There’s a sense of things coming full circle when Grimes headlined the 2015 instalment of Canadian festival M For Montreal at the weekend. Not only a homecoming to the place of the alt-pop musician’s creative birth (where she “learned to make music”, as the 27-year-old told the sell-out crowd), the gig also stood as a return to the very event that sparked her subsequent and then-seemingly-unlikely rise to alt-pop stardom.
Back in 2011, following only a handful of self-promoted shows and low-key releases, the festival took Boucher to SXSW as part of their local showcase, allowing the world a first glimpse of the weirdness to come. With this hometown show operating more as a victory lap than a mission to impress – a toast to everything that has happened to date and those who helped her along the way – what does it tell us of what to expect from her forthcoming ‘Rhinestone Cowgirls’ tour?
You’ll be both dazzled and baffled by her support act
In keeping with the Canada-centric feel, Nicole Dollanganger (hailing from nearby Ontario) acts as support for the Montreal show, as she will for the rest of Boucher’s live stretch. Having recently released her breakthrough ‘Natural Born Losers’ LP on Grimes’ own Eerie Organization imprint, Dollanganger’s live set-up isn’t exactly what you might expect if you’ve encountered her music prior.
Flanked by two heavy metal guitarists (one of whom repeatedly smashes a drum cymbal with the head of his guitar as he headbangs theatrically), Dollanganger’s lyrics (which touch upon subjects as grave as sexual violence, torture and death) are cast in a darker and grittier light live than the lo-fi sheen they’re wrapped in on her record. It’s a darkly-cast, brooding performance that should widely appoint the singer as the rightful heir to Boucher’s weirdo-pop throne.
Expect day-glo outfits, fancy dress and ribbon dancers
Visuals have always gone hand-in-hand with music in Grimes’ world. Her videos alone are some of the most surreal and imaginative being made today. The recent clip for ‘Flesh Without Blood’, for example, saw Boucher donning a costume that’s somewhere between a blue rinse Marie Antoinette and an extra from a zombie flick.
The new live show is no different: her light show has never been more impressive, with lasers filling the arena. Dancers are clad in day-glo, with ribbon dancers occasionally taking to the stage. At one point, Boucher invites a host of special guests – mostly local friends but also including Daniel Benjamin from Toronto pop duo Moon King – onto the stage to act as impromptu backing dancers. These include an individual inexplicably dressed as Beetlejuice, adding to the overall surrealist feel of the evening.
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Her chronic stage fright has well and truly vanished
Boucher has complained of suffering from stage fright in the past, going as far saying that in her early days she would “vomit, freak out and never finish a set”. Filling the 2,300 capacity Metropolis, Boucher seems to have overcome her chronic shyness by this point. The singer bounds across the entire length of the stage, despite sporting a cast that makes her look like a cyborg on her right leg following a recent injury. Dave Grohl, take note.
But don’t expect an encore
“If it’s okay with you guys, and for my own mental health, can I just play the encore now?”, Grimes asks rather hypothetically at the end of her penultimate song, before launching straight into show-closer ‘Kill v Maim’ without waiting for the crowd’s reply. While some may usually be left disappointed with an 11-song set, the entire show totalling at just over an hour, it instead works in Grimes’ favour, with a feeling of urgency and intent. No moment to rest and not a second is lost to idleness with this concise tour-de-force.
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She’s not afraid to adapt and change things up
Never one to remain stationary, the set shows Grimes’ tendency to constantly grow, adapt and reinvent herself. On ‘Scream’, Boucher shows off her Russian rap skills (her family are of both Ukrainian and Russian descent) in the absence of guest rapper Aristophanes. Meanwhile, new versions of ‘Phone Sex’ and ‘Be A Body’ are aired (“I spruced it up a little bit,” she humbles explains of the latter). With her live schedule currently stretching to the halfway mark of next year, who knows how her songs and set will have morphed by the end of the tour.
She may leave out your favourite tunes though
With ‘Flesh Without Blood’ and ‘California’ – two of the more commercial songs from her new album – notably absent from the setlist, Grimes manages to comfort those who feared that she had “gone pop”. With recent conjecture around her new record centred on the issue of an “outsider” artist being propelled into the mainstream, tonight Boucher comfortably bridges the gap between weird and accessible, and executes both perfectly and triumphantly. Still, it would be great to hear both songs live sometime soon. Here’s hoping they’ll pop up somewhere along the tour.
Grimes no longer needs to prove herself to electronic music purists
Having attributed the delay surrounding her new album to her desire to hone her craft as a producer (“I didn’t want to put out this record until I felt like I could walk into a room with any producer and have them respect me as an equal”, she recently told Exclaim), tonight sees Boucher sticking it to the indie puritans, deciding to simply press play, step away from her keyboards and revel in the fanfare instead. Having proved herself musically with her last two releases, these shows now see Boucher determined to prove herself as a bonafide pop performer, with the spectacle far more important than the technical performance itself.
Be ready to party and you won’t be disappointed
The main line of criticism regarding Grimes’ tour to date has been that it’s something of a “karaoke set”, but put your indie rock prejudices to one side and you won’t leave feeling short-changed. Dynamic, vivacious and unrelenting, Grimes’ performance is as fun as she clearly seems to be having right now. “Holy fuck!” the singer herself yelps as she finishes her last song and switching departs the stage, pretty much summarising what the majority of the crowd are thinking.
‘Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)’
‘Be a Body’
‘Phone Sex (BLOOD cover)’
‘Kill v. Maim’