Jazz fans were treated to quite the evening of music last Saturday when guitar legend Al Di Meola took to the stage at Salle Pierre Mercure for a full evening of music. Being the only act on the bill can be a daunting task for some, but when you have over 40 years of material to choose from the only problem is finding the right mix of tunes to play.

Most of the evening was spent bouncing back and forth between celebrating Al’s classic album Elegant Gypsy which turns 40 this year and playing some of the newer tracks off of his most recent release Elysium. With the exception of the first few songs of the second set, this was a mostly electric guitar night featuring the full band… and what a band it was!

Its core was a powerful rhythm section composed of Luis Alicea on drums, Elias Tona on bass and percussionist Gumbi Ortiz whose high energy and constant movement around the stage brought both his fellow musicians and the crowd to life.

Rouding out the lineup were pianist Philippe Saisse and violinist Evan Garr who stood out as a force to be reckoned with in the future. On many of the songs Garr would share the solo duties and could clearly hold his own as a master of speed and technique.

The story of how Garr came to be up on stage with one of his idols is inspiring and has a Montreal connection. Watch the clip below for the story in Al’s own words and a small example of Garr’s brilliance at playing the violin.

As great as the backing band was, this show was a brilliant example of Di Meola’s mastery of his craft. A performer who has never shyed away from complexity, speed and technical wizardry, this performance pushed the limits of how well someone can play music live.

Although clearly a jazz-latin style performer, it was interesting to see a little bit of rock and roll as a root influence. One such example is Al’s re-imagining of some Beatles tunes, most notably the famous McCartney guitar ballad Blackbird which he played as a solo acoustic number on Saturday. There was also a brief full band version of the Zeppelin classic Black Dog with Garr doing his “Robert Plant impression” by substituting the lead vocal part for violin.

If you missed it don’t fret. Al has a long time love affair with Montreal and is a good friend of the Jazzfest, so there will certainly be more chances to catch him in the future.

* Photos by Stephanie Laughlin

If I may, I’d like to begin this review by quoting one of the great art collectives of our generation, Nickelback. Combining the poetic restraint of Keats and the vernacular edge of Ginsberg, lead singer Chad Kroeger once famously said, “We all just wanna be big rockstars, and live in hilltop houses, driving fifteen cars”— Kroeger’s words haunted me on Friday night as I walked home from an evening of music and much, much more at Petit Campus. But let’s backtrack a moment because I need to actually talk about the show first.

As any respectable Catholic would do, I spent the night of Good Friday drinking Four Loko and going to a concert. Playing their first-ever gig in Montreal, Australian indie darlings DMA’s have been getting some serious international buzz recently, including a recent appearance as the musical guest on The Tonight Show.

And for good reason. These young dudes put on a great show. According to an old friend from Sydney (don’t worry Kevin Song, I’m not gonna reveal your identity on the internet), DMA’s are “one of the most sought-after acts” down under, playing “sold out” shows across Sydney, Melbourne and other major Australian cities. Friday night’s show, then, was a strong indication that DMA’s will continue to find success on this continent, too.

Playing songs from their recently released, full-length album Hills End, as well as a selection of tracks from their 2014 EP, the Aussie boys blasted through a setlist that included hits such as Your Low and Laced as well as fan-favourite Delete, which has the sweeping, arena-ready quality of an old Oasis track (Champagne Supernova, anyone?). Self-evident as this observation may be, it also captures the essence of the band.

Indeed, DMA’s wear their 90s Britpop influences on their Adidas tracksuit sleeves. They make no bones about trying to obscure the musical culture that’s brought them into being.

Take lead singer Tommy O’Dell, for example, who is Liam Gallagher reincarnate—Manchester accent and all—when he steps in front of the mic. Or the song Your Low, which (as one savvy Youtube commenter has also noted) sounds an awful-lot like Blur’s hit track Coffee and TV.

DMA’s clear audial and aesthetic allegiance to the 90s UK scene was enough for The Guardian to dub the group “Ausasis” and for the characteristically snobbish Noel Gallagher (of Oasis) to promise he would “boo” the group when he saw them last year (he didn’t).

So yes, DMA’s sound a lot like Oasis, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? It shouldn’t be. Detractors of the group’s sound and style should keep in mind the old adage nothing is original. All artists, in every genre, are products of previous musical traditions. DMA’s just happen to be a little more overt about their sources of inspiration, that’s all.

And what’s more, DMA’s are reviving a sound that’s essentially been dormant ever since Blur’s 1999 barely-Britpop release, 13. In a time where pop music has pushed guitar-led tunes to the periphery, DMA’s evident embrace of the instrument (there are three guitarists and a bassist in their live act) is a welcome, albeit nostalgic, shift in the sonic tide.

I tried to get a pre-show interview with the band to have an intellectual discussion about the meaning of rock ‘n roll, but I’m sure the band was probably too busy, so I didn’t really hear back from them. Well, I actually heard back from one of their managers, who then proceeded to slow-fade me via email (that is, she replied to my enthusiastic messages with shorter and shorter responses).

So in lieu of an actual interview, I just hung out by the bar after the show, casually sipping from my tepid pitcher of Labatt, channeling Lester Bangs, ready at any moment to confidently state, “Don’t worry guys, I’m with the press.”

In no way, shape, or form did anything remotely that cool happen, but by virtue of there simply being no one else left in Petit Campus at midnight– save for me, my roommate, and the band– I finally got the face-time that I was so desperately craving.

When I introduced myself to acoustic guitarist Johnny Took, he seemed very pleased to meet me (perhaps, though, that was the backstage beers talking), and was happy to hear about my so-called Australian-connection (I tried hard, likely too hard, to impress with my knowledge of Sydney suburbs, and stating repeatedly that ‘I love Hugh Jackman and INXS’). Johnny told me that the band was considering relocating to Los Angeles, and also, I think, something about building a studio in Amsterdam (probably the post-show beers speaking on behalf of my memory).

But my resting persona as a calm, cool and detached journalist eroded almost instantaneously into thirsty fanboy as I proceeded to ask hard-hitting questions such as, “What are you guys doing later, Where are you going later tonight,” and “What bar are you going to later tonight?”

Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, my ‘cover’ was totally blown. So after I helped the band load their gear into the van, I walked with the guys to Biftek (the can’t-miss establishment in Montreal’s vibrant nightlife scene) for a night of further serious journalistic inquiry.

Shockingly– somewhere between us entering the bar and me stepping over to the ATM for several minutes to withdraw cash— the boys from DMA’s had vanished forever, rendered mere spectres of the Montreal night. In other words, I had been aggressively ‘ghosted’ by one of the hottest bands in Australia.

And so, as all good pieces of writing do, I conclude by reflecting upon the lyrics of Nickelback. Despite his bleach-blonde Tarzan locks, Chad Kroeger was actually onto something when he said, “We all just wanna be big rockstars.”

On Friday night, I was a rockstar without a guitar, or a band. But also, and perhaps more realistically, I was a journalist without a pen, or a computer…or a coherent set of questions.

* Image of Bar Bifteck from boulevardsaintlaurent.com

It’s part and parcel for the trajectory of a ‘young band’ to haul around from place to place as part of a never-ending tour. The archetypal young band needs to tour relentlessly in order to break into international markets, as well as solidify the ones they’ve established back home. In a sense, the band needs to hawk their sound and image- their brand- in order to keep their nascent career afloat.

Concurrently, the imposed pressure and cyclicality of playing the same songs night after night is not necessarily conducive to the formation of ‘good’ art. Nonetheless, this point in a band’s career is, without a doubt, a stage of fight or flight- some bands wallow and shrink under the sudden realities of becoming professional performers, while some transcend this inevitable adversity and soar to new heights.

Alvvays is a band that is part of the latter distinction. On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of heading to the Corona Theatre to watch this jangle-pop quintet perform a set as part of their most recent tour through Canada and the States. The group shows no signs of fatigue, no trace of crumbling and becoming yet another group condemned to the One Hit Wonder categorization on the next Big Shiny Tunes release.

Alvvays Montreal October 20 2015 2Alvvays began the night with one of the set’s liveliest, jangliest numbers, Your Type. Although not present on the band’s 2014 eponymous release, the upbeat tune has been used to open up live performances for quite a while.

The group then blissfully cruised through all nine tracks on the debut record, with the addition of three new songs from their impending sophomore album; vocalist Molly Rankin’s vocals were on point, Alec O’Hanley’s lead guitar lines were crunchy and crisp, and the rhythm section sustained the necessary energy over the 60 minute performance.

Aside from crowd favourite Archie, Marry Me, two of the night’s high points came when the vocals took centre stage. Renditions of Red Planet and Party Police found Rankin’s pure, uncomplicated vocals effortlessly floating upon the subdued musical accompaniment– if concertgoers weren’t already smitten by Rankin’s magnetically reticent persona, then these two moments served as the lynchpin.

Alvvays obliged the receptive Montreal crowd with a two-song encore– mellow, shoegazey track Dives and a somewhat unexpected cover of Alimony, originally performed by Aussie jangle-pop icons The Hummingbirds. This final cover track was far more than homage to a musical influence; it instead spoke to the importance of guitar-based music in contemporary culture.

Lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley has been quoted saying the band is very upfront about incorporating musical influences into Alvvays’ sonic styling. In fact, you can hear decades of indie-pop history in any one of Alvvays’ tracks.

Indeed, the group’s relatively brief musical history can in fact be traced back to the 1980s UK music scene; in particular, the ‘C86’ movement, which became shorthand term for jangling guitars, power-pop structures, and simple production techniques. Originally criticized in its day for lack of complexity, C86-associated artists such as Shop Assistants and Dolly Mixture serve as profound influences today for not only Rankin and O’Hanley, but for acts such as Best Coast, The Drums, and even Montreal’s boy Mac DeMarco (by the way, listen to I Don’t Wanna Be Friends With You by Shop Assistants- it sounds a lot like Alvvays’ Atop a Cake).

But what am I really getting at here? “Okay, cool, Alvvays implements sounds from 80s jangle-pop and incorporates it into their music. Big whoop.” But, this is exactly my point. This is, in fact, a very big deal.

Whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, our current musical culture does not favour the 5-piece band like it used to. In the 1990s, college kids were chugging beers and getting silly while listening to guitar-based bands such as Blink-182, Oasis, Blind Melon, and so on. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to walk into a millennial party and hear someone playing straight-ahead rock music; it simply won’t happen, unless that person is nostalgically blasting Teenage Dirtbag in between Drake tracks.

I’m not saying this cultural occurrence is good or bad– it’s actually pretty natural. Musical trends come, and musical trends go. Who knows, maybe in 20 years Hair Metal will be back in fashion? The bottom line is that guitar music as we know it has, for now, slipped into the popular background, filling niche clubs and concert halls the way Hip-Hop did in the early 1980s. And this isn’t a bad thing at all, so long as a genre of music doesn’t wither away into extinction.

Even though the band has only released one album, Alvvays is an act that effectively exists to ensure the relevance and popularity of not just jangle-pop, but guitar-based music in general. Their early, and continued, success is a sign that audiences both at home and internationally still crave simple four-chord song structures, or the crunch of an electric guitar, or the sound of five people playing their instruments onstage in perfect harmony.

So it is fitting, then, that the first song Molly Rankin ever learned was Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis; a simple song, with a simple structure that easily transcended its minimal form to move a generation. Alvvays’ own Archie, Marry Me has a similar effect. As evidenced during Tuesday night’s performance, the song caused an eruption of joy from within the crowd- it was a special moment of communion between the audience and the band that affirmed the group’s importance in the trajectory of indie history. So when Alvvays closed their set with a song by The Hummingbirds, I was assured that the future of guitar-music was in very capable hands.