Wednesday, Nov. 20, Day One: Yamantaka// Sonic Titan, La Sala Rossa
The eighth edition of M for Montreal got off to a heavy start at La Sala Rossa with Montreal-Toronto art collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. The five-piece band was the highlight of the night’s performances, despite not being the headlining act. For onlookers not familiar with the group, first impressions count: the musicians were clad in studded black denim, unkempt black hair and elaborate face paint. Cartoonish graffiti-styled grey-and-white cardboard cutouts were propped up at the edge of the stage and large spotlights bathed the set in red lights. It just so happened that the red velvet curtain backdrop at La Sala Rossa fit perfectly with the set’s white, black and red motif. While appearances seemed of great importance to Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, it soon became apparent that the set and costumes were just one part of the act. The group draws from a range of influences, and this was demonstrated through a deliberate combination of thought-provoking performance art and captivating music. Members were poised and deliberate in their movements: lead singer Ruby Kato Attwood stood still in front of her microphone, releasing piercing yet calming vocals while backing vocalist Ange Loft kept her back to the audience, only to turn around periodically with a burst of powerful screams, eerie chants and dark-sounding harmonies. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan combines heavy-metal instrumentals with melodic, pop vocals. Songs were unpredictable while maintaining a coherent, intelligent structure. The music spoke for itself, but Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s performance took the audience beyond the concert and into the realm of theatre.
Thursday, Nov. 21, Day Two: Born Ruffians, La Sala Rossa. A Tribe Called Red, Société des Arts Technologiques
Ontario-based indie-rock group, Born Ruffians, capped off Day Two’s showcase at La Sala Rossa, where they performed mostly tunes off their most recent album, Birthmarks. Frontman Luke Lalonde gave an entertaining performance, shifting his vocals liberally from soulful, concentrated verses to spontaneous, energetic tangents. The on-stage renditions of the most recent songs appeared mellow and introspective, in stark contrast to the hype that erupted during the opening lines of “I Need A Life.” The dense crowd of loyal fans sang along to all the familiar tunes and danced loosely to the new ones. Born Ruffians have graced many stages over the years, and their showmanship is a testament to that. Lalonde’s vocals, while erratic and pitchy at times, were clear and controlled throughout the half-hour set.
The Société des Arts Technologiques’ stripped-down, industrial setup is vast, but the late-night crowd that gathered for A Tribe Called Red packed the space making it obvious that the Ottawa electronic three-piece knew how to guide a crowd; people couldn’t help but be moved by the music and even those furthest from the stage were consumed in their own worlds of rhythm and flow. A Tribe Called Red draws from many genres to produce their unique sound. Combining reggae and hip-hop with Native chants and drumming, they are not afraid to experiment and make a statement. Members Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau, Dan “DJ Shub” General and Bear Witness were visibly enjoying the party: relaxed, vibing to the music and interacting with the crowd. Suspended on either side of the stage were two massive projector screens displaying looped snippets of decades-old movie and cartoon depictions of First Nations people. These visuals brought an intellectual, as well as aesthetic element to the performance, proving A Tribe Called Red is a group worthy of mainstream attention. At the end of their set, members approached the edge of the stage, leaned over and welcomed the rush of high-fives and handshakes extending up from the crowd.
Friday, Nov. 22, Day Three: Mark Berube and Lakes of Canada, Le Divan Orange
The welcoming atmosphere at Le Divan Orange was the perfect spot for Mark Berube’s soft vocals and eclectic folk-pop sound. The singer, pianist and guitarist performed with a confident ease, making his music accessible to fans and non-fans alike. The accompanying band played with precision and charm, rounding out Berube’s songs into a four-piece act. Berube introduced the third song, “Mississippi Prom,” a Bob Dylan-esque folk-inspired tune that seemed to evolve and span throughout the rest of their set. The crowd was polite and subdued for most of the performance, but as the music seemed to loosen, the audience followed suit.
Montreal’s Lakes of Canada took the energy level up a few notches with their quirky, unique indie-pop set. Before the band began their first song, lead singer and songwriter Jake Smith bounced up and down in front of the microphone like a boxer preparing for a fight. When the rest of the band took the stage, the musicians approached separate drum kits and erupted into an attention-grabbing synchronized drum performance. Lakes of Canada’s music is accessible and fun, and their on-stage energy is contagious. Smith’s characteristic voice conveyed a passion and intensity that was accentuated by his impressive range. The musicians were in sync instrumentally, and the set was entertaining, surprising and creative. With all four members being multi-instrumentalists, the audience could only wait to see what would be picked up next —be it sleigh bells, flute, mandolin or Glockenspiel. The band changed gears when it went unplugged for the last song. After hopping off stage and forming a circle in the middle of the floor space, a delighted crowd gathered—and hushed itself to silence—to watch the group perform their soulful acapella tune, “Eden.”