M for Montreal 2011, Day 2: The Night of the Living Drummers

As I’ve written before, I really like attending M for Montreal each November because there are always surprises in the line-up.  I always see several performers that pleasantly shock the hell out of me.

Last night, for example, I wanted to see a band called Absolutely Free, descendents of an experimental math-rock collective called DD/MM/YY.  And yes, they were very good, even though this was their very first live gig.  You’ll seldom see such intricate rhythms played on live drums.  

The band has two kits onstage and sometimes features two guys bashing at the same time.  No standard 4/4 fare for these dudes.  Very tight, very cool.

But the real surprise came with the first act of the night.  I’ve grown a little tired of the sensitive singer-songwriter type, the guy with the guitar who probably gets a lot of girls because he sings about his feelings.  You know the type, especially if you pay any attention to the music heard on Grey’s Anatomy.  

That’s what I was expecting with Daniel Isaiah.  I planned to sit quietly through him until Absolutely Free came on, reading a book off my iPhone.  Rude, I know–but I’ve really had my fill of sensitive singer-songwriters.

But within 30 seconds of his band coming onstage, I was transfixed.  Three people with Daniel and his guitar partner providing a twin reverb-drenched twin hollowbody guitar twang attack.  Think Dire Straits meets Chris Isaak with a slight David Lynch twist.  Extremely evocative, atmospheric and even slightly ominous.  The songs were great.

But the person who really had my attention was a woman named Tara on drums.  Her playing was both complex and tasteful. She played a superbly tuned and miked Yamaha kit consisting of just a snare, kick and floor tom augmented by a few cymbals and an electronic drum pad.  Her touch so was light and deft in sort of a Steve Gadd way (drummers will know what I mean) that I couldn’t take my eyes off her hands.  Brilliant.

Had I not been at the venue early, I would have never seen Daniel, his band or his drummer.  Another reason why you should think twice about blowing off an opening act.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “M for Montreal 2011, Day 2: The Night of the Living Drummers

  • November 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Alan, Tanks so much for the wonderful review! Really glad you enjoyed the set. Tara

  • November 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Good afternoon, Mr. Cross (and Tara too):

    First of all, Mr. Cross, it is a GREAT honour and pleasure issuing this missive to you. I lave long listened to your History Of Rock documentaries on various radio stations (both in Toronto and Ottawa), and have long thought "boy, would it be GREAT to have a beer with that guy". I consider you a walking, breathing encyclopedia of musical knowledge (THANK YOU for turning me on to the Stone Roses all those years ago!!), and when I read what you wrote about my niece, Tara (sorry Smurfy, but I am SO proud of you), it warmed my heart. I have played (lousily!!) many, many times at Xmas celebrations beside her, and her poly-rhythms never cease to amaze me! Although I suck like an Electrolux (WARNING, PRODUCT ALERT!!), it still makes me smile whenever I make a piano run, succeed, and make her left eyebrow pop up (much like The Rock in W.W.E.). Anyhow, Alan, THANK YOU for appreciating my lovely, talented niece….she is the bee's knees.


    Mike Raymond


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