In a city with as many Festivals as ours, it’s easy to completely miss the smaller ones that don’t have the backing of heavy hitters like Evenko. Therefore, when Blue Skies Turn Black announced the return of the mighty …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, I noticed that it was co-hosted with “Distorsion.” A quick Google search revealed all: Distorsion Psych Fest is a 5-day festival which, as they describe themselves, is “an annual gathering that… provides Montreal with a window into the immersive realm of psychedelia.” And this year is the 4th edition, I find out during the evening! I am clearly late to the party, but better late than never…
The festival setting is unique too, at the Église Saint-Enfant-Jésus du Mile-End (right across the street from Sala Rossa, give or take). From the outside, it’s a picturesque church from the 1800s, but once inside the basement of the church, the psychedelia takes over – trippy art on the walls, a room with projections, and local micro brasseries on site to fuel the fun.
The line-up tonight is pretty stacked as well. As I arrive, local trio Zouz are getting things going in the Caterpillar Room, essentially the main room where are the artwork and bars are. Aided by some trippy projections either side of the small stage, their churning psychedelia matches the vibe of the paintings adorning the walls around them quite nicely.
The rest of the bands on the bill tonight play in the Moth Room immediately adjacent, which in normal light, is a fairly bland, ugly faded white room that resembles a cafeteria in an old 1970s office building, complete with decaying floating ceiling tiles. However, when a band takes to the stage, immense projections bathe the stage in colour while the rest of the room is cloaked in darkness; its quite the metamorphosis. The first band up is the mighty Film School, for their first show here in almost 9 years, in support of their newest full-length Bright To Death, and first since 2010’s Fission. Frontman Greg Bertens beams with pride when I talk with him about the new record after the set, and rightly so; it’s an immense return. After the set opens with the tribal drums of old song Compare and then Influencer (from the as-yet-untitled EP due to arrive this summer), the rest of the set is devoted solely to the new record. Bye Bye Bird sounds a lot like My Bloody Valentine borrowing basslines from Joy Division, whilst Go Low trudges through a sludgy distorted electronic beat from start to finish, tailor-made for a festival like this! Crushin sounds like Real Estate just discovered shoe-gaze, and can’t seem to put it down. The Celebration is a huge departure from the psychedelia but a nonetheless rousing conclusion to the set, replacing the scuzz with a much more driving indie-dance vibe in the manner of Munich by Editors, complete with a furious machine-gun hi-hat at the chorus to keep up the relentless pace. A fantastic 35 minutes that absolutely races by.
Film School Setlist
- 1. Compare
- 2. Influencer
- 3. Bye Bye Bird
- 4. Two In Sun
- 5. Go Low
- 6. Crushin
- 7. The Celebration
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not at all familiar with the next two bands up, so I approach their sets with a completely open mind; at a festival of Psychedelia, how can you not?! London Ontario’s WHOOP-Szo are next up, and initially, come across as more of a heavy post-rock band, maybe even post-metal. Where do you draw the line between the two? I’m not sure, but either way, it doesn’t last long, as it soon progresses to more of a math-rock Fall-Of-Troy vibe. Hair flails around the stage and the room in unison. They describe themselves on their Facebook page as “true-psyche, post-metal, sludge, folk,” which sums it up pretty well.
Surprise package of the night, though, is unquestionably local 5-piece Atsuko Chiba, using the occasion as the release show for their new record Trace. The room is absolutely packed by the time they take to the stage, which is no mean feat; the Moth Room is certainly bigger than a venue like Sala Rossa, so it’s evident that the band have picked up a substantial following. I feel like an idiot for not knowing them beforehand, but I’m certainly not going to forget them after tonight. To borrow from their Bandcamp page, “Atsuko Chiba destabilizes genre categorizations and conventional compositional techniques to create music that is best characterized by its nonlinear, composite, and dynamic style.” In the live setting, that translates to a sound that kinda fuses Battles with Rage Against The Machine, the latter comparison thanks largely to the voice of guitarist/keyboardist Karim Lakhdar sounding remarkably similar to that of Zach De La Rocha. It’s a phenomenal 30 minutes or so, and I find myself immersed in it from start to finish. Now I’ve been going to shows for many years now, and I don’t get it that often anymore: that rare sense of excitement you feel when you stumble across a band out of nowhere and are in love with them instantly. But I got it here. Bassist David Palumbo seems just as excited by the end of the set, as he declares “its amazing that you all came out to celebrate weird-ass music!” It was indeed quite the celebration; expect to hear a lot more from these guys in future.
The bar is set extremely high for Austin heavyweights …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Coming onstage at the ridiculous time of 12.20am, it’s no surprise that the crowd has thinned out somewhat by this point since the last Metro’s are leaving around now (it is a Thursday, after all). I will never understand why shows are scheduled in such a way that those reliant on Public Transport have to leave before or during the main event. Granted, the band arrive on stage later than their planned start time of 11.45pm, as things have been running late all evening, but even if things had run on time, those poor folks would have only seen half the set anyway. It’s a shame, and the only gripe about the festival in general – it’s a similar time slot for all the headliners over the 4 nights of live music. Luckily for me, I have a car so I can stick around…
So yes, Trail Of Dead, back in Montreal after 8 years away! Its been 20 years since the release of their sophomore album Madonna, and so they have spent the past few months on tour playing that record in celebration of this milestone. For the most part, the record is played from start to finish. The weird 1-minute interludes that appear throughout the album are cut from the set, but the 9 “regular” songs are played in order. If fatigue is setting in around the room, a thunderous Mistakes And Regrets quickly sounds a wake-up call for the hardy who are still here. Totally Natural is just as frantic, as strobes blaze around the stage in all colours before the song ends in a huge wall of distortion and feedback. Frontman Conrad Keely and drummer Jason Reece then switch spots for Blight Takes All to take the frenetic pace up another notch; Jason always was the crazier of the two when it came to frontman duties. They switch back for the relative calm of Clair De Lune, and everyone can finally catch their breath. Jason is back at the front for Aged Dolls, which culminates in him handing his guitar to a guy at the front to noodle with, while he jumps into the crowd to pogo with a few guys at the front; like I said, he is definitely the crazy one! After a ferocious A Perfect Teenhood, Conrad ponders the Madonna record one more time (“there’s a whole generation that wasn’t born when I wrote this…now they’re 20 years old!”), before wrapping up that record with album closer Sigh The Children.
Likely due to the impending curfew, the bend elect to run straight into the encore songs, starting out with the wonderful It Was There That I Saw You, Another Morning Stoner and then Homage, which almost feels like they’re about to do their glorious Source Tags & Codes record from 2002 all the way through as well! Jason is coy on the possibility of this actually happening when I talk with him before the show, though… alas, one can hope! My all-time favourite Trail Of Dead song Will You Smile Again? closes out the set for good in incendiary fashion. The intro part is played even faster than on record, which makes an even starker contrast to the verse which is just as slow as always and incites a huge singalong from those still standing at 1.30am as the show wraps up. A fantastic end to my first taste of Distorsion Psych Fest, and hopefully the first of many more to come.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead Setlist
- 1. Mistakes & Regrets
- 2. Totally Natural
- 3. Blight Takes All
- 4. Clair de Lune
- 5. Flood of Red
- 6. Mark David Chapman
- 7. Aged Dolls
- 8. A Perfect Teenhood
- 9. Sigh Your Children
- 10. It Was There That I Saw You
- 11. Another Morning Stoner
- 12. Homage
- 13. Will You Smile Again?
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Jean-Michel Lacombe