Tag Archives: Concerts in Montreal

Wesley/Worrell and a Few Lessons from a Friday Night

Bernie Worrell with SociaLibrium at the Porgy & Bess in Vienna

A week ago I was on my way to Cabaret du Mile End to see two geriatric funk legends perform as part of Pop Montreal. I was supposed to write a review of the show. Seemed straightforward enough at the time; go to show, go back home and then, naturally enough, sleep and awake fresh as flowers ready to write up one blistering concert review.


What I wasn’t aware of at the time was a variety of microscopic germs and bacteria and god-knows-what-else swimming around deep inside my lungs that would soon lay me out horizontal-like for the better part of last week, a problem exacerbated by my less-than-enlightened decision to walk all the way back to Saint Henri from Parc Avenue when the show let out at around one in the morning. I felt it would be tonic, invigorating, an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. This is standard operating procedure for yours truly, for better for or for worse. I’ll think better of it the next time around as seasonal night-time lows dip closer to the freezing point.

The Cabaret du Mile End was warm and welcoming. I got in a bit late because, like a tool, when I saw people running for a bus at Parc Station I decided to follow the crowd instead of taking a minute to remember I had been there before. Also of note, it would’ve been better simply to get off at Outremont Station but I digress, the Blue Line will be the end of me.

First group I saw was a local ensemble billing itself as Pyongyang. The term ‘dystopian funk’ ought to be coined to describe them – dissonant yet rhythmic enough you could dance to them, the lead vocalist generally incomprehensible yet nailing the James Brown scream. Interesting side note: I asked him how the band came together and he asked me if I had ever heard of a survey firm named Consumer Contact. Apparently this one survey firm has served as a meeting place for members from The Stills, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a host of other local bands.

Anyways, on to the main event: Bernie Worrell, keyboard master extraordinaire, childhood piano prodigy and iconic member of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads. The Bernie Worrell Orchestra features the seventy-year-old Worrell fronting a quartet of New Jersey suburbanites, children likely conceived during the Talking Heads’ high-water mark in the mid-1980s. What can I say – it worked. Though I’m no fan of Worrell’s raspy voice and hippie-simplistic lyrics, it was a well-conceived and expertly delivered performance. The funk was masterful, as one might expect from such a talented and practiced performer. People were up on their feet, dancing, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Fred Wesley came out after a few songs to join Worrell, his former Parliament-Funkadelic band mate. The differences between these two men couldn’t be any starker. Credit where credit is due, Wesley tried his damndest, but seemed out of breath the minute he hit the stage, hardly inspiring to say the least. Whereas Worrell is clearly a space cadet, skinny, wry, a convert to the ways of the Mothership Connection, I doubt Wesley ever bought in 100%. He looks and acts like a somewhat haggard veteran performer, aware of the gimmick people pay money to see. Ergo, while Worrell’s trains of thought were occasionally difficult to follow, Wesley stuck to the showmanship traditions whipped into him after so many years leading James Brown’s backing brass. They did an abridged version of Pass the Peas and he warbled through much of House Party, but at one point basically gave up, sat down and mimicked playing the trombone. A bit of a disappointment, honestly. Made me wonder if he figured we couldn’t tell the difference.

Roomful of young white hipster scum, what do we know about the funk, right?

Worrell had the presence of mind to suggest Wesley take an early and longer-than-expected five, and resumed working his way through new material, which at some points was so political and driving it reminded me of Rage Against the Machine, albeit in a more musically enjoyable way. Closing it out Wesley came back and though he still wasn’t quite hitting the notes (and spent far too much time nodding his agreement to what was being performed), he nonetheless contributed something and rounded out the sound. The world can always use more brass.

I left as soon as the encore was over, making a fateful decision to hoof it back to Saint Hank. The next five days were spent getting acquainted with my bedroom ceiling and an unending cavalcade of fever-induced hallucinations.

Would definitely see Worrell again, no question. I think Fred Wesley needs to be paid more to really strut his stuff.

Montreal Goonery Inspires The Wall

So here’s the deal.

It’s the night of July 6th 1977 – Olympic Stadium is filled to capacity with a heaving mass of 80,000 die-hard Pink Floyd fans. Two records were broken that day – one for concert attendance at the Big O and one for ticket cost, the then unheard of price of $10. A momentary lapse of jugement pre-show, backstage, resulted in a foot injury for Roger Waters, one for which he would seek treatment at a local hospital afterwards. It was during the ride from the hospital back to the hotel that Rogers would, for the first time, articulate his desire to erect a massive stage between him and the audience. That was the night The Wall was born, arguably the band’s cumulative creative magnum opus.

It was also the album that broke the band.

It was muggy. Waters graced the front page of the Gazette, though with a cautionary note that the band liked its privacy, an omen perhaps of what was to come. Talk that week had been of Bill 101 and its implications. The day before a troop of overly enthusiastic teenagers had paraded through the downtown streets at lunch hour singing ‘O Canada’ to the bewildered looks of bystanders, one of many misguided federal government efforts to promote Canadian Unity after the election of the PQ in 1976.

These were strange and eventful days, the kind I feel we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. This city is its own trip.

Copious amounts of hash smoke billowed from the open roof of the still incomplete stadium, smouldering like an ashtray under clear skies. People were excited, as this was a party no one wanted (or would) forget. Ask any old hippie in the city, chances are they were there and witnessed history, though they didn’t realize it at the time.

The crowd’s exuberance quickly earned Waters’ scorn. 1977’s In the Flesh tour had been the first in which the band played almost exclusively in stadiums, something none of the members were particularly fond of. But record sales and record-label requirements compelled to band to perform for one of the best attended tours in rock history.

Indeed, albums such as Dark Side of the Moon was specifically conceived of as to be played, ideally, in concert halls – with the associated decorum expected. Waters’ frustration with some of the more boorish elements in the crowd that night would lead to an altercation where he reportedly spat in the face of a drunken fan (the specifics of the incident may have been lost to time).

Montreal crowds – what can I say. They shot off their own pyrotechnics and screamed and hollered all throughout. You can actually hear someone yell ‘Rock n’ Roll!’ at 13:53, and hear Roger’s first verbal assault on the crowd comes in at 33:32.

Regardless, the crowd was insatiable (and at least well-behaved enough for the band to play for over two and a half hours in total), as you can hear in the recording posted above. But it was all getting to be to much. At around 2:08:00 in the recording Rogers excoriates a small group that had begun to riot near the front of the stage. The band launches into the first encore – Us and Them (which Waters points out is a soft, tranquil song) – and you can hear some people in the crowd echoing Gilmour’s request that people sit down and relax.

Unfortunately that’s where this recording ends – the band would perform Us and Them and then a prolonged twelve-bar ‘bluesy’ outro number, albeit to Gilmour’s protestations, while their crew disassembled and packed away the more valuable pieces of the tour kit. At some point later on in the night some fans actually tried to prevent the band from leaving by blocking an exit.

Suffice it to say Pink Floyd escaped unharmed and, rather amazingly by local standards, the crowd didn’t riot, as it did under arguably different circumstances in 1992 when Axl Rose decided to axe an equally hyped Guns n’ Roses/Metallica double-bill.

The next day the Gazette reported it as a massive achievement, setting the highest possible bar for all rock concerts to come, and one more reason the Big O was going to be a big success and a boon for the city.

What they couldn’t report on was that Roger Waters and David Gilmour walked away from the concert feeling more detached from their fans than ever before. In the drive back from the hospital Waters got into a conversation with a psychiatrist (a friend of the tour manager driving the car) and formulated the root of The Wall’s over whelming theme of post-modern isolation. Though by Waters’ own admission he had been struggling to articulate his sentiments (a point likely further exhausted by the ambitious performances and tour schedule) the tour’s grand finale in Montreal and the events that had transpired between the band and arguably their most ardent fans that night resulted in the band’s single greatest, perhaps broadest artistic achievement (personally I think Dark Side of the Moon, Animals and Obscured by Clouds to be better albums, albeit somewhat less accessible, but I digress).

So there you have it, Montreal Goonery inspired the wall.


If things go south at the Stones show, does it mean they’ll crank out something that tops Exile on Main Street?

-Coda II-

The audio isn’t great on this recording but is about as good as you might expect, I’m going to see if I can try and clean it up. If so I’ll re-post. Enjoy it.