In his final dispatch from Montréal, PopMatters' photographer experiences poutine for the first time, is enchanted by upcoming singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate and is baffled by Francophone crooner Pierre Lapointe.
Seeing how both of us were flying out the next morning, Kevin and I had no problem figuring out what to eat on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever had poutine--the classic Québécois comfort food--so it seemed almost mandatory that on our last night in town we visit Resto La Banquise, considered by many to be Montréal's premiere purveyor of poutine.
Resto La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and serves up 25 different varieties of poutine, including an "Elvis Poutine" a "Kamikaze Poutine" and a "T-Rex Poutine". Being that we were both first-timers, Kevin and I opted for the classic poutine, which consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken velouté sauce (essentially a chicken gravy). The dish is warm, salty and simultaneously soft and crunchy. Good poutine, it's said, is marked by the freshness of the curds, which should "squeak" when you bite into them. As you might imagine, poutine is a favorite late night snack in Quebec, so its not surprising that Resto La Banquise tends to be packed well into the wee hours of the morning.
Having satiated our appetites for indigenous cuisine, Kevin and I were ready for the final showcase, which was held at Métropolis, a beautiful old theater just a stone's throw from our hotel. Unlike the previous showcases, which featured only artists who hadn't participated in previous installments of M For Montréal, the closing event served as a sort of "greatest hits" revue of artists from years past. Unsurprisingly, it was easily the best overall event at the festival.
First up was Béatrice Martin, an 18 year-old singer-songwriter who performs under the nom de plume Coeur de Pirate. For the entirety of her set at Métropolis, Martin sat in front of a baby grand piano and tapped out delicate, vaguely melancholic melodies while singing in a voice that was by turns, naïve, playful and confident. Similarly, her stage presence has hints of the fresh-faced ingénue, though she delivers her songs with a palpable emotional conviction. Without the benefit of understanding her lyrics (which are written entirely in French), I would say that her songwriting sensibilities are not unlike those of Regina Spektor or Emiliana Torrini. Definitely one of my favorite acts of the festival.
In between musical acts, we were treated to the comic stylings of local comedian Jon Lajoie. You might not recognize his name but chances are good that you were one of the over 6 million people who watched his hip-hop parody video "Everyday Normal Guy" on YouTube. As part of his first act, Lajoie reenacted the "Everyday Normal Guy" video live, to great fanfare. From there he went on to perform a few of his other songs, which are decidedly less funny. Most of them consist of Lajoie singing dirty jokes while strumming an acoustic guitar, a formula seemingly cribbed from Adam Sandler. Even worse, Lajoie was tasked with warming up the crowd while bands set up and it seems that he underestimated the amount of time he would be on stage. As such, he ran out of prepared material about halfway through the evening and had to fall back on the sort of sophomoric jokes one might expect to hear at a frat party. Jon Lajoie is an Internet personality, so I'll sum up his performance using Internet vernacular: epic fail.
Every town has at least one band that seems to want nothing more than to sound like Radiohead circa 1997. In Montréal, Karkwa fills that role but unlike most Radiohead clones, they're quite good at what they do. They've got the right amount of stadium rock bombast, they write strong melodies and their tunes are densely and expertly layered. Some of their songs feature toy pianos and xylophones quite prominently, which gives them an ethereal, Sigur Rós-like feel. They may not be the most original band in Montréal but they're still one of the best to watch.
It doesn't exactly come as a shock to hear that two thirds of We Are Wolves got their start in the visual art world. The band clearly has a flair for visual presentation, donning wolf costumes and massive skull avatars when they perform. That's not to say, however, that they don't know a thing or two about the aural side of things as well. Mixing dance-punk and electro to produce songs that are as catchy and danceable as they are ferocious, its not hard to see why they're currently the most buzzed about act in town.
The festival's final act, Pierre Lapointe, was a bit of an enigma, at least to those of us in the audience who were less than fluent in Quebec's official language. The relatively young crooner has obviously built up quite a following for himself in his homeland, garnering a massive response from the crowd despite his detached stage persona. Apparently he's known for the literary style of his "obscure, esoteric lyrics" (or so says Wikipedia), which were obviously far too obscure and esoteric for Kevin's and my ears. I'd like to say that I was able to appreciate Pierre Lapointe as much as the other 2,000 people in the room obviously did but for now, he'll remain little more than a mere curiosity. Guess I should brush up on my French before next year's festival, eh?