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It's the start of something good in Montreal


A number of major acts have been launching tours in the city. Why are we suddenly so popular?



Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/start+something+good/3750237/story.html#ixzz148OkmNaZ


It's good to be wanted.


Over the last few months, pop music has wanted Montreal. Seemingly out of nowhere, a slate of major international acts -fame monster Lady Gaga, cartoon-concept hitmakers Gorillaz, agitprop dance guerrilla MIA, literate alt-folkie Sufjan Stevens, electro bands Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation, and Latin-dance reina Shakira -have booked high-profile tour-opening concerts here, prompting those who watch the scene to wonder how Montreal suddenly got so tall, dark, handsome and rich.


"Yeah, there's been a bunch of them," says Nick Farkas, director of talent buying for Evenko (formerly Gillett Entertainment Group), the major promoter behind large-scale live events here. "I guess it was when we got the second Lady Gaga tour start, we said, 'Hmm, that's weird.' "


And as with most weird things, this may be explained by "a bunch of different factors."


Start with location. "Geographically, we're as far northeast as the major touring cycle comes," says Donald Tarlton, a.k.a. Donald K Donald, legendary impresario turned adviser-consultant. "If the idea is to work down the east coast, Montreal is a perfect location." Furthermore, the city is essentially equidistant from New York, Boston and Toronto, making it an ideal travel hub, especially when a tour is finding its road legs.


According to people connected with both Massive Attack and Sufjan Stevens, this was very much the reasoning behind those bookings. Stevens's PR person John Beeler admitted, "I'm afraid it is nothing romantic, like his favourite poutine is in Montreal. It was just that he is based on the east coast (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and it made sense to start up in Montreal. Although I'm sure he ate poutine while he was up there."


Which wouldn't be the first image that leaps to mind when the subject is Sufjan Stevens, but never mind. There are other reasons, including the city's major concert venue.


"The Bell Centre is super adaptable," says Farkas. "The tech side is very advanced. It's easy to come in here, get set up here, a very easy load-in."


Unlike many older rinks, and even some newer ones, the Bell Centre was built for hockey and live events, while "other buildings are built for hockey and then retrofitted." Farkas points out that the Bell Centre stage grid can be moved in 10-foot increments, meaning you can "rig it up wherever you want" -a perfect variable for acts drawing more than a theatre audience but somewhat less than a full-on arena show. Gaga drew 17,000; Massive Attack drew just under 6,000.


And then let's go macro -the city itself. As DKD says, "If you have to be stuck in a town rehearsing for a week, you could do a lot worse than have it be Montreal." Why not start in a city where you can have a great meal and house your people well?


"Montreal is cheaper. If you need 50 hotel rooms for your crew, it makes sense to start in a city where they're available and affordable," says Farkas. The larger economy may factor in as well, although there are two sides to that. While Montreal may not be as cheap as it was for Americans given the rise of the loonie, Farkas did say that people like to be paid in dollar-for-dollar terms they can understand.


All perfectly sane and reasonable. But let's not forget, this is live performance -and on an opening night, when new songs will be tremulously premiered, pyrotechnics will be test-blasted and egos will be Ming-delicate. Which brings us to:


"The crowds -the people," says Farkas. "It's not blowing Montreal's horn to say our crowds are legendary. Quebec crowds are second to none -literally. I've seen it in every genre, from metal to rock to ... everything. I've seen it so many times, guys getting offstage just thrilled with how the show had gone, the reaction."


Indeed, Gorillaz, Thievery Corporation and Massive Attack all seemed genuinely chuffed by the response they'd received to their first-night sets, when glitches are most likely to occur. Montreal crowds do not sit on their hands. And major bands likely do not want to open in New York. You want to ride into New York in world-conquering triumph, not work out the kinks for a headhunting crowd, both in the stands and in the press.


And it has always been thus, in more ways than one. Historically, Montreal/Quebec audiences have taken pride in welcoming the new. The past month has been a kind of echo of the days when acts would break out of Montreal first.


"The Quebec audience was a gateway to the rest of North America, for several reasons," Tarlton says. "And it had a lot to do with the francophone fan being more experimental."


He looks back to the beginning of the British prog-rock era. "Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Yes, Gentle Giant, Shawn Phillips, then on to ELP and even Jethro Tull to a certain extent. I was playing Supertramp two nights at the Forum when they were playing nightclubs in Detroit. I understood it as being due to the music being more important than the lyrics" -in other words, the heavy, baroque orchestrations and theatrical bombast bulldozing the language barrier.


"Quebec audiences like to be on the cutting edge, whereas American audiences like familiarity. It's just part of the culture."


Fair enough. Our openness and responsiveness are to blame for Shawn Phillips. But these are all reasons for which Montreal would always be the preferred tour opener, not why this would suddenly happen in September and October. So before we get too excited about our specialness, let's go to the genuine reason behind most weird occurrences.


"It's more coincidence than anything else," confirms Tarlton. So enjoy the popularity while you can. Because you won't be reading a story like this come 35-below in February.




Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/start+something+good/3750237/story.html#ixzz148ObeYuL



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