With the Montreal Jazz Festival website describing them as “reminiscent of Television and Talking Heads,” there was no way I was missing tonight’s opener, Montreal’s Pottery. It’s almost poetic that Television’s See No Evil is playing over the PA as I enter MTelus tonight! The huge swarm of photographers that gather at the front for their arrival on stage for their biggest show to date suggests that I’m not the only one excited to see what they are all about.
All 5 assemble up along the front of the stage and launch straight into their 40-minute hurricane of a set based primarily on their newest EP No. 1, loaded with deep rumbling bass lines, angular riffs from guitars propped up almost under the armpit, and stop-start beats that frequently speed up and slow down. The comparisons to Television and Talking Heads are accurate for sure, with smatterings of The Coral or The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster thrown in for good measure. An incredible introduction to the band for the previously uninitiated like myself; expect to hear a lot more from Pottery over the coming months.
The bar is set good and high for the return of Courtney Barnett. Entering the stage in the dark, the only light on stage radiates from the backdrop, and she is a silhouette for the slow-burning Hopefulessness, mysteriously patrolling the stage in the dark before final lighting up in bright yellow light for City Looks Pretty, triumphantly busting out a solo at the front to the raucous cheers of the packed floor. The slow rumble of the classic Avant Gardener leads into the pummeling drums to get the place fully jumping for the first time tonight. The intro of Small Talk is extended to allow the rest of her long-time backing band to be introduced (namely, Bones Sloane on bass, and Dave Mudie on drums), and whilst the three look fairly small on the giant MTelus stage with their minimal stage setup, they certainly don’t sound small!
A rocking Need A Little Time then leads into the brilliant Nameless, Faceless, with its jaunty verses contrasting markedly with the heavy chorus, and the crowd bounces enthusiastically once more. Things get even heavier on Small Poppies, culminating in Courtney laying her guitar onto the floor at the front of the stage and thrashing at it, as if administering some kind or violent CPR to it. For sure, such ferocity in sound is not evident on the records, and shows why her live show really adds an extra dimension to her discography.
Depreston affords everyone the opportunity to catch their breath, consisting of just Courtney and her guitar, and is swiftly greeted with a huge singalong from the very first line. During the breakdown part of the song, she backs away from the mic completely to let the crowd take over vocal duties, and 2000 voices softly, yet loudly, fill the room with the mantra “If you’ve got a spare half a million / You could knock it down and start rebuilding!” Right after the song, Courtney is impressed: “that was very beautiful singing from you!!!”
It seems incredible that Courtney only has 2 full-length albums to date and its testament to how good a songwriter she is that the show feels like a Greatest Hits set already. Elevator Operator still sounds amazing, with its churning beat and bass, as does Charity, which again, comes across much heavier than on record. The already-heavy Pedestrian At Best is therefore absolutely incendiary in the live setting, and the pit throbs and bounces yet again to close out the main set.
After a brief pause, Courtney returns and explains “I’m having such a nice time, I don’t want this night to end!” After paying tribute to friend and collaborator Kurt Vile (“I miss him when he’s not around!”) with Let It Go, the band returns for new song Sunday Roast. Courtney then notices a guy at the front with a hand-written sign with the word “Odetta” scrawled on it, and accepts the challenge: “OK, nobody ever requests that song!” Ode To Odetta follows, from her debut 2012 EP, I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris, and it sounds absolutely magical. Courtney strains to reach some of the notes, but it only endears her to the crowd even more, who roar in approval after the last bars ring out. History Eraser then closes out the show in blazing fashion after an hour and 40 minutes. A wonderful show from start to finish, and unquestionably a highlight of this year’s Jazz Fest.
- 1. Hopefulessness
- 2. City Looks Pretty
- 3. Avant Gardener
- 4. Small Talk
- 5. Need a Little Time
- 6. Nameless, Faceless
- 7. I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch
- 8. Small Poppies
- 9. Depreston
- 10. Are You Looking After Yourself?
- 11. An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)
- 12. Everybody Here Hates You
- 13. Elevator Operator
- 14. Lance Jr
- 15. Charity
- 16. Pedestrian at Best
- 17. Let It Go
- 18. Sunday Roast
- 19. Ode to Odetta
- 20. History Eraser
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Eric Brisson