June 25, 2011. Posted by Michael Bourne.
I always look for certain signs, scenes, people, to know when I've come somewhere I love to travel to. Montreal, it's the drive from the airport, and as we near the heart of downtown, alongside the highway I see green copper steeples and the domes of several churches. I feel welcomed by this neighborhood skyline, and someday I ought to bop by these churches for a friendlier look.
Wonderful it is, being back at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. #19 -- supposed to be my 20th, but that's another story.
First thing, essential: Pizzadelic, across from Notre Dame, with Vincent, new wrangler of the international press -- trois fromages (mozzarella, parmesan, feta) avec saucisse calabrese, pepperoni, and black olives, with a Quebecois red beer. I am now, even more, really in Montreal.
"Don't ask him about Led Zeppelin," said Vincent as we headed for the press conference with Robert Plant. "Don't ask him about Led Zeppelin," said Greg at the door. "Please don't ask questions about Led Zeppelin," said Marie-Eve, VP of the press, great with child. (I was never into them. I've only been curious what "led" means.) And in came Robert Plant, long blond mane, face weathered, quite lion-like.
"We have wanted him for many years," said Andre Menard, artistic director of the jazzfest. And, with a twinkle that in Andre's eyes is a klieg light, he observed that Plant and his Band of Joy might play some songs that "he might have played in some other group he might have played with."
Plant laughed. "The Sons of Howling Wolf, you mean?"
Alain Simard, co-founder with Andre, boss of the jazzfest, presented Plant the festival's Spirit Award, a bronze statue cast from a self-portrait by Miles Davis.
"This is very heavy," said Plant, meaning literally, but he was also pleased to be honored. "I'm a big fan of music," he said, and he talked about his musical adventures in North and West Africa, in Mississippi, and he remembered especially singing Leadbelly songs on a tribute with Odetta, Harry Belafonte, and Gatemouth Brown. "I spend all my time trawling for music," he said.
Though voices from the audience frequently called for Zeppelin songs, "I know where you want me to go, and I'm not going there," said Plant on the stage of the Wilfrid-Pelletier. Apparently, from the cheers, he sang a handful of Zeppelin songs anyway, none that I knew. (I don't actually know any, except maybe that blues he used to sing about squeezing the lemon.) Patti Griffin is the other voice in the Band of Joy and harmonized spectacularly with Plant's still-epic chops. I can't say I was as thrilled by the songs as the frequently standing and cheering audience, many of whom were (uncharacteristic of the jazzfest) loudly hammered, but the Band of Joy criss-crossed oodles of blues/rock/folk-ish sounds, especially Darryl Scott playing guitar, mandolin, steel, and what seemed to be an electrified bouzouki. Most compelling was the four-part harmony of a country song, "Satisfied Mind."
FIJM's other coup as an opening evening event was having Prince play a late show at the Metropolis, always the most crowded of the festival's venues, and that much more crowded sold-out. I opted to be elsewhere, but I can report that Prince played four hours, and in the middle of the night sang "Purple Rain."
-- Michael Bourne
© 2011 WBGO