M for Montréal - Leonard Cohen Eats There
Montréal may sit a mere 37 miles north of the American border and, for me, a short 90-minute flight from Philadelphia, yet the former Canadian capital really is a world away. PopMatters visits the M for Montréal in search of great new Canadian music and the soul of a city.
I am riding in the back of a van being ferried from Montréal’s airport to my hotel along with three French booking agents and a Finnish man who sounds like a Pentecostal Sean Connery. Like most airport to city journeys, the drive is pretty uneventful -- a mass of industrialized areas and low class housing, deserted wastelands and dangerous dark alleys. But unlike American cities that call out to you like a siren, their big shiny boxes beckoning you inwards from afar, Montréal, like European cities, creeps up on you (even more so when you get stuck in a combination of construction work and rush hour traffic). Sure, it has skyscrapers, but for this drive they are discreet and hidden -- much like the best sections of the city. Montréal may sit a mere 37 miles north of the American border and, for me, a short 90-minute flight from Philadelphia, yet the former Canadian capital really is a world away. Signs and instructions come in French and English. And while there is a definite language barrier, it’s one that goes up and down with relative ease. My French is rudimentary and starts and stops with pleasantries and the ordering of beverages, but most French-speaking people in Montréal can speak better-enunciated English than myself and will regularly rescue me from conversational miscues throughout my visit. Ahead of me lays three-days and 24 bands. During this time I will see groups play typically unfashionable genres of music with unabashed glee. I will also see four bands on the same bill utilize the same plea for a participatory audience handclap and the audience members, the very same ones for each band, will approach each call with a fevered, almost religious, response. I will also see a slew of Canadians in cowboy hats (a large crew of Calgary Stampeders supporters are in town for the country’s big football final), the inside of a bar called Korova bedecked with more moose heads than Sarah Palin’s house, and a grand, panoramic view of the city from the top of Mount Royal.