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Concert Review: Thurston Moore Group and Jessica Moss @ La Sala Rossa

On Tuesday, July 18 Montrealers lined up eagerly outside La Sala Rossa for the long awaited Thurston Moore Group and Jessica Moss show. For those who don’t know, Thurston Moore is a singer, songwriter and guitarist for Sonic Youth, one of the most influential rock bands of our time, thanks to their unconventional guitar tunings and experimental use of objects like screwdrivers and drum sticks to alter tone quality. The audience that night was full of Sonic Youth lovers who had come to see a living legend.

Starting the night off was Jessica Moss, a local violinist who also plays in Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Black Ox Orkestar. Moss played a single 25 minute piece which told the story of a refugee traveling from danger to safety, her presence majestic as she manipulated an array of pedals with her bare feet and hands. Stacks of echoing loops and distortion on her violin and voice created an intensely entrancing experience for the ears, while Moss’ melancholic repetitions of the words “entire populations” served as a stark and heart-wrenching reminder of the piece’s subject matter. As the layers and signal-bending folded and unfolded, I felt a sense of relief, like one may feel when they finally see land after a long time at sea. With one piece, Moss took the audience on a beautifully haunting sonic and emotional journey.

Thurston Moore Group took the stage next. Seeing Moore live for the first time was an experience I will never forget. I knew he had a unique way of playing guitar, but watching it in real time was breathtaking. Moore used his guitar fully, from the output jack to the bridge and all the way up to the headstock, gently and rhythmically tapping it with his fingers to further distort the timbre of the sound. He wasn’t the only living legend on stage that night, though – My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe was shredding and delivering heavy bass lines in sync with part-time Sonic Youth and current Sun Kil Moon drummer Steve Shelley.

The group played tracks off their new album Rock N Roll Consciousness, a record that very pleasantly sounds like something Sonic Youth could have released. Beyond his astonishing guitar-work, Moore was also as political as ever. On “Cease Fire,” a song off the new album, he denounced guns and empowered love to rule. While introducing the song, Moore revealed that he first played Sala Rossa years ago for an anti-Bush show. “Is there a difference between a corporate take-over and a political take-over?” he wondered aloud. “I don’t think so. Well, we’re here for a free love take-over.”

At the end of the show, the merch table was surrounded by a large mass of fans while Moore signed records. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the last albums and exchanged a few words with Moore about the rise of extremist right wing groups and the need for organized actions, offering him one of my ‘FCK NZS’ stickers. “Yeah I’ll take that!” he responded, “I’ve seen the t-shirts around!” I would be lying if I said I’m not hoping he puts it on one of his guitars. I left the venue that night sonically satisfied, feeling an after-buzz that stuck with me for several days – a free-love takeover, indeed.

– Review by Nadège Radioskid

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Concert Review: POP Montreal @ the MAC

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Despite booking huge, internationally recognized artists and having the capability to appeal to those unfamiliar with the city, Pop Montreal reads more as the fall version of Suoni Per Il Popolo than anything else, holding the spirit of the city it inhabits above all else. The Plateau and Mile End are filled with a particular energy this week, with daily passes allowing for young folks to bounce around to various venues and enjoy a multitude of events in a very free spirited way. On my first night I was actually drawn downtown to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal to experience three local projects with an ear for droning soundscapes. The ominous room set the perfect tone for the evening as concertgoers were met with high ceilings and black walls to complement the enveloping sets that took place over the course of the night.

This show really did wonders for me, here are my thoughts on each set:

                                                                      Automatisme
The throbbing drones that began William Jourdain’s performance never really left his sound pallet, resulting in a sort of industrial lens that encompassed each stylistic change throughout the set. By stretching songs on for periods of seven to ten minutes Jourdain certainly paid respect to the Constellation Records Ideology, but his ability to touch upon dance-able grooves amidst more abrasive material stood as a relatively unique quality. Blissful electronic melodies could occasionally be heard over the dramatic background with textural shifts evolving into moments of dense, wobbling beats. These songs may serve as an indicator of the direction of dance music in the future. Moments to encourage both head bobbing and critical thought filled the experience resulting in a capability to appeal to a wide audience without sacrificing musicality.

                                                                       Jessica Moss
Jessica Moss clearly understands the violin’s natural capability to produce heart-wrenching material, which was indicated by her set’s most climactic points. However, she also avoided riding this wave too heavily, contrasting her anxious moments of instability with gradual resolutions into silence. Playing a quick-hitting, 25-minute piece based on the “journey for all people to find peace,” Moss set an impressively lush tone considering her reliance on a relatively minimal set-up. Simple ideas grew into echoing soundscapes with manipulated violins filling every corner of the room. Raw, distorted melodies from vocals and violin, occasionally breached the surface of the backdrop resulting in moments of stunning transcendence.

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                                                                 Jerusalem in My Heart
Jerusalem in My Heart has a vision. Besides the ability to create massive musical moments with the juxtaposition of shimmering synthesizers and high intensity buzuq playing, the group adds to their aura with projection screens and stage magic. The theme of instability follows the music everywhere, each phrase dancing around resolution as nonspecific visuals float around lead singer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh adding to the hypnotic nature of the whole experience. More intense vocal moments were matched with stunning strobe lights, dancers emerging from the background only at the very end to cap off the constantly growing emotional weight. Perhaps a good summary of the set’s effect on the audience came in a moment of silence. After finishing a song towards the end, Moumneh took an extra minute or two to adjust for the next song. Unsure of what to expect next, every member of the crowd remained completely still, signifying the breath-taking nature of the performance they had just engaged in.

– Review & photos by Donovan Burtan

Concert Review: Passovah Festival: Caro Diaro, Lungbutter, Jessica Moss, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

Concert Review: Passovah Festival: Caro Diaro, Lungbutter, Jessica Moss, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

I finished work at 8 p.m. and by the time I’d made my pedestrian way up to Bar le Ritz it was after 9, so I’d missed Adam Kinner and Moss Lime. Caro Diaro was onstage, moving through the last few songs of a set. It was Maica Mia minus the enormous bottom end – her pieces stripped down to stark electric guitar and voice. A lamenting voice always threatening to break out into a full-throated yowl. She delivered some surprisingly funny, bemused between-song patter, and when she was done, she stepped down into the audience and quickly became just another member of the crowd.

That’s the kind of crowd it was, full of musicians waiting to start their set, artists, writers, academics. An interesting crowd, an intelligent crowd. As the night went on, it got bigger and bigger but its character stayed pretty much the same. Mostly youngish, mostly white-ish. Smokers spilling out onto the sidewalk, August is so great. I got to try out the Farnham beer, a good-tasting rouge. The bartenders were on their game.

Lungbutter I was familiar with from their CDR of last year. It was good to see them live, to discover the set-up behind the sound, the dynamic triad of guitarist, vocalist and drummer. Mark E. Smith and Karen Finley’s vocal styles came to mind – the voice big enough and obsessive enough to hold its own against grunge-laden guitar feedback and punkish riffage, while drums rat-a-tat in pointed yet almost jazzy bursts, lending skeletal rhythm to what could be a very formless sound. Each member was attentive to the others’ input. The audience crowded up, and they were familiar with the songs, reacting happily when Lungbutter started playing a favourite.

I probably shouldn’t have taken that smoke break before Jessica Moss, because I was almost paralyzed, shoved up against a corner of the wall praying, “Please, start the set before I have to deal with another human being.” When Moss came on, she said something about “bringing the energy down,” which I thought was an excellent idea. There seemed to be some sound issues – I couldn’t really make out most of what she was trying to say, and the yakety-yakking audience wasn’t helping any. In fact they were downright rude, carrying on with their cocktail chatter even as Moss started sawing away at her violin.

It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered as she opened things up, drew the curtain back and revealed the stars arranged against the black of infinite space. She was using loops, pedals, effects, she was entirely blowing me away. Well, I’m a sucker for a good drone. I don’t know what-all she was doing, there were sounds floating around in the mix that didn’t sound anything like a fiddle. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the audience had doubled, and was pressed up to the stage, rapt. Jessica Moss solo is a force of nature – if you missed this show, you’ve got another chance to see her in the Pop Montreal festival.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan was the reason why I was there, leaning on the horizontally-striped multi-coloured wall – I’d been wanting to see them for a couple of years. Right after reading about them in something Julian Cope wrote, checking out their recordings and thinking, “Oh, another great Montreal band I’ve totally slept on.” The current line-up of the band is a tour-ready music machine in Dada-like face paint, fully capable of recreating the intricacy and complexity of the operatic songs on their two great CDs. The music they create isn’t a melting pot, but rather a conscious and playful retrofitting of traditional Japanese and Indigenous American sounds with the distilled best of Canuck / American indie psyche and old-school prog rock. There’s a depth and a heaviness to folk traditions that a lot of indie rock bands can’t touch, but Yamantaka // Sonic Titan get there, and they bring the audience with them.

There were more issues with a mic occasionally not picking up one of the lead vocalists. A minor quibble in an otherwise mesmerizing performance. The magic of Y // ST stayed with me during the long 55 St-Laurent bus ride south. As I strolled into my back alley a raccoon paused at a turn in the road and regarded me with cautious curiosity. I nodded but it didn’t nod back.

– Review by Vince Tinguely