’s many venues, is like attending a wilderness retreat on a distant planet. The place looks like the inside of a rustic cabin, but the music and musicians that inhabit the place are strange, fascinating, and otherworldly. It seems almost inevitable that David Bowie’s “Heroes” and “Stay” blasted from the speakers before and during sets, thus confirming that there is perhaps Life on Mars after all. This suits me just fine as I am a weirdo too and I felt right at home. The venue was the perfect fit to host 10 000 Horses and C H R I S T, two bands who sounded like they had just arrived via spaceship from an even further galaxy.
10 000 Horses were something straight out of Bowie’s imagination, and I mean that in the best possible way. I think he would have dug them. I know I did. The duo’s big, blonde hair, and the midnight-blue stage lighting that engulfed the entire venue, was visually striking and interstellar. The music was, of course, even better. I hate to compare their chemistry to the working relationship of Bowie and legendary musician\producer Brian Eno, but there no is denying the special similarity there. I am not sure if they are sisters, but musically they have, or should have, a bond for life.
Lady Nite laid the groundwork with her cosmic, synthesized textures, avant-garde loops, and simple drum beats while lead singer Velvet layered on top with her versatile ukulele, which played the role of sludgy guitar, country-tinged acoustic, and a wall of sound in its own right. It was all very impressive, but what good is that without songs? Oh yeah, they have those too! “This Too Shall Pass,’’ from their recent E.P. Le Grand Silence, was easily my favourite of the night and deserves to be heard in much larger venues. Its live incarnation had Velvet gently crooning into a gradual, power-punch of a howl that came with the words, “I’m still hurting!” It was a moment that was both empowering and devastatingly vulnerable. I felt like I was alone in my room yet at the same time completely smothered by the crowd. Not many singers can make you feel such things.
Up to this point, you are a probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned C H R I S T. They were the headliners after all! Well, to put it lightly… I wasn’t a huge fan of their set. 10 000 Horses had great and challenging songs, passionate performances, and the full visual package. For me, C H R I S T were missing a few things. I mean, it’s clear that these guys are very talented at creating an atmosphere, but it has to go somewhere, especially when it seems that these are supposed to be full-fledged songs that dare to hit the ten-minute mark. The set’s opener, “Ornement,’’ would have been a fantastic introduction to a multi-section progressive rock suite in a similar vein to a classic Tool track. Instead, it built and built, with the same few chords and then… nothing happened! It was like holding in a sneeze or hearing a well-constructed joke with no punchline.
Now, this is polarizing stuff, because a lot of the audience truly loved it; hypnotized in a sweet haze of oral magnificence that I wish I could have been in on. It was all very frustrating because the instrumentation leading up to it wasn’t half bad, but I couldn’t get past the anti-climactic endings. It doesn’t help that the band doesn’t have a vocalist. Still, some improvements in songwriting would not have made that such a glaring omission. At the very least, their playing was extremely tight, and their performances were often inspired and heartfelt. What it all comes down to was that I just wasn’t a big fan of the music.
Although I didn’t enjoy every aspect of Friday night’s show, I must say it was refreshing to witness acts who fearlessly challenged the audience taste (including mine), and stuck to their artistic integrity. Ever since David Bowie (last time I mention him, I swear) died, I have been seriously worried about the current state of popular music. Will we ever hear anything remotely like him ever again? I don’t know if Pop will ever recover but as long as there are bands out there, like 10 000 Horses and C H R I S T, who are trying something outside the norm then I think those who are willing to search for gold, will find it. After all, this too shall pass.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy