Josephine Wiggs is a founding member of the Breeders, who are currently on tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the classic Last Splash. She has released two solo records and, with Luscious Jackson’s Vivian Trimble, made the critically acclaimed Dusty Trails and composed music for Brad Anderson’s film Happy Accidents. In 2013, Wiggs wrote and recorded the score for Built on Narrow Lands, a documentary about Modern houses in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. You can follow her on Twitter here and her website is here. (Photo Credit: Peter Ross)
At Montreal International Airport, I overhear a ripple of disquiet from some other artists queuing at Immigration who have discovered they are booked into an airport hotel 40 minutes from the festival we are playing, and the city. I know what a cruel blow this kind of thing can inflict — I am talking to you, Doubletree by Hilton, Boston Bayside — and no, a free chocolate chip cookie does not make up for it. And so I find myself experiencing a strange inner calm, knowing that we are staying at Le Westin Downtown. It may have possibly the slowest elevators in the world, but it is a mere block away from the tourist hot-spot of Le Place d’Armes, in Vieux (French for Old) — Montreal. It also boasts a swimming pool on the fourth floor with a glass bottom which, intriguingly, functions as the roof of the foyer. After checking in, Carrie Bradley (the Breeders’ violinist) and I take a stroll at dusk to see the theatrically lit Notre-Dame Basilica, an experience marred only by the presence of a busker playing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on the violin, a performance which somehow managed to convey even less feeling than the original.
We decide to go to a sushi restaurant that Kim had directed us to, having spotted it earlier on a foray for water with Kelley. We are disappointed, however, when the maitre d’ blocks us condescendingly with “Do you have a reservation?” which of course we do not. Back on the street, wondering what to do, we notice a Holiday Inn whose roof is shaped like a pagoda. This can mean only one thing: Chinatown. We make our way to its festive narrow streets and eat Vietnamese food.
The next day, Jim Macpherson heads to the festival early so he can check his drum set, and Carrie and I go along too, because delicious lunchtime food is rumored to be present, and in limitless quantities. While we wait under the swimming pool for a ride, Kim and Kelley exit the hotel’s revolving door on their way to Starbucks. While out, they report later, they see a gaggle (for want of a more dignified collective noun) of new brides having their photographs taken, and a fire-juggler — not in the same location, one hopes, as tulle must surely be highly flammable.
After a short drive through an improbable landscape of abandoned grain elevators and off-ramps (aren’t we in downtown Montreal?) we are dropped off on Île Sainte-Hélène (French for St. Helen’s Island) at a backstage area called “Artists’ World.” We immediately head to the catering tent, where a culinary wonderworld unfolds: four kinds of pizza to our left, five types of seafood to our right. Beyond these are colorful mounds of roasted vegetables, and massive, oozing hunks of barely roasted meat with attendant cheery Montrealers wielding carving knives, and finally, in a series of gigantic bowls, six varieties of salad. Jim says that he has never before eaten, nor even seen, kale salad, and we heartily congratulate him on achieving both these firsts today.
Subject as we often are to Food Insecurity on tour (see also: Kelley Deal, Water Insecurity) some of us take the opportunity to return to the buffet and fill another plate to stow in the dressing room “for later.” Filling the plate is the easy part — finding the dressing room in which to put it proves trickier. The trailers are in a row facing the catering tent, and I scan them for an identifying feature, for example, a sign saying “the Breeders.” Instead, each trailer prominently displays a large color poster, saying, for example, “the Black Keys,” “the National,” and “Sigur Rós,” none of whom are here. I am mystified until someone explains that these are just for decoration — you have to walk in between the trailers and look on the doors to see the names of the bands actually playing this weekend. After some slightly irritated zig-zagging I eventually find ours, and on the table inside, there is an invitation to the Vitamin Water After Show Party. If only it was a Regular Bottled Water After Show Party, Kelley might be persuaded to go.
Having lunched, and pleased that our next meal is also secured, we seek out transportation to take us to the Scene Verte (French for Green Stage). Jim and I ride in the golf cart equivalent of the “rumble seat,” which is, in a word, terrifying: the road is bone-shakingly potholed; the driver, a maniac. The result is a knuckle-whitening combination of breakneck speed and impromptu off-roading.
We are dropped off behind the stage, and while I recover, Carrie disappears into the festival grounds. She sends a text (I learn later, while lying in a hammock at the Molson Canadian Chill WiFi Zone) saying she is “on her way to see Ethan and Sara,” which it takes me a moment to realize is autocorrect’s attempt at “Tegan and Sara.” By now, Tricky is on our stage, and I watch from the side fascinated by his anticipation-building performance: will he or won’t he a) sing? b) take his shirt off? (He leans on the mic stand during long instrumental jams, picking at the hem of his t-shirt.) I miss the moment when he actually does the latter, because my view is blocked by the 40 audience members he has invited onstage to dance. Just then, Carrie reappears and I, of course, push her onto the stage to join join the mêlée (French for melee), and our merchandise man Kyle is right on her heels, for he does not like to miss an opportunity.
After we have played our set, a golf cart takes us back to “Artists’ World.” This time, I sit in the back seat where, in less danger of being catapulted into a hedge, the ride is less terrifying. We discover the catering tent still open and force ourselves to eat another meal before being driven back over to the Green Stage. I ride in the back seat, firmly wedged between Carrie and a French-Canadian DJ on his way to Le Scene Electronik, and now the ride seems almost festive. We walk into the crowd to watch Explosions in the Sky, and are standing in front of the Sennheiser VIP tent when we are suddenly invited into it and issued with wrist-bands entitling us to free beer. Unexpectedly finding ourselves in this VIP scenario, a mere three feet from where we were standing just moments before, we all agree the whole thing now seems much more enjoyable. Nevertheless, we must leave, and trek over to another stage to see Beck. Suddenly in a river of people all going to different stages, we fear becoming separated, as our only hope of finding each other again is the Molson Canadian Chill WiFi Zone. (This is a foreign country, and our phones are switched off.) We manage to stay together, and arrive in plenty of time, for Beck is 20 minutes behind schedule. Just as I am starting to become annoyed, the stage lights up and the band launches into a song. Carrie says “Ooo, opening with the hit!” and I say nothing, for it is not the hit I myself am familiar with, and I do not wish to betray my ignorance.
Carrie and I stay for only four songs (the last of which is a song I recognize, but it is by Soft Cell, not Beck) because we have been told You Must Leave The Island Before 10:30 PM Or You Must Stay Until 1:30 AM — a fireworks display taking place on the bridge will close the only egress. We set off to find the way out, but become panicked when we realize we have spent 20 minutes walking briskly in an almost perfect circle. Just as we are giving up hope, and wondering if we can find the Sennheiser tent again and console ourselves with free beer for the next three hours, we spot a golf cart and commandeer it to take us to “Artists’ World.” Such is our relief that the ride holds no fear for us, and we even urge the driver to go faster when a burst of pyrotechnics ominously illuminates the sky. We assure each other nervously this must surely just be a test, for it is not yet 10:30! At “Artists’ World” we hastily transfer from the golf cart into a waiting van, but then there is an excruciating ten-minute wait for what turns out be various members of Arcade Fire. Finally we escape, squeezing through a blockade of police cars and onto the empty bridge, as the air fills with the thud and crackle of fireworks.
(The thoughts expressed here are those of JW, not the Breeders.)