A few weeks ago, I was at La marche d’à côté to see Montreal Blues-Rock guitarist Justin Saladino. I was intrigued by the precision of his rhythm guitarist. His name was Felix Blackburn.
“Yes, I do play in another band, a jazz band,” said Felix. “It’s called The Liquor Store. We’ll be playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Come check us out.” I come to their second show at the festival and I am not disappointed.
I arrive at the stage at SNC-Lavallin square hoping it wouldn’t rain again tonight. The stage was outdoors; some tables and chairs are set up; and the front of the stage is cleared to make a makeshift dance floor. A huge puddle keeps the audience from taking advantage of all the space available to them. The bright red stage lights are temporarily blinding me.
A series of radio noises are played, some excerpts of songs are heard and The Liquor Store comes on stage. They waste no time and grab the crowd’s attention with a blaring horn, thunderous drums and a funky guitar rhythm.
The Liquor Store is made up of K.O.F. (vocals), Max Miller (vocals), Félix Blackburn (guitar), Rémi Cormier (trumpet), Alex Francœur (saxophone), Félix Leblanc (keyboards), Émile Farley (bass) and Jean-Daniel Thibault-Desbiens (drums). Their music is a cocktail of rap, jazz, funk and R&B. After the first song, Francœur says to the crowd: “Approchez-vous!” (come closer). Seeing that most of the audience is still at the tables after the second song, Miller teases the audience members who were too shy to come to the makeshift dance floor. Then, some women and couples begin to fill the dance floor. Miller’s jokes were partially an introduction to the song “Room for Everyone,” a song containing social commentary. The band follow up with “Hooked,” a song with a keyboard intro reminiscent of something off Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew,” some verses in the style of Lauryn Hill or the Fugees and K.O.F.’s rap style which is similar to those heard in France. Then, The Liquor Store invites soul singer Wayne Tennant to sing with them, “In the 514.” Tennant seduces the audience with his piercing yet smooth falsetto notes while Blackburn charms them with a sensual guitar solo.
Each band member showcases their musicianship through various instrumental pieces and freestyle jams. Throughout the jams, the crowd claps their hands and cheers. Miller and Francoeur, like hype men in rap groups, tell the crowd to jump and wave their arms. The band members state their names, bow and leave the stage.
It isn’t over. Just when you thought The Liquor Store had run out of brew and that the party was over, the band had more goods to deliver.
The band returns to the stage with guest singer Nadia Baldé and play a soul tune. Towards the end of the concert, the brass section borrows a page from classic heavy metal bands by playing a game with the audience they call “question and answer.” It consists of call and response patterns in which the brass section “call” the crowd by playing a short melody and the audience “respond” by singing it back to them. They sang every note accurately and almost as loudly as the brass section.
The whole concert was a series of masterfully mixed cocktails with using the finest ingredients from the most diverse of styles. Their performance was explosive. The Liquor Store doesn’t serve mojitos or beer: they serve Molotov cocktails.