The first time I saw Thee Nodes was at Death House in 2012. I’ve often claimed that the most magical places in Montreal are punk spaces and DH is a perfect example. When it comes to directions to the venue, the best one can hope for is “Ask a punk.” Located in what used to be a working class neighborhood that has quickly become gentrified over the past few years, DH’s location is right out of a movie: in order to get there, one has to walk through a dark parking lot, in between buildings where people seemingly live, on a piece of wood that prevents one from stepping in a muddy puddle if it rained, onto a series of wooden planks that long a seemingly never-ending building with a metal door every few feet on one side and a fence on the other, the only thing standing between the building and train tracks. Through one of those doors is Death House.
DH is a small cramped room with a wooden staircase near the stage, leading up to a mezzanine. The singer of Thee Nodes would jump from the stage onto the staircase railing before jumping back down. During the performance, he presented himself as Mr. Node, shouting into his microphone “Mister…” before aiming it at the audience who shouted back “…Node!” “Mister…” “…Node!” “Mister…” “…Node!” “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” he yelled back. I couldn’t stop laughing. As a dance critic who dislikes so-called audience participation (which it would often be more appropriate to rebrand “audience coercion”), I found great pleasure in Mr. Node reprimanding the audience for blindly following his implied orders.
At the end of October, I saw Thee Nodes again at Barfly. As Halloween was looming, Mr. Node threw candy at the audience before doing the same with his microphone. It is that night that the moment that has most stuck with me happened. First, let me mention that Barfly has a low ceiling and that the stage is barely higher than the rest of the room. Second, let me specify that the moment I will describe was a lot shorter than my telling of it necessitates, lasting maybe a second. Here is what happened in that second: Mr. Node jumped into the audience, who – in an instinctive attempt to protect themselves – grabbed his clothes, during which he did a complete 360, walking on the ceiling before coming back down on his own two feet. Even though it happened just a few feet in front of me, now over two years later, I still fail to understand how it happened.
When I asked him about it on Quartier Général (the radio show I am part of and for which he insisted on being called Monsieur Le Node as the broadcast is in French), he simply told me that he saw space as a possibility and that he felt that, if he didn’t think about it, he could do anything. He added that somehow he never got hurt performing, except once, but only because someone threw something at him.
When I saw Thee Nodes again near the end of the year at the Montreal staple Casa del Popolo, it wasn’t one of their original songs that struck me as much as an a cappella cover by Mr. Node. It should be mentioned that Mr. Node’s voice is high-pitched and robotic; so to hear him sing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member Marilyn-Monroe-style was less sexy than it was creepy.
Mr. Node likes to twirl his microphone around by its cable and, that night, the mic kept flying off the cable. He would try to hook them back up again, but eventually he just gave up singing into the mic. Instead, he ripped his shirt open and a woman in the audience ran to the stage, took his pants off, and left him to finish his set completely naked. One could potentially be concerned about consent here but, based on ulterior performances I witnessed, I would be inclined to believe that the intervention had been staged by none other than Mr. Node himself. On the radio show, he told me that he never planned to get naked during a performance but that sometimes it just happened. That night might be the exception that confirms the rule.
When I caught Thee Nodes the following year at Brasserie Beaubien, Mr. Node began his set by throwing white glue into the audience, I can only assume because they were opening for the Texas band Glue. Once again, he ripped his shirt open, this time crowd surfing all the way to a pool table in the middle of the room, singing on top of it before finishing his set naked as streamers flew down on him. (They had been distributed to audience members beforehand.)
I’ll admit that I was a bit scared last year year when I saw Thee Nodes at LOUDHOUSE. While Mr. Node usually builds up his performance throughout his set, this time he began by taking off his suit, revealing red lingerie underneath. He would put himself in suggestive positions while repeating phrases such as “Fuck me.” As someone who had seen the band multiple times, I knew what I was in for, but one could not say the same of those who hadn’t and I could feel the tension rising in the room. I feared an altercation, yet Mr. Node kept pushing, repeating “Fuck me,” and just as it seemed like things might get physical, Mr. Node launched into his set and managed to win the crowd over with his highly energetic performance. Of course, the negligée proved too fragile for his corporeal intensity and once again Mr. Node ended up naked, this time long before the end of his set.
Mr. Node has since announced that he has been diagnosed with “a very rare disease” and that his deteriorating health has made it impossible for him to continue performing with Thee Nodes. On December 21, they played one final show, little more than three years after their first one. Thee Nodes is no more, but those of us who have been fortunate enough to see them perform will undoubtedly be inclined to refer to them as one of the most memorable live acts to have come out of Montreal.