POP Montreal: Ronnie Spector, CROSSS, TOPS, Kurvi Tasch

Ronnie Spector at the Rialto Theatre. Photo by Dominick Mastrangelo.

At the Rialto opening up for the legendary Ronnie Spector is Bloodshot Bill, making music to dance to for a room full of tables. I've never seen Bill on such a big stage, and it feels a little weird. Even he admits how absurd it is to play for a bunch if people sitting down, making his pauses extra long and telling the crowd to "shhhh" before chuckling and moving on. Somehow in a fancy theatre his act feels more like a schtick.

But all is not stuffy here at this POP / Jazz Fest collaboration, and by the bar his ferocious psychobilly is met with cheers — the rest slowly warming up to him. But whoever's doing lighting fails miserably at following Bill's impromptu stops and snorts.

When Ronnie Spector takes the stage for her "Beyond the Beehive" show, she has the crowd's full attention. This was a night about affirming her importance in the history of pop music, with Ronnie narrating her story in front of projected photos and video clips as she works through the singles.

It was an emotional trip through her relationship with deranged killer/hitmaker Phil Spector, taking us through the pain of being in an abusive relationship.

"All I knew about Phil is that he was one smooth operator," Ronnie says as she details her first encounters with a man who would go on to trap her in her own home and try to ruin her career. The instantly recognizable "Be my Baby" was played in an encore to allow for some loophole in Phil and Ronnie's divorce settlement.

At 71, Ronnie's voice still holds up and she has attitude to spare. It was an honour to hear her story, from growing up in Harlem to getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But then it's time to return to this decade at a packed Brasserie Beaubien, where there's a lazy attempt at a mosh pit while CROSSS are playing(read an interview with CROSSS here). They're channeling Sabbath heaviness as singer Andy March is joined by his current band for one of the last times, Nathan Doucet bashing the hell out of the kit. They're followed by Calgary punk four-piece Hag Face, who successfully beat all those '60s girl group songs out of my head.

At Casa Brazilian Money take a moment from their upbeat pop set to plug Monster Energy, who are sponsoring POP this year. I'm going to assume it was a joke making fun of the whole thing (they can't actually require bands to talk about an energy drink can they??), but I was mostly impressed the singer was able to take a swig of their new "blue" flavour with a smile on his face. Anyways, this non-sponsored blog post is telling you to never drink that shit, even if it's free.

The crowd's loving The Rural Alberta Advantage as they work through new stuff at Cabaret Mile End, but the band is having even more fun. Singer Nils Edenloff says it's the biggest crowd they've played to in Montreal (if you don't count opening for The Hip last summer), and it feels like everyone is singing along to their old stuff.

TOPS at Sala Rossa. Photo  by Cindy Lopez.

While it's a radio-friendly sing-along at with the RAA it's hipster prom at Sala for TOPS, the band playing cuts off their dreamy new record Picture You Staring. Their sound is part Fleetwood Mac part Twin Peaks (a comparison someone must have used before) and they own the hometown crowd, headlining the sold-out Arbutus Records showcase.

I cut out early though to catch the end of Kurvi Tasch's set back at Casa, expanding their track "Fractured Lens" with a furious jam in nine and ending the set with the title track off their new record On Firm Ground. Their sound has evolved into something creeping and reactive, drums and bass playing off Alex Nicol's twisted chords as they pull from the darker parts of new wave.