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Pop Goes Montreal

Ah, Montreal. There’s a reason this town makes headlines; a reasonbands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Stars all moved here and call ithome. Now in its sixth year and still as pure as a French virgin, musicfestival Pop Montreal embodies everything we adore about Canada’scoolest city; The artsy-hip neighborhoods Plateau Mont-Royal and MileEnd, Leonard Cohen, spiral staircases, two-cheek kisses — andperpetual discontent. What else can you expect from aFrench-meets-English town with cheap rent, long winters, unlimitedinspiration but limited opportunity? The upside, of course, is acreative one: cocooned from the rat race, people are free to just dotheir thing.

Pop Montreal is one of those things. Curated byco-founder Dan Seligman, the festival, which kicked off last night andwill run through Sunday (Oct. 7), represents both music and Montreal attheir best: diverse, raucous, and unifying. With more than 300performances of all shapes and sizes, this year’s lineup features PattiSmith, Hot Hot Heat, Black Mountain, the Stills, A-Trak, Ted Leo andthe Pharmacists, and many more.

Already roaming the streetsthis week is a disproportionate number of dilapidated vans and scruffybeards. (Um, the bagels are on Rue St-Viateur, dude.) Five days, threehundred shows, very many taxi rides, and very little sleep. What elseare they in for? Day one offers a fine look.

As curious musicgeeks and foreign cool kids drifted into the intimate La Tulipe venuelast night (Oct. 3), the vibe was restrained; awkward even. Was itfirst-night festival jitters? Were people not drunk enough yet? Check.And check. First to break the ice was local art popsters Miracle Fortress.Jangling along with their bouncy, synth-pop imported from some other,miraculous planet, loyal fans held court in front of the stage asvocalist Graham Van Pelt and his cohorts offered highlights from theirpastel-tinted debut LP, Five Roses.The quaint foursome also snuck in some thunderous, uplifting newmaterial, which Van Pelt later confessed from the merch booth, iscurrently unnamed, but the dizzying cheerfulness of “Have You Seen inYour Dreams” made for a delightful closer.

Next up at La Tulipe was Born Ruffians,a double clap-happy Toronto trio touring with headliners Caribou.”We’re nervous in Montreal, and you guys are also a very quiet crowd,”implored singer/guitarist Luke LaLonde, clad in a geek-chicsweater-vest. Angular and impressively tight, songs like “Red Elephant”proved there’s no need for these boys’ frayed nerves. Once Caribouwordlessly exploded onto the stage, people finally let loose, losingthemselves in Dan Snaith’s dizzying pop psychedelia found on his lateststudio effort, Andorra. Pop Montrealites should be warmed up now…

Framed by red velvet curtains and crystal chandeliers, Chicago-based country outfit Magnolia Electric Co.looked right at home on Sala Rossa’s small stage. Note: Sala Rossa ishidden above a Spanish restaurant in what looks like an old apartmentbuilding, and both the concert hall and eatery are owned by GodspeedYou! Black Emperor bassist Mauro Pezzente. Sporting a cowboy hat, MECfrontman Jason Molina led his band through a good old-fashioned eveningof songs, wit, and storytelling. And they had miles of material tochoose from — their latest album, the four-disc set Sojourner,was highlighted with dark hits such as “Farewell Transmission” and acover of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again.” One of the night’s bestmoments, though, came during the encore when bassist Peter Schreinerand guitarist Jason Evans Groth both lit up cigarettes, turned towardseach other, and began puffing away as if the secret to jamming washidden in the curls of smoke. The small but devoted plaid-shirted crowdhooted and hollered appreciatively as the band launched into the finalnumber of the night, “Just Be Simple.” Sounds like good advice.