The B-52s close the 32nd Festival International de Jazz

By the time the first notes of Private Idaho began bouncing along through the humid darkening skies of downtown Montreal, Place des Festivals was already filled to the brim for the free closing concert of the International Festival de Jazz. A steady stream of concert goers with  an eye for a good deal, circled the surrounding streets, making their way to the entrance to make room for themselves amidst the throngs and dance the night away with Montreal and the B-52s.

“We haven’t been to Montreal in quite a few years,” Fred Schneider shouted into the cheering crowd. “So this is a kiss to all of you.”

The group broke into Whammy Kiss, abandoning the banter for much of the remainder of the show, although Kate Pierson attempted a few phrases in French to the delight of the crowd. The rock group best known for such hits as Love Shack and Rock Lobster focused instead on delivering the goods. Pierson, Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Keith Strickland, together with their back up band, broke out the songbook, playing their golden oldies as well as some songs from their newer records.

The sound of the B-52s hasn’t changed much since their heyday, when Love Shack reached #1 on the charts in 1989. Over twenty years later their biggest hits are still sung in karaoke bars and heard on the radio. The crowd at Quartier des Festivals seemed to get the appeal. Toddlers and parents danced in the street next to college kids and grandparents while the 60-year old Schneider shouted out lyrics in his trademark call-and-answer style.

For the close of the 32nd Festival International de Jazz, it was a perfect pick. While the festival hosts some amazing and slightly more challenging ticketed shows, the public venues tend to be filled with music that is pleasant, crowd pleasing and all-ages, much like the B-52s themselves. The crowd on Monday night may not have been fans of the group before, but on a hot evening in the Montreal downtown core, dancing with strangers, we were all fans.

Finally the strains of Love Shack filled the air. The energy in the crowd climbed a notch for this, the band’s “final” song. Given that Rock Lobster had yet to be played it was clear that we were to expect an encore. After a brief applause the group reappeared and the space-age sounds of Planet Claire began, moving seamlessly into the missing Rock Lobster rendition before the B-52s wished us all good night.

There were a few more shows left to play in the various venues around the downtown, but for all intents and purposes, the 32nd Festival International de Jazz was finished for another year. In a few days the only remnants may be the newly completed mural on the corner of Clark and Ste-Catherine (by local collective A’Shop), some empty wallets and a few new music memories. The crowds began heading home, or to after parties, pausing long enough to watch fireworks explode over the Quartier des Festivals. The Jazz Fest, a flaneur’s delight, will be back with its crowds in 2013, but in the city of Festivals there is always another one just about ready to go. Fear not Montreal. The summer festival season is just getting started.