M For Montreal 2012 Recap: Whitehorse, the Balconies Show That Ladies Rule
One of the most gratifying things about M For Montreal -- if not Canada's music scene in general -- is how many women are in the performing bands. The presence of these female musicians isn't gratuitous, and their existence isn't singled out as special. It's simply just how things are.
At a Thursday-afternoon showcase, all acts had at least one woman in their respective lineups. Even more impressive, these women represented all genres, including hip-hop (Ain't No Love, whose singer, Saidah Conrad, has an Estelle-like croon), indie rock (keyboardist/vocalist/glockenspiel player Erin Halpin, who's in Honheehonhee) and country (Maia, a solo artist with a seductive lilt to her voice).
Of these groups, Honheehonhee -- a sprite keyboard-driven band in the peppy vein of Los Campesinos! -- was the most engaging. The group ran through a shambolic set full of upbeat New Wave, Broken Social Scene-like electro-rock and even '80s radio pop.
Honheehonhee distinguished themselves from the pack with a colorful stage show that featured plenty of instrument-swapping, movement and (for the final song) wearing of giant animal heads. Halpin danced and jumped around the stage like she was jamming to tunes alone in her bedroom, while Matt Raudsepp leaped even higher while playing a Korg keyboard at center stage.
While elements of those groups did emerge -- specifically in vocalist Nick Vallee's feathery vocals and a rollicking indie-folk core -- the group's lush, wintry music wasn't that simple. One song began with lonely piano that quickly grew stronger with the addition of drums; another boasted majestic, proud-sounding banjo; and another relied on harsh acoustic plucking for its charms.
These sounds and textures are individually nothing extraordinary; however, the unselfconscious way Folly & the Hunter combined and interpreted them was special. The band's music oozed sincerity, in the heartfelt, uncalculated way common to young bands just starting out. They're a group to watch.
Also engaging was Hamilton, Ontario's Whitehorse (pictured above), a husband-wife duo featuring Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. Both musicians have previous solo experience, although this project is a bit more complex. Onstage, the pair use loops, stompboxes, auxiliary drums and other instruments to augment evocative, bluesy guitar and brassy traditional twang.
Whitehorse's set drew from their 2011 self-titled debut and their second album, 'The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss' (which is due out Jan. 15 in the U.S.). Of the new songs played, an acoustic one called 'Mismatched Eyes' -- where the pair shared one mic, which highlighted its chemistry and harmonies -- stood out.
But despite the duo's folk vibe (underscored by Doucet's droll quip, “We heard the Civil Wars broke up. As you can imagine, we're shattered”), it also conjured the White Stripes; the galloping song 'Jane' especially had hard-charging energy. And during the moments when Doucet added fuzzy electric guitar over the din, Whitehorse echoed another grand folk-leaning duo: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
Still, the most adrenaline-filled band of the afternoon was, hands-down, the Balconies. The power trio is led by guitarist and vocalist Jacquie Neville, who violently whipped her hair around for much of the set -- when she wasn't howling like a goth Grace Potter (or, alternately, a young Ann Wilson).
The Balconies' music certainly occasionally conjured Heart's early rock days, although the band's dark alt-rock hewed closer to the Kills with more sonic adornment, rumbling stoner rock and radio-ready classic rock.
Neville's charisma and powerful pipes carried the take-no-prisoners set, making the performance feel like a sold-out headlining concert, not a 3 p.m. showcase.