My first night of POP Montreal ended up being pretty much taken over by Sun Kil Moon, but that wasn't a bad thing. The Ukrainian Federation is packed when Mark Kozelek and his band take the stage, the venue is darkness except for a few spots of light around Sun Kil Moon. It's what Mark has asked for. Before they start, we're told that the use of cell phones is prohibited, and there are no photos allowed either.
But Mark didn't have to worry about keeping the crowd's full attention, or fear any of the outdoor festival distractions that spoiled his show last weekend in Ottawa. I'm sure the band had as much time as they wanted to do their sound, they held command over this old Outremont community hall for the night — no chance for sound bleeding from another show, for which Mark had some choice words aimed at The War on Drugs.
"I'm in a good mood tonight," says Kozelek — but adding that we better not piss him off.
I had caught a couple pretty solo songs by Toronto's Charlotte Cornfield opening up the show as people started to fill the hall. Even during the opener, a solo acoustic act, the crowd was respectful, giving their full attention (or at least it felt like it) to Charlotte. But she certainly earned our attention, ending her set with a subtle, captivating "If You Don't Pursue", backing off the mic for the final few lines, letting hew words reverberate through the hall on their own.
Then it was to Divan Orange for Year of Glad (read an interview with the band here), the local folk-meets-drone band that just returned to Montreal after a tour out east. The more I see these guys the more I think of jazz, singer/guitarist Alexandre Bergeron bringing cellist Justin Wright and saxophonist Dave Switchenko on to improvise over his heavily-effected guitar work and soaring falsetto.
"We're called Year of Glad. I'm just going to keep saying that," says Bergeron. There are a few truly beautiful moments in the set, including the title track off their latest record, Old Growth. It's a shame there are no drums there to hold down the rhythm though.
Back at the Ukrainian Federation Mark seems a little disappointed he has no one to complain about in the crowd. They're his disciples, maybe even extra careful after hearing about what happened in Ottawa.
They lap up his rants against Twitter, how he's so good at guitar because he doesn't have a smart phone. But the thing is, you can be an asshole if you make good music. The audience takes his playful bashing well, even when he tells us we're all brainwashed by Pitchfork.
I admit I didn't know much about Kozelek except that he was in Almost Famous, but you don't need to know a thing to enjoy his set. He plays to our hearts, even if the stage banter in between feels like little more than ego-stroking.
Singing about his mother, his girlfriend's dead dog (really, death was kind of the common theme here) the set is incredible. The band's at their best as the two guitars intertwine (well, more like Mark's paying accented by an electric guitar) and the drumming sets a subtle textured base for Mark's voice.
He plays for 90 minutes, ending the set standing on top of a chair. He gets a standing ovation when he's through.
As great as Sun Kil Moon was though, the long set means I get to l'Esco as Big Brave are loading up their gear. So it's a trip to see what's at Casa that ends my night, where The World Provider are playing to a modest crowd. They're all wearing white shirts with what looks like tin foil on them, giving me something a little more upbeat to end my Wednesday. Toronto's Malcolm Fraser works through some synth rock numbers before I call it a night.
Maybe it was all the moody singer/songwriter stuff, but The World Provider's simple pop numbers don't do much for me. Still thinking about the Sun Kil Moon set, I really just feel like I should call my mother.