Close this search box.

Tales From Taverne Tour 2023: A First Person Account From the Frontlines

Packed with star power, creative energy (and one tiny shit show), the Montreal music festival sufficiently cured our winter blues.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photos by Stephan Boissonneault , Camille Gladu-Drouin, and Stacy Lee

There are points in every music writer’s career when they contemplate throwing in the towel. When the work becomes nothing more than work—when all the great shows you see blend into one coagulated mess. These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I trudge through light snow and legions of puddles on Montreal roads, heading to Fairmount Theatre for the first show of Taverne Tour VI—a three day alternative music extravaganza that took place Feb. 9 t0 11 at various venues around the city. 

Existential Psych Funk and Devils in Moshpits

I arrive at the Fairmount Theatre doors and a woman in a scarlet coat steps out of a cab and slips directly into a knee-deep puddle, her high heels now submerged. But there’s no grimace on her face, she’s just happy to be at her “first show in months.” Lucky her. At this point, I feel defeated, like a hitman on the way to his next job. The mark is Crasher, a synth punk band blowing up in Montreal that can get even the most reserved wallflowers moving on the dance floor. 

At first, the venue is a little suffocating, but as the band takes the stage, jumping into a raucous syncopated dance rock, the air becomes light and free. The singer, one Ash Wood, has a commanding presence, like he’s leading a Dionysian music workshop on movement and fun. The kids love it. Crasher is tight and entertaining, bringing the energy and a dose of fresh positivity. Halfway into Crasher’s set, I feel reinvigorated, thinking to myself ‘Ah, this is why I do this. Moments like this.’ 

Crasher (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

Next up is headliners Of Montreal, an almost 30-year-old psychedelic pop monster led by the flamboyant and charismatic Kevin Barnes. He’s sporting a Kool-Aid blue wig and a hoodie with an image of a black labrador floating in outer space. Barnes hops along the stage as they play older songs like “It’s Different For Girls” and others from their newest album, Freewave Lucifer f<ck f​^​ck f>ck. The set is funky and artfully exuberant, and the whole room is in awe when they pull out “Wraith Pinned To The Mist and Other Games,” a 2005 disco pop track that makes you feel like an existentialist teenager again. 

Of Montreal (Photo: Camille Gladu-Drouin)

I feel ready for more—like a drophead looking for his next high. I arrive at a darkened La Sala Rossa, emerging into a thick screen of stage smoke and a woman screaming cathartic rhymes into the mic as mutating bass and noise consumes the scenery. This is of course, Backxwash (real name, Ashanti Mutinta), spitting her diabolic horror rap while fans mosh and lose their minds. The strobe light smoke show creates a slow motion effect, illuminating only glimpses of Backxwash’s form. There’s anger and beads of sweat on her face, no doubt from the trauma she is rapping about, but as the crowd cheers during the opening chords of “Devil in a Moshpit,” she smiles a wholehearted grin.

Backwash (Photo: Camille Gladu-Drouin)

My ears are ringing and I curse the gods and myself for forgetting to wear earplugs during Backxwash’s set, something I definitely won’t repeat for Yoo Doo Right at Le Ministère. Luckily, the band knows their brand of experimental post-krautrock can rupture eardrums, so they supply free earplugs for the audience. I’ve seen Yoo Doo Right seven or eight times but never grow tired of their primordial soundscapes, especially the latest album A Murmur, Boundless to the East. It’s also amazing to watch someone with no idea what they’re in for react to the sonic intensity of the three performers. Projections—geometric shapes, chaotic birds, and film grain highways—on five screens behind the band add to the trip. “This is like King Crimson on speed,” I overhear between songs. It’s an apt description. 

Yoo Doo Right (Photo: Camille Gladu-Drouin)

Moments Like This

Music has the power to transport you to a different time. On Friday, both opening acts, Kristian North, and Night Lunch manage to take me to the thrilling ecstasy-induced era of rock and roll that I’ve otherwise only read about in biographies like I’m with the Band. Their short but powerful sets at times feel like the backdrop of a sepia-tinted 70s porno. 

Next up is Adam Green, whose set goes down as a highlight of Taverne Tour. The modern anti-folk hero/poet, half responsible for the endearing indie rock of The Moldy Peaches, can lift even the darkest moods as he weaves through colourful tales, his movements echoing the elation of a child discovering finger painting. His connection with the crowd is palpable—he hands out high-fives and hugs his fans, even crowd surfing during “Who’s Got The Crack.” One of those fans is none other than Hubert Lenoir—Quebec’s young glam rock troubadour. Turns out he’s a major Moldy Peaches fan, so much so that he kills a duet of “Lucky Number Nine” with Green. This is why. Moments like this. 

Adam Green (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)


King Khan’s Shit Show 

Unfortunately, the next show—if you could even call it that—is just as memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. I step toward the entrance of Le Ministère and see Taverne Tour’s venue manager (John Talbot, who killed it the night before drumming in Yoo Doo Right) looking pale and high-strung as the security guard asks me, “You sure you want to go in?” The door flings open and people are already shuffling out as a man onstage in a raccoon skin hat hurls insults filled with sexist and racist rhetoric at the crowd.

 “All Québécois are racist and you’re all pieces of shit,” Arish Ahmad, otherwise known by his stage name King Khan, yells from the crowd. The man is known for outrageous performances —but this is taking it too far. This evening he’s high on mushrooms, openly doing bumps of coke on stage, and shouting vulgar things at people who paid to see him.

Rounded out by his seemingly unsuspecting bandmate, drummer/guitarist Mark Sultan, The King Khan & BBQ Show make it through five or six songs before the plug gets pulled. In between each is another pointless, aggressive rant, such as asking every “white male motherfucker” to go to the back of the room and the women to the front to make it a “safe space.” Ironic, considering Ahmad himself is the most dangerous person in the room at that moment. He calls a Black photographer shooting photos at the front of the stage his “Wakanda Queen,” he pours drinks on fans, and according to some crowd members, he flashes them with his testicles. I feel bad for Sultan as he tries to hold down the set, periodically telling Sultan to “shut the fuck up and play.”

The King Khan & BBQ Show (Photo: Stacy Lee)

I later learn that King Khan’s shit show began well before this. According to someone present, King Khan violently threw a can of Whiteclaw at the sound guy during soundcheck and told everyone in the crowd to “cut off their dicks” for “ruining Canada” during his guest performance with an earlier band, Miranda and the Beat. 

His excuse for this heinous behaviour—which he haphazardly posted an apology for on social media—is his drug and alcohol-fuelled “bipolar mind.” He also says that his CPAP mask used for sleep apnea was stolen from the green room (though nothing else was stolen from the room full of valuables and this apparently wasn’t brought to the venue’s attention until long after the band’s set). 

According to the festival, Ahmad has since reached out to offer a more heartfelt personal apology. After some much needed reflection, he admitted that he was clearly in the wrong and that he made the night uncomfortable for many at the show.

Luckily Jonathan Toubin, DJ extraordinaire, saves the night, bringing back the positive vibes with his eclectic taste of soul 45s. “There’s been a lot of negativity here tonight and we gotta change that,” he says as he spins his first collection of records, sporting a faded golden suit. He does what he does best and the energy in the room is back as we party into the early morning.


Food and No-Wave Flattery

The next night is not nearly as debaucherous, but still something to write home about. La Sécurité—a Montreal supergroup with members of Chose Sauvage, Laurence-Anne, Pressure Pin, and more—takes the stage and unleashes a fury of dancey post-punk in the style of Blondie or Happy Mondays. I can’t wait for this group’s debut record in early summer. 

La Securite (Photo: Stacy Lee)

Next is Annie-Claude Deschenes (Duchess Says, PyPy) whose solo project is synth-heavy and atmospheric. With Annie, nothing is ever simple. She loves her props, and this time around, she pulls four fans onstage to dine on what looks like rocks made of whipping cream in a faux restaurant, as she grooves to darkwave beats and sings about the joy of eating. A hilarious moment arises when the saxophone player—Tyler of Celebrity Death Slot Machine (CDSM), which will play later on—begins plying the restaurant guests with spoons from a seemingly endless supply in his pockets, all while playing his instrument. It’s like Annie’s own satirical take on The Menu, an experience totally distinct for Taverne Tour. 

CDSM takes the stage soon after and dives into their off-kilter mix of post-punk, new wave, and what I can only describe as evil disco. They’re the only band that could write a song about Joe Pesci being a serial killer and make it funny and catchy as hell. And the band pulls off the pure madness of their music with exquisite skill. 

CDSM (Photo: Stacy Lee)

I high-tail it to L’Escogriffe for my last show of Taverne Tour: the legend herself, Lydia Lunch. The venue is packed to the gills, I feel like a sardine being cooked by a lava lamp as some of the most wild guitar-driven rock I’ve ever heard fills the room. Lunch sounds like she smokes a pack a day, but at 63-years-old she definitely still has it. Of course, she’s one of the reasons the no-wave genre is still around. She may be small, but her terrifying presence signals that she could probably still out drink and out party us all.

“This is a song for all of my new goths, proto goths, and soon to be goths,” she says in a scratchy cadence before growling “Mechanical Flattery.” In that moment and for many songs after, Lydia has us under her spell, and I question whether maybe I should go goth myself. The perfect ending to a truly wild and unpredictable Taverne Tour.

Lydia Lunch (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)