Friday, 22 November 2013

A Handful of Great Bands - Mundial Montreal 2013's Opening Night

Mundial Montreal  |  Club Lambi & Balattou


It’s Wednesday night. November has long kicked warmth out of the picture, and it is already freezing in the Montreal streets. I’m happy to be at home, in the comfort of my cozy little household. Then my phone rings.

“Hey man,” my buddy from Avalanche Productions tells me, “do you want to come check out the big Mundial show tonight? I can get you on the guest list. Lemon Bucket Orchestra is playing, it’ll be sick!

– I don’t know man. I’m pretty cozy right now.

– Come on, man! There is going to be a surprise…”

Motherf***er. He knows me well.

“Alright, I’m in.”

And so I step back into the cold and make my way to Club Lambi. There is some sort of excitement in the air, to the point where it almost feels like a Friday night. I’m already happy I decided to leave the house.

I arrive while the host is mentioning that the show is going to be held following a back-and-forth concept between Club Lambi and Balattou right across the street, in diagonal. Shortly thereafter, Lemon Bucket Orchestra’s set begins. This 15-strong Toronto-based project is a lot of fun. They play old Eastern Europeans folk songs with a punk attitude, and with an impressive array of instruments: trombone, tuba, saxophone, violin, percussions, accordion, some sort of flute… It’s extraordinarily entertaining. The Balkan Beat Montreal crew often invites them to rock Divan Orange, which is the last place I remember seeing them. It was a sweaty, moshy time.

And so, on this ice cold night, in front of a mostly sitting down crowd, this army of a band begins playing its folk anthems. It takes about a millisecond, no exaggeration, for a handful of dancers to jump in front of the stage and move in a cadenced, semi-hysterical fashion. It’s contagious. About a minute later, I too am skanking around like a Kingston teenager in front a 70s sound system.

The purpose of most of the songs this crew plays in this short set is to spark off the audience’s party instincts, with the exception of a Russian prison song, which lead singer and violinist Mark Marczyk describes as “incredibly tragic” (a gem). 

Like the rest of the spectators, I get a kick out of a sweet moment, during which the saxophonist Chris Weatherstone and the band’s official belly dancer have some sort of face off on the edge of the stage. They stare intently in each others’ eyes as they repeatedly steal the spotlight away from one another, each doing their own thing. It truly is a gorgeous moment of artfulness.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they finish their set standing on Club Lambi’s bar, in the midst of a merry hand-clapping crowd. The piece they play at that point is deliciously upbeat and fast-paced, and so the spirits are high. Marczyk even drops the vocals of house anthem Satisfaction on top of the music, encouraging the public to join him: “Touch me… ‘Til I can get my… satisfaction”. Gleeful.

I’m still waiting for my surprise at this point. Although by now, I have no doubt that leaving the house was the right thing to do, the annoying little kid in me wants what he was promised.

It would come in the form of an announcement from Marczyk. “Alright, folks, grab your coats! We’re going to the other venue!

– Play one more!” someone in the audience screams.

“Alright,” Marczyk answers, before pausing briefly. “Maybe we’ll play one more on the way there.”

No way.

And so we all witness 15 great musicians making their way down the stairs of Lambi while blaring elevating melodies and playing frenetic rhythms. Of course, their departure leads the entire crowd to follow them in a procession of smiles and cheers. The parade makes its way South on the sidewalk, then veers into the middle of the street, before coming to a stop right there, at the center of Main. The musicians look at each other as the first car honks pop into the autumn night. They give one another unspoken signals…

And begin playing.

All wrapped up in our jackets and tuques, we dance and waltz and jump for a good five minutes, as the pissed off car drivers insist on making their anger felt loud and clear. It is delightful.

After a little while, the band makes it way to the other side of the street, then to Balattou’s door, then inside the bar, to finally end up on stage. They thank the crowd and hand over the torch to Bumaranga, a Montreal-based project composed of seven grinning artists. What they play is a variety of Afro-Colombian traditional styles of music, spiced up with a bass and an electric guitar. It is utterly fun. Lots of percussions of flutes of all kinds are having a party in this joyful unit’s oeuvre. The cherry is without a doubt their Cumbia version of a typically Québécois chanson à répondre (whose title I cannot seem to remember), which is delivered with astonishing precision by lead vocalist Stéphanie Osorio. The crowd goes nuts at that point.

Then, everyone grabs their coat again and heads back to Lambi, without the parade this time. There, Shtreiml & Ismail Fencioglu start playing a blend of traditional Turkish and Jewish music. Warm trombone notes punctuate a sound that is largely supported by two virtuosos: Fencioglu on the oud, and Shtreiml’s leader Jason Rosenblatt on the harmonica. The latter is especially impressive: I have never seen anyone in my life, not even the most melancholic of bluesmen, master the harmonica with such ease and precision. It’s mind-blowing.

After this lively set comes to an end, it’s already time to run back to Balattou. When I get there, Echo Calypso is in the midst of offering its amalgamation of ska, reggae, and traditional Latin music to a jumping audience. This Montreal band relies heavily on percussions and two-tone guitars to forge their sunshine-filled sound, but also features one hell of a keys player, whose fingers go pretty wild at one point.

When the audience is sent back to Lambi, I decide that my night has come to an end. I walk back home after warmly thanking my buddy for inviting me. In the middle of my stroll, I bump into friends – house music enthusiasts – who are smoking outside of O Patro Vys. They convince me to come inside for half an hour.

Twist my rubber arm.

I walk in and stay in there for the length of what would have been a drink if I wasn’t on my month-long booze hiatus. During that time, I dance ecstatically to flavourful beats, with only one thought in mind:

It’s only Wednesday night.

I can only presume that the weekend might be fun.

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