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Concert Review: Dengue Fever & Tinariwen

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A pair just as unlikely as they were fantastic graced the stage at Place des Arts on April 13. Cambodian-psychedelic rock group Dengue Fever opened for the Saharan blues collective Tinariwen, creating an atmosphere that accomplished the feat of cultural synthesis beautifully.

Wandering into the venue a little late recalled memories of my dad stumbling upon Dengue Fever through Pandora, before free music streaming was sullied by all of the commercials. The khmer verses paired with warm guitar riffs that were both novel and reminiscent of Cambodian rock history. The Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is a far cry from my cramped living room, and it was jarring to join hundreds of seated people as they nodded along to the chorus of “Shave Your Beard.”

After sixteen years together, the groundbreaking band has amassed a dedicated and well-deserved following. Lead singer Chhom Nimol, along with her American bandmates, has heralded a resurgence of khmer pop music. Their own remarkable albums aside, the band has released compilations of music lost or destroyed during the Cambodian genocide of the late 1970s. Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia and Sleepwalking Through the Mekong have helped to bring visibility to the artistic ramifications of the Khmer Revolution while also honoring the vital role that Cambodian musicians played in the development of the rock genre half a century ago. The band’s monumental outro came through “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula,” which offered a glimpse into the surf-rock allure of their latest album, Escape from Dragon House.

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After a brief intermission, guests began to rise from seats both isolating and plush. Ululations rang out from every section of a crowd that had seemed so docile minutes before. We snuck toward the stage to get a good look at the six-piece comprised of Tinariwen’s third generation. The Tuareg musicians sang together, clad in cheches and thick veils of exquisite cloth. One member danced throughout the performance, becoming a crowd favorite as he retired a crimson electric guitar to lead a wake of flowing garments across the stage. In a strange progression of events, the entire room began to howl and lurch toward the front row during “Tamiditin Tan Ufrawan,” throwing all former reticence to the wayside.

Tinariwen came to share Elwan, a new album that reflects a range of deeply emotional responses to political turmoil and displacement, with a room full of Montreal residents beginning to thaw their bones after a long winter. In the process, they engaged individuals in a two-hour celebration of music from a Saharan region that felt close for only one night. Recorded in Joshua Tree, California, due to the political volatility that has afflicted their people for decades, the album bares the harsh realities of the group’s rebellion to listeners.

That evening, we all danced together – we all lay in wait for the rotating panel of singers and percussionists to build off of the stories that came before. As the show ended with “Chaghaybou,” we knew how lucky were to be invited to participate in a moment so fun and profound.

– Review by Maddie Jennings

Concert Review: Dinosaur Jr. @ Théatre Corona

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The grand Théatre Corona abounded with relics of the ‘90s on March 9. As I wandered into a sea of dads, I was engulfed in a wave of sounds and smells I valued most in my childhood, however putrid they seemed at the time. The crowd was kind and ruddy, allowing me to snake my way through hundreds of Dinosaur Jr. devotees standing transfixed by the musical stylings of a band that defined their dive bar days. I was happy to be allowed a glimpse into their tried rituals — they’d called up college friends, filled up on moderately-priced beer, and nodded along to the songs that marked their lives’ major milestones.

That night, I was made privy to the very peculiar process of reawakening. The herd bore signs of fatigue, content to tap their feet where a mosh pit would have been in order a few short decades ago. However, no matter where any given member fell in terms of life experience, all were transported to a timeless dreamworld of J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph’s creation. In the wake of Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, the band’s eleventh studio album, the crowd celebrated “Tiny” and “Goin Down” as wholeheartedly as they savored the familiar beats of “Feel the Pain.” The riffs were emblems of a youth never truly bygone. In essence, the show was not a testament to any time in particular, but rather a chance to integrate sounds of the past into our lives again.

The muted nostalgia persisted throughout, and the crowd itself was just as fascinating as the spectacle we came to witness. The spectators exuded comfort, as their passion for the band had only matured with time. Perhaps the rejuvenating power of a live show only grows, so I don’t fear a future of enjoying beers with friends while reveling in past shenanigans. For now, I have no qualms learning from the earlier generation who may never stop stumbling into musty concert halls just in time for the headliner to grace the stage.

Although I couldn’t partake in the general nostalgia for years I experienced in a stroller, I was grateful to my parents for keeping Dinosaur Jr. in constant rotation on our old stereo. When the first few notes of “Start Choppin’” filled the room, I danced with more violent fervor than ever before. Of course, this led to respectful thrashing among the crowd’s most spry as the band continued on through “Freak Scene” and an encore cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” The band’s intrigue is intergenerational, and I’ve become aware of a visceral connection to my predecessors as I trace the musical history we venerated in my childhood apartment.

I appreciated the opportunity to see Dinosaur Jr. alone, as I could satisfy my own curiosities about a band so important to my family. Everyone at the venue that night was participating in an exploit that stretches back thirty years and content to see it live on into the future. We all danced to these records at varying stages of life, and in this way we were able to welcome a Montreal spring together. With a gentle salute to the past, Dinosaur Jr. is adapting to an era of uncertainty with time-honored composure. For one night, we were lucky to do so along with them.

– Review by Maddie Jennings

Album Review: Her Harbour – Go Gently Into the Night

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In keeping with the caprices of the weather in the dead of winter, Montreal-born and Ottawa-based musician Gabrielle Giguere released her second album as Her Harbour on February 3. Go Gently Into the Night, an apt reference to Dylan Thomas’s haunting villanelle, pours sweet strings onto a heavy, winding reflection on the passage of time. Fortunately, Giguere’s vivid descriptions of all things cold will displace the frost that may have settled into your bones, as this mystifying album leaves you willing to reconcile your differences with this brutal season.

Although the album begins quite softly, it is easy to succumb to the intensity in Giguere’s pleas throughout “Hewing Crowns.” The piano and double bass pair with wails through a wind tunnel as she repeats the eerie line: “You conjure demon in me.” The dulcet vocals, supported by Philippe Charbonneau of Scattered Clouds, are entrancing as Giguere weaves through a melancholy dream. Charbonneau’s double bass also resonates throughout the album, rising and falling with the spirit of each song. Her Harbour’s ghostly atmosphere is further constructed by Mika Posen’s strings, Olivier Fairfield’s vibraphone, and Dave Draves’s keys.

A swaying rhythm appears in “Below Breaths,” in which Giguere croons “I lay in books of your objections.” The track articulates the cycles of loss and return, enticing anyone with a similar tale to breathe along to the tune. Widely-lauded “Chime and Knell” follows, unravelling expectations of the spring in chilling waves. Whereas the spring is long-anticipated, its promise of growth is coupled with sobering undertones of death. Spine-chilling entreaties carry on to the emphatic “Memento Mori,” proving that there is tenderness that persists in grief.

The album teems with imagery that seems to render the stages of sorrow as natural as the phases of the moon. “Death Mask” calmly unearths past maladies as the tone of the album shifts towards resolution and acceptance. “I won’t make you weep” is counteracted by the assertion that “time will leave you weak”. Perhaps it is the extraordinary power encased in this seemingly gentle selection of tracks that makes the album’s end feel like waking up from a fever dream. However, it draws to a close that makes the world outside feel quite a bit more forgiving.

– Review by Maddie Jennings