In Innsbruck, the hostels put on jam sessions for your entertainment
What’s a Psych-Funk jam session like in the middle of the Alps? Montagu has the answer.
Verdict: A must-go for anyone with a spare evening in Tyrol.
It’s mid-March in Innsbruck. I arrive on the train, backpack in tow, expecting to find a suave ski city packed with people making the most of the end of the season. But the tram ride to my accommodation tells me otherwise: the residents are young, the eateries are vegan, and the fashion is decidedly un-Chelsea. What a pleasant surprise.
I’m told that there’s a “jam session at the bar tonight” when I check in to Montagu, a place just across the river from the old town. “It’s like a psychedelic funk sorta thing I think?” the lady taking my details says. That certainly piqued my interest.
I almost don’t make it out. The rooms at Montagu are possibly the most comfortable I’ve ever seen in a hostel, and thanks to the curtains we all get in our pod-like areas, it’s also the first privacy I’ve had for a week. A 12 hour sleep seems very tempting. But then, I bump into one of my roommates. She seems cool, and she’s heading down to the bar. I can’t say no to that.
“…an effortless sense of direction draws you down its first level and into the basement. It’s a kitsch underground spot, bar on one side and a cosily decorated room on the other.”
Montagu has a particularly strong USP – its bar is also a popular spot with locals. Walk in, and you’re quickly mixing with the city’s alternative crowd, as well as fellow hostel-stayers. My roommate spots some of the others staying with us, and we get chatting. I’m not in the mood to get tipsy, having been drinking for days in a row at this point. Luckily, however, the alcohol-free weissbraus in this part of the world are to die for, and I soon find a pint in my hand.
As you walk through Montagu, an effortless sense of direction draws you down its first level and into the basement. It’s a kitsch underground spot, bar on one side and a cosily decorated room on the other. The stage sits in the back corner, tonight with an assembly of instruments ready to be played, and an ever-growing crowd. We’re standing up near the front; others have taken stools, and a few seem to be on a spread of cushions.
“My new friends and I agree this is “really fucking good”, and we start to dance along with the locals.”
A short while later, some people come up to the stage and begin playing. They start slow, welcoming more people down from the upstairs and getting a feel for what each of them will bring this evening. The communication is all done through head movements. Our pianist, who quickly becomes my favourite member, barely looks away from the drummer and bassist, waxing out some beautiful stuff without even having to so much as glance at the keys.
Courtesy of that piano player and a saxophonist, rocking dreads and a gorgeous navy blue shirt, there’s a firmly jazzy air to the proceedings. It matches the background chatter and slow swinging of those of us standing. The four piece bring their improvised piece to a climax, and the room is on a level. Everyone is keen for them to turn it up.
They respond in kind; our next song is decidedly funkier, the drummer driving more from his beat and our bassist giving it some real punch. My new friends and I agree this is “really fucking good”, and we start to dance along with the locals. A bigger cheer comes at the end of that one, and it quickly runs confidence through our band’s veins.
“Suddenly, there are vocals coming across the speakers. We look forward to see that someone has grabbed the mic…”
A change of drummer, and an extra guitarist too. He’s come dressed for this – rectangular blazer, curly long blond hair – oh hell yeah. Turns out he’s also keen to wrangle some right wicked sounds from his guitar. The sweat builds – it’s busy in here now, and the energy is palpable. The song is growing, encouraging more from the crowd. Suddenly, there are vocals coming across the speakers. We look forward to see that someone has grabbed the mic, as yet untouched, and is improvising over the top. Big cheers in response to that – I try to imagine what I would sing if I were up there, and decide that the girl currently scatting her heart out ahead is far better anyway.
From the highs that she delivered, the band climb their way down to a gentle close. It’s a beautiful process of starting and ending each song. The night evolves with every musician they sub on; at one point, we get a particularly wavy composition that wanders into Pink Floyd territory. It’s a breezy feel to making music, and to enjoying it too – people are coming and going all the time, conversations can still be had as nothing is played too loudly. You could turn up for two tracks and get a completely different experience to someone else, and that feels particularly special to witness.
The tiredness of backpacking catches up with me, and I decide I need to make the most of that comfy bed. Vibrations continue long into the night, different sounds being drawn out over and over. Something about the jam-nature of the gig matches Innsbruck, a city melding its Tirolian history with newer crowds with an open-minded ease. Perhaps being hemmed in by enormous mountains on all sides forces you to mingle with whatever everyone else has brought to this fantastic little place. The result is a truly unique, ever-evolving experience.
Marmalade Jam Session, Montagu, Innsbruck, 15th March 2023