Music festivals are overwhelming. So many great acts, so much going on, all at the same time. All you can really do is make educated guesses and hope what you chose is worth it, and cooler than the thing going on down the street. With so much at this year’s POP Montreal, it was a safe to say that wherever you were, it would be worth it.
The fest kicked off with an inspired set from newcomers Eight and a Half, an ensemble with band members from Canadian groups The Stills and Broken Social Scene; their new sound both a perfect amalgam of their past efforts and a furthering, an advancement into new territory. VALLEYS opened their show with a mixture of the brutal and the bittersweet. The duo achieved a quietude amidst chaos that inspires, a small vision of beauty coming from a sad, bad place. DIIV, the side project of Beach Fossils’ Zachary Cole Smith, thrashed, dashed and smashed through a lightening quick set. The dueling guitars egged each other on, the bass and drums doing all they could just to keep up. Closing out the night was Wild Nothing who brought their tried and true sound, providing a polished act of pop perfection.
Next up was a victory lap for Montreal’s Grimes. I was told by an audience member at the show that they had seen Grimes two years ago at POP in a church basement with around eight other people, four of whom left during her performance. The last two years, and her excellent latest, Visions, has changed that. Club Soda was at capacity, with scalpers trying to poach tickets to pawn minutes later for the sold out show. First up was Myths. Their level of earnestness was not always commensurate with what they were doing. At times the sounds they made came together to form hectic harmonies, complicated truths. At times the sounds they made did not come together. Next was Elite Gymnastics who put on a marvelous display of anxiety-fueled histrionics. A karaoke Spice Girls cover, stopping mid-song to give out roses, complaining about having to perform (it makes him uncomfortable). When he eventually settled down and played music, music that is complex and rewarding, with beats that act as perfect counterweight to his subtle voice, it was ultimately worth the theatricality.
Grimes put on a show. Her music felt tailor-made for live performance, despite its electronic, studio-laden sound. Her stage presence, along with that of her backup singers and dancers, complemented the music, fusing the two into performance art—Grimes was the director of the night, and the spectacle was a sight to behold.
At ION’s party Saturday night, the stage was set for headliner Humans who brought some raucous ruckus of their own. Their particular brand of dance pop thrilled, the entire venue turned into their own personal dance floor.
To close the festival, now-veteran rockers Grizzly Bear played a packed show with material from both their new Shields as well as the older, beloved tunes. The group seems to have just gotten better from album to album. Four of five band members sang in unison, switching instruments during the song, all of the various pieces challenging, complementing, questioning and then answering each other. As gratifying as the familiar songs were, the new material was just as refined, elegant, complete.
A truly eclectic blend of music that pleased, and challenged—a commingling of disparate, but unified, sounds.