Faraone in Montreal Day 3: More Jazz Than On Uncle Phil’s Porch

Here’s how festivals work: you get drunk on alcohol, then you get drunk on music, then around six o’clock you shower it off, then you repeat until four-in-the-morning. From what I’ve heard, that’s the routine even at Christian rock conventions. The key to covering these festivities is to party hard and work harder, and last night, my friend, I put in some work.

The artery of Jazz Fest is a mighty quad between the Hyatt (where I’m staying), the Museum of Contemporary Art, and two other brute structures that, if I were a competent reporter or thought you cared, I would have asked the names of. It’s kind of like a mid-city music carnival where you can chug beer, check shows on big or small stages, and dive into an ornate art-deco fountain if you’re so inspired.  

I’m as much a foreigner on planet jazz as I am on planet Canada. As an American hip-hop critic in a foreign land, I inevitably spend the first two minutes of every conversation distancing myself from 50 Cent and George Bush. That said, every single person here has been cool to me. Jazz cats aren’t like indie rockers, who don’t want you listening to their favorite bands; the fans and artists I’ve met in Montreal are delighted to drop tips on up-and-gunning acts, secret shows, and where I can catch tight three-in-the-morning jam sessions (in my hotel bar, amazingly enough).

On the advice of a local critic from the Montreal Mirror, I chowed dinner at Pho Bak in the Vietnamese section of Chinatown. I tell you this not because it was a mighty deal and tasty too; I generally avoid writing about where I eat (as well as writing about eating all together), but my waiter had a cool look that I need to document in writing. In my friend Adam’s words: he resembled a back-up singer in an all-Asian K.D. Lang tribute band on karaoke night.

And like that I’m in a mega-venue for the hippest Jazz Fest show of the evening featuring Norwegian tweakers Datarock and Liverpool new school new wavers Ladytron.  But before going further I have a brief vignette about a Stevie Wonder show that I reviewed two weeks ago. As a general rule I only write about hip-hop, but I ventured outside my specialty and fumbled badly. Who would have thought that referring to “Superstitious” as “Very Superstitious” would generate dozens of hate letters and nasty web comments? Anyway – the point is that while last week I decided to really never write outside my genre, I’m about to break that rule; so please, I beg you, don’t fucking email me about how great your favorite band is and how depraved I am. In both cases, it's likely the opposite is true.

Datarock is kind of like Devo; only instead of cool hats, they have no talent. They rotated instruments through the evening, but when I arrived one guy was on a BMX-height drum set, another was kind of singing, a third dude was playing a mini Casio on a stand that was about two feet off the ground, and one guy was doing nothing. Later on, the last guy would play what might have been an inflatable Bar Mitzvah saxophone. It is, after all, Jazz Fest. John Coltrane would be proud.      

DATAROCK: Live at Montreal Jazz Fest, July 2, 2008

Insults aside, Datarock delivered a bare-chested set with some mighty electro riffs and good humor, the last of which was half-intentional and half collateral.  I’m sure their diehards would disagree, but for sure my favorite part of the show was when the drummer threw his stick and completely missed it on the way down.  It didn’t matter much, though, since the drum solos filling the speakers were coming from the soundboard.

Regardless of what I thought, the 2,200 screaming fanatics in the building devoured every ounce. And they weren’t just bandwagoneering and pretending the way that, say, people at Girl Talk shows pretend; they really dig this junk. Maybe it’s the production value; between the light show, LED backdrop and pounding emotion, Ladytron’s set was as explosive as any live rap show I’ve ever seen.


Ladytron: Live at Montreal Jazz Fest, July 2, 2008

After Ladytron, I capped the night at Club Soda, which, if I remember correctly, was a hot spot when I came up here ten years ago. I’m from New York where clubs change names every six months, so that’s impressive staying power. Much like at Metropolis, entering Club Soda felt like walking into a club scene from a Hollywood movie where there’s a band that’s supposed to be cool or about-to-be-cool but that you’ve never heard of playing up on stage.

The band du jour was Artist of the Year – a Canadian group of either guys or girls who rock loudly and wear sparkles. I’m not sure that I have any further opinion of them, but I will say that the second they got off stage and the DJ took reign the place cleared out. Club Soda was flat. (Had to use that one.)   

Finally: I know I told all you hate-mailers to hush up. But while I still encourage you to direct your anger and aggression toward critics who pretend to know about things they don’t know about, if you really want to slap me this would be the time to do it. Tonight I’m going to see RZA and GZA, so not only am I more excited than a kid passing his house on a bus ride to an elementary school field trip, but I’m also returning to my know zone. And in my know zone, I ain’t nothin’ to fuck wit.   

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