Walking up to O Patro Vys, 15 minutes before the doors opened for this double bill, I found a lineup. Not a few people huddled up to grab a spot, but a proper gathering of enthusiastic faces, there was a buzz. Montrealers are notorious for being fashionably late and let’s factor in the fact that it’s mid-January, I was astounded.
The fact is that this a great time to be a music lover in Montreal. Especially if you’re into the folk revival movement, you can insert whichever prefix you like before it, alt-, indie-, post whatever suits your fancy. With Patrick Watson and Half Moon Run now certified globetrotters, The Franklin Electric conquering Europe, The Barr Brothers turning heads south of the border and Sunfields gaining steam, we have the makings of an honest to God scene. But a scene isn’t really a scene until it has some crossover storylines.
Former Franklin Electric guitarist/harmonizer Johnny Griffin struck out on his own in 2014, revealing John Jacob Magistery. Nine months removed from the release of the four song EP Narcissism Unto Loneliness, Griffin took the stage with a cast of musicians that has radically changed since the recordings.
At first sight, Griffin looked like Jim Morrison had stolen Kurt Cobain’s wardrobe. He harkened back to an era where musicians produced music rather than an image. I miss musicians that look like musicians. If you saw them walking on the street, you’d think “that guy’s a musician”. There’s an honesty there that can’t be bought at Urban Outfitters. This being said, there was no thortage of young girls ready to swoon on his every word.
From the first verse of Diamond In A Cave it was apparent that this was now a band, not just a project. The sound was bigger, the harmonies more fleshed out. The sound had clearly evolved. There was a playfulness between the musicians, a very palpable chemistry. Those hoping for some new material, a sneak peek the upcoming full length debut Phantom i, were not left disappointed. Several new tracks promised a bigger sound with much of the soul already shown.
One of the aspects separating the Montreal scene from its folk brethren is a haunting, almost gospel quality to the vocals. Griffin is a contender to top them all with this quality. Nowhere was this more apparent than on closing opus Greatest Story Ever, a track familiar to anyone who’s turned on CHOM in the last few months. It sounded even more powerful , fuller. They definitely left the stage leaving the the crowd wanting more. Luckily the wait won’t be too long as they’ll be hitting the stage again February 24th at Casa del Popolo for an acoustic set.
By the time First You Get the Sugar hit the stage, despite a very short changeover, the crowd had already thinned out considerably. In what was perhaps an attempt to keep the crowd in the coat check line, they doled out their radio single Foreign Lands as the second song, a catchy indie pop number.
I don’t think this was a statement on the band as much as a late start on a weeknight and a pairing with a band that would attract a much different crowd. The band didn’t seem affected, they put together a high energy set, anyone who names their bad after a Homer Simpson line obviously knows how to have a good time.
Those who stayed bounced around to some catchy hooks and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves. This band is a throwback to the early 2000’s scene in Montreal that gave us Arcade Fire, Metric and The Stills which I’m sure will find their audience.
I found myself walking out of the building at the end of the night proud of my city. It’s our job as music lovers in this city to get out there and support these acts while they’re still our little secret, which may not be for long.
Review – Richard Brunette
Photos – Jason Hughes