Review: CHOM, Montrealers give TooTall a classy send-off

Say what you will about Bell Media — and I’ve said plenty in the past about their perceived penny-pinching ways — they and the folks at CHOM-FM in Montreal threw an incredible party for retiring DJ TooTall at Club Soda last night.

First, before the party review, some notes about past posts I’ve written in this blog decrying Bell Media’s cost-cutting ways in spite of parent company BCE having one of the fattest bottom lines in corporate Canada. I stated I was I boycotting CHOM after Bell Media cuts there resulted in two of my fave DJs being layed off: Rob Kemp and Ronnie Mack.

Well, the boycott lasted about month, and then I caved and started tuning in CHOM again — as I have done since the 1970s. Apart from the mix of new and classic rock, I missed CHOM on-air people like Terry DiMonte, TooTall and Randy Renault. They have been part of the public trust — and my extended family — for decades. I bet any one of them could show up unannounced for dinner at any regular listener’s home and be warmly welcomed and well fed.

So, yes, I am saddened by TooTall’s retirement. As I told him in a note sent from my office, “I don’t know if I am sad about you retiring from CHOM because it reminds me how old I am or because I will miss hearing you on air. Probably a combination of the two, eh (nods to Janis).”

But as I pointed out in the same email, all things must pass.

I will miss TooTall’s historical and current musical insights. As station director Picard and so many others pointed out on-air in the days leading up to TooTall’s swan song shift on CHOM on Friday, nobody prepares for an on-air shift as thoroughly as TooTall did. I’ll really miss his lunch-hour insights into rock’s past — I listened to them as I drove to work for my afternoon shift at the Gazette. He inspired me in countless ways.

And that’s really what good DJs do: They inspire people (Which is why I still miss Rob and Ronnie so much on CHOM.)

The folks who own CHOM and who run the station know what a blessing TooTall has been to them and to Montrealers in general. And they weren’t about to let him “slip away quietly,” as he told me he had wanted to do in his response to my email. Instead, they honoured this beloved DJ with weeks of on-air tributes and deification, as well as last night’s rock bash at Club Soda.

And they invited listeners to attend. How cool is that! How rare is that? Retirement bashes are usually for colleagues, families and personal friends. But a number of tickets — I’m guessing 1,000 to 1,200 — were sold to the public at $9.97 each (CHOM is 97.7 on the FM dial) with proceeds going to a community outreach organization called Sun Youth in Montreal.

But as Terry DiMonte pointed out on-air the day after they sold out, it was only natural to invite CHOM listeners to attend because we are all part of the CHOM family, aren’t we? I mean, if we don’t listen . . . you know what I’m talkin’ about.

So there we were last night, my g/f and I along with many other members of my g-g-g-generation and other younger members of CHOM’s extended family paying tribute to TooTall and rockin’ to, count ’em, five awesome acts. Like, the last time I attended a concert with five bands on one bill was at the Montreal Forum, featuring The Who, The Troggs, The Rabble, The Haunted and another band I’ve forgotten (cause it was the foggy ’60s, you know).

It has also been a long time since I have had to stand on a crowded concert floor, but I was glad in one way that I didn’t get invited to sit in the balcony seats with “the VIPs” because I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to dance — which I did in my small square footage of space along with so many others throughout the evening. But it also made it impossible for me to take notes, even though I had brought a reporter’s notebook and was hoping to log details of every song and its delivery for this review.

I’m going to say this once now, so I don’t have to repeat it with every review below: all of the band leaders thanked TooTall for helping them progress and for his contribution to the local music scene. And every band got much applause from the audience.

All the performers were Canadian acts, with all but one, I think, Montreal-based.

The Box

The Box in performance at Club Soda on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

First up was The Box, an 1980s group that scored several hits between 1984 and 1990, according to Wikipedia. “The group broke up in 1992, but a new lineup of the band was founded in 2005. This iteration of the group has released two further albums.”

TooTall was instrumental in their early success, and he and other CHOM DJs have been playing their music ever since. Last night, they sounded as fresh as ever. Lead singer Jean-Marc Pisapia’s voice hasn’t lost anything over the years. They played about five of their greatest hits, including L’Affaire Dumoutier (Say to Me), Must I Always Remember and Closer to Me. The sound was clean and well mixed, the latter I note because the mixing in a couple of the later acts wasn’t so clean — and I imagine that’s because it is almost impossible to get it perfect when you have five acts in succession with only short breaks between each one.

Sam Roberts

Sam Roberts performs at Club Soda on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

Sam Roberts was up next. Roberts is a younger performer, a mere 42 years old, who scored his first hits in 2003, according to Wikipedia. He was accompanied by a guitarist for a few songs before he invited the rest of his band — excluding the keyboardist, who was on vacation — to join them for a few more numbers. The sound was great, especially the acoustic numbers. All the songs played were hits . . . but, again, no notes on each. (Doesn’t really matter, does it?)

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness performs at Club Soda on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

Next came The Pursuit of Happiness, from Toronto, I believe. They’ve been around since the 1980s and scored big with a song called I’m An Adult Now, which they played last night. Singer Moe Berg told the audience it’s the first time the band has played on stage together in two years. According to Wikipedia, the group never officially disbanded and still gets together now and then for gigs. The rest of their set included  She’s So Young, one of my faves by them. My only complaint with their sound last night is that the heavy bass kinda drowned out much of the backup vocals from my vantage point — a mixing complaint and, no doubt, the inability to do a proper sound check before they took to the stage. Still, I grooved and danced to their sound. Moe Berg has still got it.

Jonas

Jonas performs at Club Soda on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

Then came the “surprise” unannounced act of the night: Jonas, who got his first big break in music when he won CHOM’s L’Esprit talent contest in 1999. So it was only natural he be there last night to pay tribute to one of the DJs who helped him make his mark on music. Jonas’s set was acoustic, with a guitarist accompanying him. I gotta say, I love his sound (and, yah, I almost swooned when he took off his jean jacket, but that’s another story. sigh). Among the numbers: Edge of Seventeen, a cover of a Stevie Nicks song that has been a big success for him, and deservedly so.

The Damn Truth

The Damn Truth perform at Club Soda on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

The final scheduled act absolutely blew me away. I’m talking about The Damn Truth, who as host Terry DiMonte pointed out before they took stage, “would turn things up a notch.” Oh yah, they did. This band kicks ass big time. My paper has described them as old-school hard rock. But these aren’t old rockers. They are a young band fronted by a woman with an incredible voice a la Janice Joplin to the nth degree in her Big Brother and the Holding Company days. At least, that was my first impression last night. But the band is much heavier than Big Brother — the only real parallel I can draw is to Ball and Chain — and I don’t want to compare them to anyone else and talk about musical influences (though, I couldn’t help but think of the climactic frenzies of Zep’s Dazed and Confused and How Many More Times).

The Damn Truth played all their hits last night (I can’t remember how many) and, as mentioned, blew our minds to bits. This is an incredible band.

Final jam

TooTall (at right) joins members of five bands on stage for the final song of the night, fittingly Keep On Rocking in the Free World, Sept. 22, 2017 at Club Soda.

When The Damn Truth finished their act, the lead singer held up a harmonica and invited TooTall to join them on stage, along with all the other musical performers that night and some others. And with TooTall on the harp, they all performed perhaps the most fitting of all songs — an anthem, really — to end the musical parts of the night: Keep On Rocking in the Free World, by Neil Young.

I got a little choked up about that last night, and even now I am touched by that choice. Damn classy!

Throughout the evening, in-between sets there were video clip tributes to TooTall from various people in the music and political worlds, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The tribute clip featuring Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was booed by many in the audience, a sign of the political times, I guess.

TooTall was also given framed platinum albums from Sony and such, and he was given the last word of the night, thanking everyone, especially the listeners, the people on the floor.

So, kudos to CHOM staff and Bell Media for the class they have shown in the past month or so in their tributes for TooTall. And thanks to them for inviting we listeners to the party last night.

It was huge! It was absolutely awesome!

Yup, CHOM rocks, alright. Big time!

Long live CHOM-FM.

Love live rock ‘n’ roll.

Happy retirement, TooTall.  We love you, ya ya ya!

— Jillian

TooTall speaks to the audience at end of tribute show at Club Soda on sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Jillian Page)

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