Concert Reviews: Passovah Festival

By Donovan Burtan

Passovah Festival is one of the many great Montreal Music events and luckily I saw a couple shows there over the course of the last week. Here are some of my favorites.

Saxsyndrum – 8/27

Blood, sweat and tears.  When it comes down to it, the best artists over the course of time are the ones that put every fiber of their being into their work. Saxsyndrum is truly an experience like no other and the energy that they unleash upon the room carries an intensity that cuts deep into the audience’s soul.

Musically speaking, Saxsyndrum is the fusion of infatuating dance melodies and electro-jazz influenced ensemble work resulting in a unique experimental sound appropriate for any underground occasion.  Nick Schofield and David Switchenko are clearly well practiced in playing their acoustic instruments in the way they are typically used and they combine this with their complex knowledge of pedals and other electronics to loop together electronic dance tracks that groove like an old Herbie Hancock funk track and evolve like a DJ set.  Nick is a really special drummer and he constantly grounds the band at all times with his drum machine beats and Tom fills. David is the melody behind the operation and his enlightening saxophone lines give the music a kind-hearted personality.

When the music is played live it’s simply fascinating to watch them meticulously create their work from scratch.  Schofield is always turning a knob or adjusting his sounds and Switchenko can either be seen smashing the keys of his slike Coltrane or influencing his extensive electronic setup like a master disc jockey; the constant brain activity is astounding. What especially sets their live set apart from their studio work is the staggering dynamic levels.  I wouldn’t describe any moment of their set as quiet, however, the buildup is quite intense and the peaks of their songs are always a very special moment. These are the blood, sweat, and tears moments that I was talking about. That’s where the music becomes something bigger than any of us.

This was my first time seeing Saxsyndrum so I am not entirely sure if they always tour with cellist Justin Wright and vocalist Year of Glad, but the addition of these two really made their show at Passovah special.  Both of them carried their own energy into the room and it all melded together into an amazing full sound.  The bow of Justin Wright is quite indicative of his energy (it was almost destroyed).  His monstrous sound filled in the middle range of electronics. Saxsyndrum do just fine on their own but the addition of Wright was key.

I’ve really never seen a performance like that of vocalist Year of Glad. Some artists have stage presence and some give it their all.  Not quite like Year of Glad. He is just a method that the music uses to be released. The music controls his body and his powerful vocals shine through like a blinding beacon of light.

Overall, Fantastic band. Fantastic night.

UN – 8/27

UN is yet another unique act to hit Passovah. Her quick beat transitions and mystifying vocals float around the room creating a freakish dance aesthetic perfect for the late night musical experimentation bar.

UN is dark. The deep house sounding beats really take over the sound and never completely let the vocals or acoustic drums take the lead, however, these distant acoustic sounds bring a lot of intrigue and personality into the music.  This is what maintains the experimental fusion mantra that UN lives for.  Dance is a manifested thought in their music but the combination of their beats and hints of personality create a more artistic-industrial feel to the sound.

In the live setting, UN’s quirkiness contrasts her darkness and the drastic dynamic changes create an encapsulating atmosphere of fun industrial music. The beats are heavy and they transition often and quickly adding a lot of excitement. The vocals grow from UN’s delivery into an intense distorted conglomerate of noise. The sum of it all is quite the spectacle to watch.

UN followed Saxsyndrum and they really delivered with a harsher take on the funky dance vibe.

LA Foster – 8/28

I want to say gothic funk? The theme of La Vitrola (at least during Passovah Festival) seems to lie somewhere between a fun pop song and a gothic metal band.  The music makes you groove but it never sacrifices its industrial inspirations. LA Foster certainly embodies the spirit behind this idea.

The music is a bit R&B and a bit electronic and certainly always unique.  Leslie Foster’s high, powerful vocal melodies float around the catchy dark synth patterns beautifully.  The multi-tracked backing vocals in her studio work are impeccable and this combined with the dark-matter beat concoctions of Marc St Louis culminates in a mature electronic sound not quite like any other.

Foster is also a very special performer. Her voice fills the room, bleeding raw emotion, capturing the audience at each and every moment.  Her stage presence is astounding. She bounces around her drum machine and puts her whole entity through the microphone in a way that perfectly displays the heart behind her sound. St Louis is part of the success in the stage presence. Having a second musician on stage naturally provides more interaction and his masterful electronic work allowed Foster to relax and just let the music breathe rather than being glued to a big computer set up the whole time.

An interesting addition to the Passovah performance was that of dancer Sabine Lawless. Her stern facial expression and beautiful contemporary lines were a fantastic visual interpretation of the emotion in Foster’s music. Lawless could not possibly be labeled as a distraction, however, the presence and intensity she carries captured me for the entirety of the two songs she was involved with. This is what’s so special about the artistic freedom allowed in local experimental music.  It’s that risk and edginess absent from most big name commercial artists out there and Lawless truly delivered.

The beauty of Passovah festival cannot be stressed enough. It is a truly amazing work of art and everyone who contributed did a fantastic job.