Dears in lights
of the 250-plus bands playingCMW, none were unluckier than Tuuli. Sure, cool songwriters like Jim Bryson and Dan Bryk got the shaft by having to play half-empty clubs at 9 pm, but at least they weren't forced to go on after the Dears.
Surpassing even the hush-hush listening sessions for Radiohead's underwhelming Amnesiac disc, the Montreal art-pop crew's Saturday midnight set was easily the hottest gig of the fest -- the Horseshoe was sold out by 9:30 pm. Despite the omission of some excellent old tunes in place of a set of almost entirely new music, it was worth skipping dinner for. As one awestruck observer said, "The revolution starts here," and when the Dears' European deal with City Slang offshoot Easy Tiger goes through, expect global domination.
A close complement to the Dears' triumph was the sublime set by fellow Montreal combo Stars. With the ink just drying on a deal of their own, the quintet plinked through a casual set of perfect electro-pop, with singer Torquil Campbell the picture of cool detachment.
Scottish power poppers Idlewild did not come off nearly as casual, but expect them to be massive nonetheless. The group's intensity more than made up for their dated, Nirvana-inspired ennui and shouter Roddy Woomble's well-rehearsed stage posing.
In part, what distinguished this year's CMW from other festivals was the strength of entire nights. Where in the past you wanted to run from club to club, some inspired booking this year meant that you could settle into one club and hear a solid night of music.
Lee's Palace Friday was a perfect example. With the exception of the excruciatingly twee Dressy Bessy, the lineup of Bryson, a reborn By Divine Right, the ever-suave Danko Jones and notoriously unstable songwriter Daniel Johnston was a winner.
Johnston, who played for all of five minutes at the CMJ fest a few years back, arrived with his father as an escort and strummed confidently through 25 minutes of frail folk pop. That he made it to town at all was impressive. That he made it through his set in one piece and turned the performance from a freak show to a rock show was a miracle.