Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Yoann Lemoine arrives on stage after ceremonious thundering from his seven-piece band, an introduction that culminates with two drummers standing and walloping the skins of their snares tethered to slender poles. The sound they create is more fitting for royalty or a conquering general than a moderately popular musician better known for the videos he produces than the songs he sings. To the fans at Montreal’s Métropolis theatre, though, nothing about the scene is out of place or over the top.
Lemoine, who goes by the stage name Woodkid, emerges from the blackness of the stage to stand surrounded by light and applause. He’s at the Montreal Jazz Fest, dressed for a pickup basketball game. Wearing an off-kilter baseball cap, black Nike high-top sneakers, a T-shirt with the shoe manufacturer’s iconic swoosh, and ugly baggy shorts down to his calves, Lemoine appears like a man who will blister the audience with rapper rhymes. The music that preceded his set was Eminem and, on looks alone, Lemoine could pass for one of the Detroit superstar’s proteges. Instead, the Frenchman from Lyon plays beautifully composed songs that would fit the emo-rock catalogues of Coldplay or Muse. He sings, “I Love You,” and the fans sing it back and they sing it together with a sweetness that you might think would evaporate any street cred Lemoine has.
There’s nothing contrived in Woodkid’s work, which is likely the reason it connects so deeply with ardent followers. His voice is of a crooner, suited perfectly to the jazz fest, in fact, and the songs are catchy, singable, endearing. Lemoine is enthusiastic, hopping about the stage and urging fans to clap and dance. They do and it’s powerful.
For an event that annually draws some of the biggest names in music, it is acts like Woodkid that maintain the importance of the Montreal Jazz Fest. These artists whose names may not yet be on the top of the festival marquee earn a boost through the exposure the event affords them and in turn the fest continues to be recognized for its showcase of excellent emerging talent. Woodkid was a hit at last year’s Osheaga Festival in Montreal and has continued to build his fan base since releasing his debut album, “The Golden Age,” in March. With a frenetic stage performance, an energetic crowd, and a show that features eye-catching visuals projected onto a large screen behind the band, Woodkid is entertaining and he is only beginning.
Others at Canada’s most famous jazz festival have had years of success already and could sell out a week’s worth of shows at a venue like the Métropolis. Such is the mix of entertainment in Montreal. These are my highlights from the first weekend of the festival. Dozens of performances have already taken place and I did not get to catch nearly enough. The five artists listed below range from up-and-coming performers to a giant in the jazz world to a Canadian sensation proud of her homeland.
2013 Montreal Jazz Fest Highlights
Singing in English, francophone Lemoine had a sold-out audience joining him, even though several of his songs were released less than three months ago. The director of videos by Taylor Swift and Lana del Rey, Lemoine is clearly a craftsman and a unique talent.
At 70 years old, Benson continues to breeze along effortlessly with a repertoire of songs that never age. “Turn Your Love Around” and “On Broadway” are crowd favourites delivered with enthusiasm, even after so many decades. One of the world’s greatest guitar players, Benson is also backed by a stellar band. They had the crowd of mostly grey hairs on their feet a few songs before the finale and through the encore at the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in the Museum of Contemporary Art.
At first glance this wacky orchestra might make you believe they’re Canadians inspired by SCTV. They wear hockey helmets with speakers attached to them and their instruments. They’re Ed Grimley odd, dressed in high school costumes likely purchased at a thrift shop. Given that they’re in Montreal, you wouldn’t be surprised if they were part of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, too. But Mucca Pazza (the name is Italian for “mad cow”) is from Chicago and they’re making some serious noise. The most entertaining act at the Jazz Fest, they paraded on and around Sainte-Catherine Street, an invading army outfitted with horns, violins, drums, and an accordion. Like pied pipers, they had a crowd following them, including several kids.
The Mucca Pazza gang crossed the border in a caravan featuring a bus and two vans. The zaniest marching band you’ll ever see includes 33 members in total — although “only” about two dozen made it to Montreal.
“We formed as a way to give musicians and theatre performers a place to come together, to play and to be a community. It’s a collective, a lot of us have stage experience, and it is a lot of fun for us to do something like this,” says band leader and tuba player Mark Messing.
And they appear to have inspired a craze, or at least a minor fad.
“We’re seeing marching bands pop up in places after we play,” says Greg Hirte, a violinist and co-founder. “It’s a trend. All of a sudden, musicians are forming marching bands in these pockets across the country.”
Mucca Pazza is a perfect fit for Montreal’s premier festival, equal parts self-deprecating humour and enormous musical talent. Once you get over the theatrics, you realize this group offers outstanding musicianship, which is why you stand and watch for 45 minutes or more as they jam on.
The chanteuse from the Toronto area has been writing songs for a string orchestra, including on her 2011 double album “Land and Sea.” Those songs were a major part of her set at Club Soda, a venerable music and dance hall. Slean delivered an exquisite series of songs while backed by Montreal-area string musicians. She’s working on another big, ambitious project: A musical set in 1920’s Montreal. “That was such a pivotal time in history, with the French and English battles, and after World War One. The story is about that time, which really helped to shape the country,” says Slean, an avid traveller. [Vacay.ca will have a Rock n’ Roll Road Trips video where Slean talks about her music and her travels coming up in the weeks ahead.]
The Broadway performer had three shows in two days at the Jazz Fest. She paid tribute to Nina Simone while opening for Benson and then sang some of her own soulful tunes, unleashing a big, gorgeous voice that enthralled spectators at free concerts on Monday night.
More About the 34th Montreal Jazz Fest
Dates: From June 28-July 7, 2013
Tickets: Although several shows are free in and around the festival centre at Places des Festivals, individual tickets need to be purchased for the performances by the artists playing at clubs and concert halls. Visit the Jazz Fest tickets page for information on where to pick-up tickets, how to get priority access for the free shows, how to purchase tickets to paid events, and to see the full schedule.
Upcoming Performances: Among headliners this week are: Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak (July 4, $71.65-$99.50); The Cat Empire (July 5; $40-$45.40); Nikki Yanofsky (July 4-6; $57.18-$68.68); Belle and Sebastian (July 5, $57): and Suuns (July 7, $20-$23.50). The festival has not missed a beat despite the cancellations of shows from Aretha Franklin and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.
Vacay.ca Recommends: She & Him (“she” is Zooey Deschanel, star of TV’s “New Girl,” and “him” is M. Ward, the superb New York-based singer/songwriter, July 3, $52-$62); A Tribe Called Red (Ottawa-based aboriginal DJ trio, July 2, $24-$27.50); and Martha Wainwright (brilliant Montreal-based singer and sister of Rufus, July 4, $39.50-$47).
Hotel Packages: Several Montreal hotels are offering Jazz Fest packages. Vacay.ca recently recommended the offer from the outstanding St.-Sulpice Hotel in Old Montreal.
More Montreal Jazz Fest Coverage on Vacay.ca
Adrian Brijbassi writes about the economic impact of the festival in “Good Times Rolling at Montreal Jazz Fest”
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