Who says indie rockers can’t dominate on the basketball court? At yesterday’s POP vs. Jock basketball game, played for the third year in a row at the POP Montreal festival, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and a group of musicians including his bandmate and brother Will, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes showed they could give college-level players a run for their money. They took on team Jock, which boasted members of the McGill and Concordia University basketball teams. After a slow start in the first quarter, POP dominated later in the game and came back to win 101-92.
It helped that POP had some jocks of their own filling out their ranks, including retired pro players Luke Bonner and Brian Scalabrine. Matt Bonner of the NBA championship-winning San Antonio Spurs served as their coach.
Throughout the game, Régine Chassagne played organ over beats provided by DJs A-Trak and Kid Koala. Their repertoire included songs like “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor, “Jump” by Van Halen, and “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock. Mozart’s Sister sang a game-opening rendition of “O Canada,” winning cheers from the audience when she changed the line “our home and native land” to “our home and stolen land.”
POP came out fighting, winning the opening tipoff, but Jock took over quickly and gained an early 11-5 lead. Despite a 3-point basket and excellent rebounding by Win Butler, Jock led 27-22 at the end of the first quarter. Then POP came back rejuvenated in the second quarter, gaining a 28-27 lead when Win forced a turnover and threw the ball down the court for an assist on a breakaway layup. POP kept the momentum going for the rest of the quarter and led 57-40 at the half.
It was clear by this point that Win Butler is a good basketball player and not a dilettante, far surpassing his fellow musicians in points, rebounds, and assists. Will Butler and Fraiture both showed solid skills, while Vernon… well, it was cool that he was there.
Anticipation ran high for the halftime show as attendees wondered what this all-star group of artists would cook up. Things got started with Kid Koala leading a parade of kids dressed in animal costumes and playing kazoos around the gym, and then he invited volunteers from the audience to participate in a kazoo battle. Next, A-Trak and Chassagne led a round of live karaoke, with Luke Bonner singing Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” after losing a three-point shooting competition to his brother Matt.
Then came the supergroup performance everyone was waiting for. Win Butler, Will Butler, Vernon, and Fraiture took to the floor for a rendition of “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, backed by Chassagne on organ and vocals, and Kid Koala and A-Trak on percussion. They called themselves the POP All Star Band. While it was not the most polished performance, the audience felt a collective chill when Vernon dug into the song’s second verse and listened in awe as Kid Koala and A-Trak dropped the beat at the end. After the song ended, they jammed on the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” for a couple minutes then got back to the game.
Jock turned up the pressure in the second half, coming out strong and rallying to tie it 71-71 after POP had a run of bad luck. This included a couple botched plays by Vernon, one of which ended in a turnover after he missed a pass from Win. Jock played with an aggressive full-court press in the fourth quarter, but despite their efforts, POP consistently outplayed them and came back to win 101-92. The game ended with a trophy ceremony that saw POP reclaim the POP vs. Jock title from Jock, who won last year’s game.
Later in the night, players from both teams went to the Society Of Art And Technology for an after party featuring DJ sets from Win Butler (as DJ Windows 98) and James Murphy. Butler got things started with a selection of funk and afrobeat tunes, and was joined from time to time by live percussionists and dancers. He and Murphy spent a good deal of time DJing shoulder to shoulder before Murphy took to the decks alone, offering a fitting sampling of post-punk, dance-punk, and just about everything else in LCD Soundsystem’s catalogue of influences. Members of both teams floated on and off the stage and danced behind Murphy, sometimes in unison, creating a fun communal party vibe.
Butler took a bit of time to wander around and schmooze with fans, who were eager to congratulate him on the game and take selfies with him. When asked how he felt about the game, he said he was relieved to have the POP Vs. Jock trophy back in the hands of POP, and didn’t plan on giving it up again. With proceeds from the game and afterparty going to DJ Sports Club, which provides sporting and educational programs to over 900 youths in the Montreal area, the real winners were the kids.
— Luke Bonner (@LukeyBonner) September 20, 2014
— Luke Bonner (@LukeyBonner) September 20, 2014
— POP Montréal (@popmontreal) September 20, 2014
Thank you guys so much for making it such a great event this year. Let's defend our crown next year! pic.twitter.com/p5otUbkacF
— Arcade Fire (@arcadefire) September 22, 2014
Hear Win Butler’s interview with CHOM 97.7 about the event below.