POP Montreal: Ought, Homeshake, Empress Of and Braids

Photo Louis Longpre

Playing the Ukrainian Federation must have been a new kind of challenge for Ought. Not just because of the heat — though singer Tim Beeler Darcy did say this was the most he had sweated in his life — but because a band known for their ability to go from pensive to frenetic on a dime and Beeler's flamboyant dancing might be better suited for a rock club than this seated, mostly-full hall.

But while the growing audience was in their seats for the distant shoegaze of Nennen and Tasseomancy's Solid-Gold exotic pop, once Ought took the stage the crowd took to their feet at Beeler's request and it instantly felt like a show again.

The songs on the band's latest LP Sun Coming Down make their earlier stuff, like the set-closing breakdown of "Gemini" seem almost ordinary. This was a set of mostly new material (after all, it was their release show), and while the Sun Coming Down cuts didn't get the same instant cheers, the record's strongest moments (the furious drum buildup on "Passionate Turn", the eerie sing-along halfway through the title track) held up live.

With Sun Coming Down the band pushes their sound further, maybe not straying much further from that heady side of CBGB that always gets associated with band but exploring it more deeply, leaving things more tense and unpredictable than ever.

Braids. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

Braids. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

From the art-punk to the abstract, Last Lizard worked through loops of free jazz at La Vitrola for the Fixture Records showcase. Alex Zhang Hungtai has disowned the moniker Dirty Beaches, and armed with a sax and loop pedal, his sound was nothing like the lo-fi rockabilly that got him the (perhaps overwhelming) blog buzz with Badlands.

The headliner for the packed venue was Homeshake, and the band totally exceeded my expectations. They were tight when they needed to be and oh-so-smooth. Peter Sagar's white-boy funk meets bedroom pop held up live, and his band of misfits were locked in all night. The bass player held down the groove with superb tone, chewing bubble gum.

Like his former bandmate Mac DeMarco, Homeshake's sedated tunes still made the crowd rowdy, huge cheers came when they started "Heat" and "Making a Fool of You." Sagar started the set by thanking Fixture (they put out his first tape) and asking us to buy his new record Midnight Snack. But he also said he'd never play POP Montreal again. Not sure what was up with that.

Empress Of. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

Empress Of. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

The last time I saw Empress Of At POP was two years ago, but this year there was a whole new Lorely Rodriguez onstage. With a trimmed-down band and her debut LP in tow, she had total command of the crowd. While she smiled and danced in an awkward, endearing way in 2013 at Sala Rossa, at the Piccolo Rialto she was totally out of her shell, pulling in the crowd with her dancey pop tunes and powerful voice.

She almost got as much love as Braids, who of course stole the show. Ending a set of material off their latest LP of textured electronic pop Deep in the Iris with anti-rape culture anthem "Miniskirt", Raphaelle Standell gave us chills as we danced, drummer Austin Tufts going mad behind the kit. Braids keep getting better live.

POP Montreal Day One coverage.