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8 musical highlights from POP Montreal 2014

September 23, 2014

For fans of live music in Canada, POP Montreal stands out like a beacon.

Stretching over five days, 600 artists of every stripe take over Montreal’s music venues. Originally founded to focus on indie and new artists, the festival now has a truly international draw and boasts several heavy-hitters, all the while staying true to its DIY roots.

Spread out over forty venues around the city, it’s a hell of a struggle to attend all the shows you want to. Here are eight artists, big and small, who impressed us mightily over the weekend.

Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek has been releasing great album as Sun Kil Moon for years; last year, he hit a career high with the dark and soulful Benji. He kicked off POP Montreal with his full band, selling out the airy confines of the Ukrainian National Federation. Focusing on his latest record, the ever-entertaining Ohio man chided the attentive crowd for being “Too nice! There’s nobody I can pick on!” There’s a reason for that, with the singer holding the crowd in the palm of his hand with tracks like “I Know It’s Pathetic…” and “Richard Ramirez Died of Natural Causes.” These songs infused the air with a slow-moving beauty, suggesting the man might well be at the height of his powers. The backing band allows him to put aside his ever-present Spanish guitar and simply stand and sing, awkward but splendid, for several closing tracks. A wonderful way to start a festival.

Against Me!

photo via POP Montreal by Susan Moss

The Florida punks took Metropolis to a place of pure rock on Thursday night. Laura Jane Grace knows how to get a serious sing-along going—hands were thrown to the roof and the floor was packed out as the group drew heavily on their latest album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. There’s no doubt they’re incredibly tight by now, having honed their skills with some serious large-scale touring around North America in recent years. Bodies flew and the crowd roared as Grace smiled, “We got one more…Ok, two more!” Pure, simple fun.

Little You Little Me

Little You Little Me provided one of those happy moments when you walk into a bar and just totally dig what you’re hearing. The Barfly on St. Laurent is one of the smaller little hidey-holes on the strip, and the Saint John, NB group very quickly had bodies bouncing up and down it. Coming across like a hairy mix of Black Flag and the John Spencer Blues Explosion, Little You Little Me was all about the power and the glory, plowing through a highly enjoyable set. They’re tight, they know how to write a hook, and they know how to rock in confined spaces.

Chuggo

photo via POP Montreal by Susan Moss

When you’re told a ChuggO show is happening around the corner, you just have to drop in. As it turns out, it can be a pretty wild time. The rapper, infamous for that “Ah C’mon” video, just got out of jail and is celebrating at the scuzziest dive in town, TRH Bar on St Laurent. As a fist-fight spilled over from the half-pipe into the crowd, the wayward rapper got down to business, pouring liquor down the front row’s throats and extolling his fellow MCs to further exploits. As it turns out, these MCs are actually damn good, and they supported the man through a set that veered from makeshift mayhem to total car-crash.

Windhand

The Virginia group were one of the heavier groups to perform at this year’s festival. Taking their inspiration from Sabotage era Black Sabbath, they all but pounded Café Campus into dust with a selection of cuts from their recent Soma release. Dorthia Cottrel’s floating vocals are what truly set the band apart. They have a rhythm section like an atomic clock, absolutely on the button all the time, and layers of droning power piled onto the swaying crowd. A song like “Orchid” showcases them at their best. They may well be one trick ponies, but damn, that’s a hell of a trick.

Whirr

The Californian group played to a packed house on Friday night at Bar Le Ritz. Coming from the grand and noisy tradition of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, Whirr have the power and they have the fuzz. The group are gearing up for the release of their new record, Sway, and that’s exactly what the crowd did, moved in waves to the powerful, throbbing noise. Despite the utterly indistinct vocals, the band weaved a soothing cocoon of sound around the venue. It’s all too easy to close your eyes and be lulled away.

Dessa

Dessa knows how to help a crowd let loose, encouraging the night’s crowd at La Vitrola to get into things, “even if the person next to you is texting.” She launched into a set packed full of energy, reaming off rhymes with ease and grace. In a small venue like this, you could feel the power of her songs bouncing off the walls. Seeing Dessa with a full band is an experience, and it completely rounds out her style.

Deafheaven

Deafheaven were one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend. With pretty much everyone and their uncle creaming themselves over their most recent Sunbather record, the newly refurbished Bar Le Ritz was sold out and then some for the American black metal/shoegaze ensemble, and a lucky 200 or so caught a set that drew heavily from that album. Singer George Clarke threw himself around with careless abandon, with the chorus to “Dream House” being perfectly echoed by the crowd. Clarke soon took to the air as packed hands held him up. The pitch-perfect mix and a new track (“From the Kettle onto the Coil”) were the cherries on top. An intense crescendo to Saturday night – and the festival itself.

Check out AUX’s full gallery of photos from the festival right here.

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