AH! Un festival inattendu is a mini-festival that took place this spring, from April 2 to April 12. The festival, which is the brainchild of James Goddard, ran on a pay-what-you-can basis and included artists of all types from across Canada, the US, and even acts hailing from as far away as China.
The Joint Custody/Family Video/Hand Cream show was hosted at Brasserie Beaubien, a casual, dimly lit bar with a mishmash of activities, including slot machines in the back, a pool table, and a piano partially covered by a sheet. With the doors opening at 9:30 pm, and the music actually starting around 10:45, the crowd slowly trickled in, but the bar was pretty packed by the end.
The first band to perform was Joint Custody, a local Montreal group made up of three stylish women. After a quick introduction they launched into their first song, establishing their brooding and dreamy sound from the outset. Their instrumentals were strong and anchored by heavy, attention-grabbing bass riffs while forceful, up-tempo drums provided a striking juxtaposition to the softer vocals. While the guitar player sang the first song, the bass player took over for the rest of the set with her soft, wistful voice. Although their set was pretty one-note, each song flowed nicely into the next one.
Taking the stage after Joint Custody was a group called Family Video that hails from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Comprised of Jam King (who also writes the bands songs and lyrics) on guitar and vocals, Jake Nicoll on drums, and Noah Bender on bass, the group had an eclectic sound rooted in pop and alt-rock. You could tell that growing up in St. John’s heavily influenced their music, with many of the lyrics revolving around themes of loneliness, growing up in the middle of nowhere, and the boredom of small-town life. The group was comfortable with each other on stage and interacted with the crowd throughout their set. Between songs, Nicoll bantered with the crowd, discussing their tour schedule and the fact that the previous night they had possibly slept in a haunted basement and were all running on low sleep. Regardless of their states of rest, Family Video gave a great performance and the members are all seriously talented musicians. The instrumentals were incredible, each adding different layers to the sound, and Jam’s voice was buoyed by the instrumentals. Nicoll’s intensity also stood out—he didn’t stop wailing on the kit for one second of the set.
Soon after Family Video finished up, Hand Cream popped on stage. Hand Cream is another local Montreal band, comprised of Meghan Merrigan on vocals and guitar, Markus Lake on bass, Jef Barbara on keys and vox, Greg Napier on the drums, and Christian Simmons on everything else. The group had an easy-going, fun vibe about them. Meghan interacted a lot with the crowd, telling jokes and even calling for a round of drinks to celebrate Markus’s birthday. Hand Cream has a super interesting sound, self-described as ‘psychedelic post-punk’. Meghan’s voice was powerful, a bit raspy and cracking at the end of some words, adding a really unique texture to their sound. The crowd, which had been relatively mellow all night, began to get into the set, bobbing along to the beat. The guitar sounded similar to Mac Demarco’s with a beachy sound; while the cords were dreamy, they definitely had a distinct punk edge to them. Meghan’s voice and impressive guitar playing also added a bit of punk to the mix, with the drums banging out a strong beat and the keyboard adding a retro vibe to the sound. The mixture of genres and sounds helped elevate each band member, and allowed the listener to interpret the sound in their own way.
AH! did a great job putting together a show with all different types of music that would appeal to a wide range of listeners. Although some acts were less experienced than others, all the groups were clearly passionate about their music and seemed to be having a great time both on stage and off of it, as they all stuck around to hang out in the crowd and watch the other performances. The relaxed environment kept the interactions easy, and I hope that AH! continues in the following years.
Review by Natalie Abemayor