M For Montréal Day 1: Esmerine, Eight and a Half, Half Moon Run, Blue Hawaii, and More | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Half Moon Run at Montréal's Sala Rossa

Suuns, M For Montréal, Half Moon Run, Blue Hawaii, Eight and a Half, Mozart’s Sister

M For Montréal Day 1: Esmerine, Eight and a Half, Half Moon Run, Blue Hawaii, and More, November 14th, 2012

Nov 30, 2012 Photography by Kyle Lemmon M For Montréal
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From November 14 the 17, M For Montréal (or M pour Montréal for the French speakers) shined a musical spotlight on the Eastern Canadian city. The seventh edition of this internationally focused festival is primarily concerned with big upping local Anglophone and Francophone artists in the hopes of garnering the attention of some 100 international delegates visiting the Quebec largest metropolis.

M For Montréal functions like a small-scaled SXSW, which is one of the many festivals partnering with the programmers of select stages/venues. Bands don’t always get a record deal or tour spotlight from these types of showcases, but the seeds were certainly planted on the spirited first night of festivities. Many of the local acts vaulted my expectations and programmer Mikey Bernard proved to be an affable, rambunctious, and oftentimes funny host. He took the delegates, via bus, down Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The old street is the dividing line between the English and French-speaking boroughs of the city.

The buses stopped in front of two intimate music venues run by members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Sala Rossa and Casa Del Popolo hosted local bands Esmerine, Blue Hawaii, Eight and a Half, Mozart’s Sister, Half Moon Run, and Suuns.

Appropriately, Godspeed offshoot Esmerine kicked off the night with a quick set at the loft space called Sala Rossa. Situated above a quaint restaurant and bar, the venue suited the Montréal quarter’s cataclysmic chamber-rock quite well. The instrumental outfit partnered its dark tunes from third album La Lechuza with naturalistic light box projections. Images of vines, trees, fire, and diminutive houses crept across the large white screen behind the band. The use of cellos, guitars, horns, and mallet percussion was striking and would only drone on for a spell, before lurching into rising action, and calming dénouements. It’s easy to get lulled to sleep by this type of music, but Esmerine retained a sense of control and precision throughout its set that should be commended.

I’m a tad less willing to dole out enthusiastic commendations to the night’s next artist: Blue Hawaii. I had heard the local duo’s sun-drenched 2010 album Blooming Summer previous to their live set at Casa Del Popolo, and enjoyed its ethereal temperament and cascading mix of dub and dream-pop. In the live setting, the pair are all smiles and spunk.

They seemed like they were playing to a crowd of thousands and not the meager audience of publicists, journalists, and agents assembled in minuscule backroom behind Casa’s bar. After exiting the hallway dividing the bar from the music venue, I was greeted by Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s echoic vocals rolling in waves through the audience. Alex Cowan Standall-Preston manned the sequencer and laptop.

His electronic soup was dense, but not necessarily very engaging beyond two songs. Standell-Preston is also the lead singer of the Montreal-based art-rock band Braids. Her beautiful vocals for that group and Blue Hawaii ably straddle the line iciness of Björk and the balmy tones of most dream-pop singers. Despite the vocals, Blue Hawaii still sound like a side project (at least in the live setting). Blooming Summer can be an understated gem in the right circumstances.

Blue Hawaii proved to be a slightly gentle set, but Eight and a Half injected some energy across the street at Sala Rossa. (The night was full of hopping across Boulevard Saint-Laurent.) Ex-Stills and Broken Social Scene members filled out the lineup for the bouncy indie-rock trio Eight and a Half. (Yes, the band’s name is in reference to the classic Federico Fellini film 8 ½.) The Stills became less and less prisencent as they moved from post-punk revivalism to a looser, rootsier approach.

Former Stills members Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil and current Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff favor a more electro-based strain of rock. Performed tracks such as “There Goes My Ego” and “Scissors” continue the moodiness of The Stills and toss in lyrics that match the instrumental angst.

Despite the accolades from local fans, Mozart’s Sister left me cold. This Grimes-esque local act is headed by the bombastic Caila Thompson-Hannant. Her virtuosic R&B vocals are the best thing going for this newly formed trio (it used to be a solo project for the former Shapes and Sizes vocalist). Mozart’s Sister experienced several technical difficulties before and during their abbreviated showcase and even during the high notes the song craft just wasn’t there for me.

Songwriting craft was on the side of the first night’s next band: Half Moon Run. This indie-rock trio hails from Ottawa, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia. They cut their musical teeth in a studio in Montreal’s Mile-End district, though. At Sala Rossa, they cast out a folky and proggy net that caught many of the delegates. Veterans of the festival told me they were big favorites from last year’s festival. Now they’ve toured a ton with Metric in the U.S. after the release of their underappreciated debut album, Dark Eyes. The record is out now in Canada, but the outfit should be issuing it again in the States. (They recently signed in the U.S. with Marty Diamond at Paradigm Agency.)

The background is necessary for such a fun live band. They have a progressive way of playing their folk-pop songs that is instantly enchanting. Like Local Natives, they feature two drummers and keyboardists. Also, Conner Molander (guitars, keys), Devon Portielje (guitars, drums), and Dylan Phillips (drums, keys) all sing together like Fleet Foxes or Grizzly Bear. The R.I.Y.L. game can be silly most of the time. Half Moon Run deserves every comparison to more established contemporaries.

Their live prescience was gracious and assured in equal measure. Main vocalist Devon Portielje hits on that soft and keening performance that works for this type of towering music. Another aspect that is impressive is Half Moon Run’s flexibility in the midst of performance. Phillips played keys and drums simultaneously as Molander trundled between guitar, keys, samplers, and percussion. This brand of psychedelic-folk needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Half Moon Run was the real night cap for my first night in Canada, but I thought I would give the morose prog-rockers Suuns another chance. Their latest album, 2011’s Zeroes QC, wasn’t my particular cup of tea and their sleepy set at Casa Del Popolo didn’t change my view. Psych, Krautrock, and prog can be a heady mixture, but in this group’s hand is feels imprecise and as sloshed as some of the patrons at the bar. I decided to call it a night and take the long chilly walk back to my hotel. Day 2 promised a full day and night of concert-going.









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