Reviews \

Hot Hot Heat, Black Mountain Close Pop Montreal

MONTREAL: Patti Smith, Sunset Rubdown, Kill the Lights, and more preach to the converted as the sixth installment of the fest winds down.

Mon dieu! In a whirlwind of sweat, hair, and soul, days three(Oct. 5) and four (Oct. 6) of Pop Montreal brought us back to a timewhen holiness and raunchiness were accepted as two sides of the humancondition. Punk priestess Patti Smith packed a 19th-century church,while Montreal metal miracles Priestess preached a hardcore gospelperhaps less cerebral, but far more wet. Sunset Rubdown and BlackMountain climbed into sexy ’70s darkness, reminding us that good musicnever fails to inspire change, lust, and head banging — our necks arestill blissfully sore. On day five (Oct. 7), thunderstorms didn’t drownout the pulse of the festival’s last hours, as headliners the Nationaland Hot Hot Heat brought out a healthy crowd. But as the raindropsmisted the streets, we tapped into our inner joie-de-vivre resourcesfor this last Pop Montreal hurrah.

How do you get two thousand music fans into church? Have Patti Smithas your preacher. Old hippies and young punks were among the enrapturedcrowd that filled Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste Friday evening (Oct. 5) tosee punk’s so-called poet laureate perform with her band — guitaristsLenny Kaye and Jackson Smith, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and bassistTony Shanahan. With her slim frame wrapped in jeans, a t-shirt, and ablazer, the 60-year-old icon strode onto the stage, smiled gracefully,and launched into a pretty, folksy rendition of the Beatles’ “WithinYou Without You,” which she covers on her latest studio effort, Twelve.

“Whenyou’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind iswaiting there,” she crooned. Eyes closed, hair long, arms outstretched,she commanded the cheering audience with the song’s uplifting lyricsand her own larger-than-life presence. Moving from sweet to rough, shepulled out a paperback for a reading of late poet Allen Ginsberg’s”Footnote to Howl.”

She played a little guitar, and rocked aclarinet solo during a jazzy cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are YouExperienced.” Still, ranging from chill-inducing whisper to rich,androgynous growl, Smith’s pipes are the most powerful instruments ofall. “This is a little song I wrote in 1974 about going to CBGB tolisten to [Television’s] Tom Verlaine play guitar,” she announced,hugging herself like a lovesick teen for the poignant, bluesy ballad”We Three.”

The party really started when she performedclassics such as the passionate “Because the Night.” “Dancing Barefoot”had fans dancing in the aisles, flailing their bodies like mad. As shetied her blazer around her waist and twirled around, it was clear whyPatti and her message of empowerment still resonate with generations.

Racinginto dirty dive Bar St-Laurent II, beards and beer ruled onstage andoff at this sold-out cock-rock love fest. Lars Ulrich look-a-likes werespotted strutting around alongside scenesters and a few random winos,but when friendly neighborhood metalheads Priestess took thestage, all eyes were on them. Chugging oversized bottles of MolsonCanadian, long hair flying everywhere, this ’70s-influenced heavyrock’n’roll foursome roared into “Horrifying Your Father,” a brand newriff-heavy song that sounds like Black Sabbath mud wrestling withMegadeth.

Yeeaaaahhh!” the audience screamed, standingon chairs and speakers, pumping their fists in the air. Grinning like aschoolboy, frontman Mikey Heppner didn’t speak much, save for theoccasional, “Aw, yeeeaaahhh, man!. As with hits from their debut album, Hello Master,Heppner’s melodic wails made even their more hardcore stuff (like showcloser “Time to Escape”) listenable. The catchy chorus of “Talk to Her”had the chicks in the crowd singing along, while the familiar riffs oftheir very first single, “Lay Down,” saw everyone headbanging in unisonlike one big, happy family. Best of all was “No Real Pain,” featuring asweaty seizure of a drum solo by Vince Nudo that set the crowd on fire.”C’est malade!” hollered a voice from the audience (Translation:”Siiiick!”) Now, that’s preaching to the converted.

Holier-than-thouaudience attitude overshadowed cinematic soundscapes Saturday night(Oct. 6) at the dark Théâtre National. Lots of vintage purses, ironicsweater sets and oversized spectacles skeptically regarded Montreal’s Sunset Rubdown.The arty-experimental pop quartet opened with the clangy, otherwordly”Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings.” Stage left:band founder Spencer Krug on keys, guitar, and his distinctive,wavering vocals. Stage right: whispery lady-about-town Camilla WynneIngr (also of Pony Up!) on glockenspiel, keys, and percussion. Shesings, too. When the too-cool-for-school kids got rowdy, Ms. Ingr triedto soothe them with a sexy, “shhhhhh.” It didn’t work.

Next to grace the dimly lit stage were Jagjaguwar labelmates Black Mountain.Vancouver’s metal-influenced psychedelic rockers opened with the dark,slow, groove-laden tearjerker “Night Walks” followed by “Stormy High”and “Wucan.” Eyes closed, Amber Webber sang with a sultry, gospel-likepassion and sipped red wine. Bearded frontman Stephen McBean strummedaway on guitar, channeling both Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath.So hauntingly hypnotic were the band’s ’70s-style epic soundscapes,they sometimes overshadowed the band.

Certainly, minimalaudience interaction can be enigmatic and effective — provided theaudience can somehow connect to the performers. So dark was the room,though, that when we managed to catch a glimpse of the band, their haircovered their eyes; when they brushed the hair aside, their eyes wereclosed. But when Black Mountain step into the light, fans neverhesitate to climb with them all the way to the top.

A quick stop at Théâtre Nationale on Sunday (Oct. 7) to see indie rockers the Nationalwas well worth it. Framed by a backdrop of spaghetti-like sequinstrands, the Brooklyn-based quintet treated fans to hits from theircurrent LP, Boxer.Live, these guys are incredibly tight and vocalist Matt Berninger’swarm baritone is astounding, the crowd licked it up. “Mistaken forStrangers,” for instance, garnered joyous yells from the peanut gallery.

Down the street at Hot Hot Heat,the Vancouver-based popsters were in fine form at Club Soda.Curly-haired, tight-trousered frontman Steve Bays danced feverishly,plunked away on his white synthesizer, and worked thesmall-but-appreciative crowd into a frenzy. Screaming girls jumpedaround to the catchy, bouncy radio hit “Middle of Nowhere” and thesynth-heavy, new-wave-y “My Best Fiend” from new studio album Happiness Ltd.. But, of course, the crowd went wild for angular dance floor hit “Bandages” from the band’s punky, ’80s-tinged debut Make Up the Breakdown, followed by the achy, mid-tempo “Elevator.”

AlthoughHot Hot Heat’s sound has smoothed into more polished, radio-friendlyterritory, their frantic-but-controlled performances of old songs likethe urgent “Talk to Me, Dance With Me” and “Naked in the City Again”prove they still own their youthful, sexy rawness. San Francisco-bredguitarist Luke Paquin busted out some rock-star moves, often turning toface drummer Paul Hawley — whose tennis-style headband wassweat-soaked just a few songs in. Visually, white speakers and gearcreated a 1950s retro effect. A locker-room style hanging light bulbswung around like a barometer of audience hysteria. While the band hasan affinity with Montreal — former guitarist Dante DeCaro lives hereand is a member of Wolf Parade — the upbeat, poppy encore, “Goodnight,Goodnight,” reminded us why kids worldwide melt for Hot Hot Heat: theseguys have as much fun as their fans!

Well after 1:00 A.M., a late-night gig by local post-punkers Kill the Lightsbrought Pop Montreal’s final survivors out to Petit Campus. FrontmanAlexander Hackett and vocalist/keyboardist Stephanie Hanna sang theirhearts out for the last men — and women — standing. Select membersfrom opening band the Dudes and Hot Hot Heat nursed their beers as Killthe Lights killed it on “Dirty Love” and the wistful, JoyDivision-infused “Skinny White Girls.” While the earnest fivesomecontinues to hone their live showmanship, KTL are on to something solid– the rapid-fire pounding of drummer Yann Geoffroy certainly provedthat.

And so, on this rainy October night, the sixth edition of Pop Montreal took its final bow. Merci Montreal… et bonsoir! SIMONA RABINOVITCH / PHOTOS BY RICHMOND LAM