because the personal is cultural
1. Bas + EarthGang @ Le Belmont (Greenland Productions)
For years, I’ve suspected that indie rock audiences were the worst and this year my suspicions got confirmed. The crowd at this hip hop show not only knew the lyrics to all the Bas songs, they also knew the lyrics to all the openers’ songs and to the ones spun by the DJ in between sets. I seriously had no idea Montrealers could be that enthusiastic about anything. I lost my shit that night and am pretty sure no one who knows me would have recognized me.
2. Jon Mueller @ Coop Katacombes (Heavy Montreal)
Experimental drummer Jon Mueller is simply the best live musician there is. The only reason why this isn’t my top show this year (as it was the other two times I saw him) is because, as my previous example proved, the audience can make all the difference. Mueller opened for sludge metal band Sumac and clearly the crowd didn’t know what they were in for. With his non-stop endurance-based performance, he won them over and – to be honest – he made Sumac seem underwhelming. Though lighting certainly helps, no one pushes the musical performance until it becomes spiritual and dramatic in and of itself like Mueller.
3. La URRS @ Loudhouse
The day after they took the stage at Casa del Popolo, Spanish punk rockers La URRS played a house show that was scarcely attended. But that didn’t bother singer Áfrico Martín, who began his set by saying, “It’s Monday night, there aren’t many people here, but we will have fun anyway.” Then La URSS gave everything they had just as if they were playing for a packed venue.
4. BRAIDS @ Casa del Popolo (Blue Skies Turn Black)
I like BRAIDS’ records but I assumed they’d be the kind of band that’s unexciting live. I was proven wrong when I had the chance to catch them during their series of three sold-out concerts in the intimate space of Casa. Their energy exceeded that of some punk and metal bands, and Austin Tufts joined my long list of drummer crushes.
5. Young and in the Way @ Théâtre Plaza (MetalSucks)
The sexiest band I’ve seen all year.
6. Anicon @ Piranha Bar (Sepulchral Productions)
I saw Anicon the night after Donald Trump got elected and black metal was exactly the catharsis I needed. They picked me off the floor and made me want to get a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire and go into the darkness gladly.
7. Cloud Becomes Your Hand @ Brasserie Beaubien (Loose-Fit)
I was completely unfamiliar with the avant-prog CBYH before that July night. They’re like a less obsessive-compulsive but more fun and theatrical Dawn of Midi. Sam Sowyrda particularly stood out on the malletkat, turning his (non-)playing into arm choreography. All-around the most self-consciously artistic musical performance I caught in 2016.
8. Ursula + Endform @ La Vitrola
This NoDAPL benefit proved that it’s possible to make the world a better place while rocking your ass off. Endform stood out and Ursula might just currently be the best live band in Montreal.
9. Cinéma Vengeance @ Drones Club
They made me horny. Plus them having to stop halfway through their set so we could wait for the cops to circle the block was kind of hilarious.
10. Ricky Eat Acid @ Bar Le Ritz PDB (Blue Skies Turn Black)
Though I barely drank that night, I almost passed out and I’m convinced Ricky Eat Acid’s music is at least partially responsible.
11. Julie Doiron @ Le Cagibi (Gladeye)
This was the definitive Doiron concert for me: small, intimate, the way all her concerts should be. I’ll probably never go see her again now because it will never get better than this.
I saw Thee Nodes at DH three times that year and the shows have now melted into a single event in my memory. I remember that the singer from the opening punk bank, who had given a comatose performance with her back turned to the audience the entire time, was sitting onstage. Then a slim man dressed in a suit and tie, his face wrapped up in bandages like a mummy, walked onstage and shoved her off before launching into his own performance. Clearly we were in for something different.
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.
2. Thee Nodes @ LOUDHOUSE
2014 turned out to be the last year for Thee Nodes, one of the best live bands to come out of Montreal these past few years. The two shows I caught at LOUDHOUSE especially stood out, particularly one that had me a bit scared. While singer 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 Mr. Node ended up naked (as he often does, but) this time long before the end of his set. Their show with Nudes had me tweeting, “Tonight will go down as one of the sexest nights in Montreal punk history.”
3. Dawn of Midi + Nils Frahm @ Metropolis
“[Dawn of Midi regarding their] compositional process: we just stood in a room and danced for two years and at the end of it we had this album and no more girlfriends.” After seeing them live, I understand what DOM mean; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another band whose performance was this dancy. I don’t mean by this that the musicians move a lot (the fast-paced, highly repetitious nature of their music rather ensures that they don’t) or that it’s the kind of music that would get the audience dancing. I mean that the music itself is dance. I can see it clearly. It’s choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. It’s like a cross between Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich, and Rosas danst Rosas. It’s amazing. I embarrassingly tweeted, “I’m afraid that if I said how much I loved Dawn of Midi out loud, I would sound like a very hungry woman,” followed by, “I feel like Nils Frahm is proving to me that human beings are fundamentally good.”
4. Tim Hecker @ Musée d’Art Contemporain / MUTEK
If you want to go on an astral voyage, there are probably few things as good as Hecker's ambient music to help you along. That the concert took place in a fog that made it so that you could only see a few feet in front of you probably didn't hurt either. Tweeted: “The world would be a better place if people took Tim Hecker as their god.”
5. Perfect Pussy @ La Sala Rossa
I saw Perfect Pussy twice this past year. They were already great the first time, but somehow managed to top their performance the second time around. They dragged out their finale, each musician leaving one after the other, some even then coming back to take their instruments apart while others kept the music going and a visibly spent Meredith Graves remained sitting directly on the floor, thereby cleverly avoiding the dreadful ritual of the encore.
6. (Two Crosses + Dervish + La Riposte @ Death House)
As far as I know, this concert didn’t even happen. I don’t want to say too much about what did happen because I’m not 100% sure myself. What I will say is that I didn’t mind losing my 5 bucks. It was more than worth it for what turned out to be one of the most compelling pieces of theatre I witnessed this year.
7. Dissension @ Café Chaos
I’ve been in a lot of weird places in Montreal, but this night was definitely one of the weirdest. There was a woman with a live albino snake. You could take pictures with it. (The event was a fundraiser.) A man I don’t know and who turned out to be one of the members of Dissension told me, out of nowhere, “Dude, this place is packed!” (It wasn’t.) In what is a recurring theme in my life, I felt like I was in a Gregg Araki movie. At one point, the hostess of the night said, “Free shot glasses! They’re empty, but they’re free. Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!” without a detectable ounce of irony. Oh, and did I mention that, in between two metal bands, there was a shirtless man twirling a baton? What’s most important though is that I got to discover Dissension that night. They showed me the most fun time I had all year.
8. Death Vessel @ Divan Orange
I went to see Shearwater but it’s Death Vessel who ended up blowing me away. Their music makes me feel connected to the land and to our ancestors. I’m not even sure what that means, but I don’t think any other music has ever made me feel that way before.
9. Milanku @ Turbo Haus
Tweeted: “If I ever fall in love, I want it to be scored by Milanku. That’s what love sounds like to me.”
10. SOHN @ Il Motore
It’s ironically thanks to a straight friend that I ended up at the gayest concert I attended this year. It’s so rare for pop music to translate well live, but SOHN made it happen.
11. Wapstan @ Cabaret Playhouse
Wapstan had already impressed me with his noise a couple of years ago, but this time around his physical performance followed suit, turning an aural experience into a spectacular one.
12. Gashrat @ La Vitrola
I’ve had a crush on all four members of Gashrat for a while, but it’s with this show that they truly won me over. There’s just something refreshingly democratic about how they switch instruments between almost every song, as though experiencing the many might be more important than mastering the few.
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.