The problem with gigging in Montreal

Iggy Pop, The Dears and plenty of other bands have all been victims of a similar crime


When Elliott Brood, an alt-country band from Toronto, stopped in Montreal in November to play a gig, the trio kept a close eye on their gear. “We were told ahead of time, ‘Watch out. Vans get vandalized,’ ” says guitarist Casey Laforet. So, after playing a concert at La Sala Rossa, the band stashed their equipment in the popular north-end venue for the night. The next morning, they packed up the van, which was parked on busy Saint Laurent, and popped across the street for breakfast. But when they returned 30 minutes later, the driver’s side door had been pried open; their bags, containing passports, iPods and laptops, were gone. The $7,000 in losses could have been much worse—whoever broke in didn’t attempt to crack into the back, where the instruments were locked. Still, the speed and finesse of the crime has left Laforet with the distinct feeling that “there’s something bigger going on.”

Montreal, considered by many to be the music capital of Canada, has long been a tour highlight for bands. But recently, La Belle Ville has been on the lips of musicians for a far less desirable reason. Montreal police have documented 18 incidents of band-related theft, including vehicle break-ins, and thefts of the vehicles themselves, since late 2008. Getting broken into in Montreal is “almost an unwritten rule among bands,” says Andrew Usenik, the singer for Edmonton-based Ten Second Epic, which lost $1,000 in gear during a stop there last May. Some of the high-profile victims include Iggy Pop, whose truck, which contained tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, disappeared from outside his downtown hotel in August 2008, and Hedley, whose van, filled with gear, was stolen last June. While Elliott Brood’s losses are small by comparison, the incident is evidence of how brazen the perpetrators have become. “They got ripped off in broad daylight on a Saturday,” says Steve Guimond, La Sala Rossa’s booking agent. “It’s a sad mark on the city.”
For most bands, “when you take the risk of travelling across the country playing music,” says Laforet, “it’s definitely hard to even pay the bills.” Robbery can be too much, especially for the uninsured, which is common for up-and-coming acts. When the Black Halos’ van, trailer and gear was stolen from a downtown Montreal parking lot in March 2008, they had just bankrolled their first self-released album and were “way in the hole,” says former guitarist Adam Becvare. Within a few months, the Vancouver-based act decided to call it quits after 15 years together. “It was insurmountable,” says Becvare, who estimates their combined losses exceeded $30,000. “I think we’re all still numb.”

Though Montreal’s not totally alone in its reputation as a hot spot for theft—Natalia Yanchak of the Montreal-based Dears, whose tour bus was stolen from outside a motel in the West Island last spring, puts Vancouver and New York in the same category—there are several factors contributing to the city’s apparent ascendency to the top of the list. Many mid-sized venues are concentrated in a small area of the downtown where bands stay in hotels and park in nearby lots. And there have been an increasing number of targets. The popularity of homegrown acts like Arcade Fire has bolstered the city’s appeal to musicians: since 2002, Pop Montreal organizer Dan Seligman says the festival has ballooned from 100 to 400 bands. There’s also the character of the city itself, which Seligman describes as a laissez-faire place where, “you just play your gig, load your van up, and then you go out. Anything could happen.”
Montreal Police Service Commander Peter Lambrinakos says the frequency with which band’s vehicles carrying expensive equipment were disappearing in Montreal prompted police to open an investigation. What they found, he says, was “a distinct pattern of operation that often suggests the work of a single criminal.” (The vehicles were mostly cube vans with out-of-province plates, parked overnight in lots near downtown hotels.) After making a key arrest in October, police are confident that they have curbed the rash of thefts in the downtown area.

But problems persist. In addition to the Elliott Brood heist, Ohbijou’s Jenny Mecija had her fiddle stolen from the band’s van in November. Following their next Montreal gig, she says, they’ll consider “driving to the suburbs or out of town.”


The problem with gigging in Montreal

  1. As soon as I saw "Montreal" in the title, I somewhat knew this would be a negative article. I wonder why?

    The same thing could have been written about any city. Without statistics, who can tell if Montreal really does have a higher proportion of musician theft?

    • The point here is the increase in theft here, not that Montreal is "the worst" for theft. The story is regarding a potential organized crime ring. As a member of one of the featured victim groups, I can say that it happened far too quickly to be a random urban crime. Clearly the thief knew exactly where our bags were in the van. Someone had been watching us loading, and in the restaurant, during the theft. At 1PM on a sunny saturday afternoon, they managed to jack the door and be off with the bags (and kindly re-lock the door), before anyone ever realized what happened, on a main street.
      I'm sure that criminals in other cities also have the smarts to organize themselves too. We visited many cities this past year, and this is the only one where we forewarned about theft, and it happened.
      That said, I still love Montreal (it would take a lot more than this to change my mind).

    • the article says montreal is conisidered to be the music capital of canada by many…i never heard anybody say that…and then it goes on to say 18 break ins were documented….hello…that is hardly any……vancouver has over 2000 residential break-ins per year

    • So, virtually 100% of the victim isn't a statistic? That's news to people with brains.

    • This is a story specific to MUSIC thefts, common now people. It has nothing to do with city wide thefts.

      Get your head on straight and actually read the article rather then scanning through and picking out the words you want to hear.

  2. Ah yes, those indy bands are widely known for their anti-Montreal bigotry…

  3. Well I guess this will be your outrage of the week will it? A few weeks ago it was not enough Quebecers in the NHL. Next week it will be something else. Always something for Quebecers to be hard done by. I guess it's time to man the barricades, threaten to break up the country again unless we increase transfer payments to Quebec, which by the way account for half the tranfer payments for the whole fricken country. And so it goes.

  4. Ok, there is no robbery in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles. All of this places are safe haven for musicians, but somehow Montreal is doomed… C`mon, you guys love to hard talk about Montreal. There are many problems here, but where else you wouldn`t find such issues?
    Go to Yemen.

  5. I doubt anyone considers Montreal the music capital of Canada. There have definitely been some bigger than normal acts out of the anglo scene in the past few years, but sometimes these spikes happen, like when a number of bands from Halifax got some national attention in the early 90s.

  6. I'm an American and could be wrong here. It seems that Canadians really love their country and take great pride in their cities and culture. I see this article as saying that Montreal, a city with a great reputation here still (at least in my area of the USA) is falling into the decay that many major American cities have. This should not be happening in Montreal because it is a better city than many others – is what I read in the article. Good luck, Montreal. I'm a musician too and one of my band members lost a laptop while we played a gig. Been there, done that.

    • Don't get confused. MacCleans loves to write overblowned negative articles about Montreal. Three weeks ago it was about Montreal being a corrupted hell-hole because of some scandals in how municipal contracts are awarded.

      This caters to their readership.

  7. Defensive?
    I'm not defensive, You're the one that's being defensive!!

    Montreal is an incredible city.
    The thefts of the bands mentioned were major incidents in which the entire Vehicle and posessions were simply driven away with meaning
    the thefts in Montreal were highly organized and unique enough to report. Of course it can happen anywhere but Montreal's recent track record was worth mentioning.

  8. I think one thing people are forgetting that the bands who are affected like Ohbijou and Elliottt Brood is that they are well known acts within the Canadian indie scene, and that replacing stolen material comes out of their pocket. When Jenny from Ohbijou had her violin stolen, she sent out a plea to have it returned because it wasn't just a violin to her, but also had sentimental value to her.

  9. Black Halos were unable to replace their gear and half of it was rented for that Canadian Tour as well as their trailer.
    They were still making payments on their van and had 2 breakdowns in it on the way out east.
    They toured Europe 3 wks later on loaner guitars and more rented gear but the hole was dug too deep.

  10. Being in an Ottawa band, we're always wary of our treks to Montreal as we've heard nothing but horror stories. ALL of our close band-friends have had their vans broken into with gear stolen (including one gent's Asthma inhaler, no less). It's nearing the point where one member draws the shortest straw and hugs a crowbar while resting up in the back of the van for the night, or a drive back home after an exhaustive gig.

    It's gotten laughable, actually, and has gotten to the point that you're not a real band unless your van has been broken into in Montreal. Sure, it CAN happen anywhere. But no city is more known for it than Montreal these days.

  11. ?? I'm not sure you know what statistics are or how to write a clear sentence.

    A proper statistic would be "1% of visiting bands report an accident" which could be compared to a similar proportion in another city of similar size. Of course all the 18 incidents reported here amount to 100%.

  12. I grew up in Montreal. It's a den of thieves. Even if something is nailed down, it will get stolen. Such is life in a city controlled by mobsters, bikers, and corrupt politicians.

  13. If you're a musician, you're probably sleeping in the van, which does temper the risk somewhat.

  14. As a former Montrealer…..it is a hell-hole. A washed up has-been dump. Music capital of Canada wha? Please c'mon. Montreal hasn't been the top of anything for over a decade. Big bands frequently bypass Montreal and head to TO, VAN or CALGARY. Montreal is so last century. I say it's time to cut them loose and let them go. Instead of waiting for Quebec to start talking separation again, let's call their bluff and throw them out….all of them and the BlocHeads too tabernac.

  15. Further, making the statement that Montreal is the "music capital of Canada" is just Maclean's trying to appease Le Quebecer. Why shouldn;t they everyone does it. Remember the Plains of Abraham. Leave it to Quebecers to deny their own history. Losing to Wolfe was the best thing that could have happened to them…..yet they don;t want to relive it. MORONS….say it with me….MORONS. Cut them loose and Canada could welcome the new century and leave the ball and chain behind.

    • Go West and stay West, buddy. You sound like some American right wing nutcase (or a 14 year-old angry teenager, vice-versa).

  16. i wouldn't say Montreal is the capital of music in canada… can't think of any bands from there…gino vaneli? …..every music geek knows Rush comes from Toronto …and there is none greater

    • MacCleans not talking about sappy rock bands like Nickelback. If you can't think of any recent good bands hailing from Montreal (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, the Dears, Godspeed, Malajube, etc.), then you don't really listen to much music beyond what MTV feeds you.

      Montreal as a center of independent music is recognized world-wide. Read this review of Wolf Parade by the british newspaper The Guardian ("More gold from the seemingly bottomless mines of Montreal, Wolf Parade….etc").


  17. Our corporate travel dept had warning zones across the US & Canada and Montreal was a hot spot for Laptops getting ripped off while at dinner or hotels. The guys going to Bombardier didn't listen one trip and take their laptops to dinner and all 5 were gone when they got back to the vehicle.
    The bad spot in Ontario was restaurant alley on Wellington Rd in London Ont. and we had a few guys lose laptops on that stretch as well.

  18. In terms of Montreal being the 'music capital of Canada' – that all began, really, with the Arcade Fire. It's more 'independent' music that is being referenced, not the 'bigger names' you folks seem to be getting excited over. A lot of bands relocated to Montreal to try and capitalize on the city's thriving independent scene. Now, yes, the East Coast is making a great run with Wintersleep and Hey Rosetta! and such making waves, and Toronto's always been up there, along with Vancouver.

    However, band's don't have these break-in issues nearly as much in those city's then they do in Montreal.

  19. The next morning, they packed up the van, which was parked on busy Saint Laurent, and popped across the street for breakfast. But when they returned 30 minutes later, the driver's side door had been pried open; their bags, containing passports, iPods and laptops, were gone. The $7,000 in losses could have been much worse—whoever broke in didn't attempt to crack into the back, where the instruments were locked. Still, the speed and finesse of the crime has left Laforet with the distinct feeling that “there's something bigger going on.”

    Am Very much shocked while reading this.

  20. We just had our vehicle broken into yesterday (smashed rear right window) and laptop bag with laptop stolen from back seat. It happened in broad daylight, Sunday Nov.14, 2010 between 11 am and 1 pm. We had come to Montreal for a conference and were on our way back with all the luggage in the car—just stopped to have lunch near St. Laurent & Napoleon. I kept blaming myself why we did not park right on St. Laurent but a little off–on Napoleon, the third parking spot from the intersection with St. Laurent. After reading this is seems like even parking on St. Laurent might not have helped. How I wish I had read this article and had heard of the problem with increased robberies before… I come from a country where theft is common place and when something like that happens you can only blame yourself for not having been wiser in protecting your belongings … but somehow in a big Canadian city like Montreal, your defenses fall… I was shocked that the police did not even bother to come to the crime scene and when we filed the police report, the officer nonchalantly said that they will not do an investigation. Perhaps this is what makes the problem so persistent—when thieves know that the police will not even attempt to come after them, they just keep going and become more and more brazen.

    It seems that with all the advanced technology there is such an easy and relatively inexpensive fix—install webcams on the streets (Google might already have done that) and track the thieves. And this seems to be such a big and pervasive problem, something should be done. I just checked whether Google has a webcam on St. Laurent & Napoleon, unfortunately it doesn't. Why doesn't the police bother?!!!!

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