I showed up at Sucre Bleu to pick up my media pass. It was a candy store made out of Willy Wonka’s cold, dead memory; a gumball-colored heaven. There was a DJ playing rock music while people mingled together, buying drinks from the bar at the back and making small talk. There was a tentative energy in the air among us. We were waiting, killing time before the real spectacle began. The weather for the weekend was amazing and yet no one was on the terrace. I guess candy and booze and hot sun don’t mix. I caught a lot of shows over the weekend, my wrist looking more passport than human; it was a whirlwind, and this review will act accordingly.
First up was the self-titled Eddie Paul at Katacombes. They kicked off my festival experience with a song called “Life is Sweet.” It was a good opening track, with a slow build-up straight outta The Black Angels playbook. They moved, albeit slightly. Their songs carried forth the energy, but I found myself dancing more in my chair than they were on stage. Also, the tambourine player kinda weirded me out. Her whole purpose was to dance with the singer, Eddie Paul, while occasionally adding backing vocals. I really hope this doesn’t become a new trend in music. My highlight from them was when they played “Panda-monium,” the title track from their debut album. They did a slick jam to open the song, which was a good way to pump the crowd up for the next band.
I stuck around for Fire/Works, who were playing as a trio that night. They had pieces of the drums set up in front of David Lagacé (singer and guitarist) and Étienne Dupré (bassist). Étienne’s feet were a blur between his rhythm on the high-hat and his assortment of effects pedals. While I did enjoy them with a backing drum, they did not lose a step without their drummer. The fact that they could keep their harmonies tight and solid while stompin’ away like Tom goes a long way towards showing their confidence in their musical ability. They played “Ancestors Shadows” near the end of their set. It made me happier than a clam, although, clams don’t really have feelings and all that…
Kandle was the last act at Katacombes. Yes, they were tight, with more stage presence than the other bands. Yes, Kandle Osborne had an amazing, on-key voice. It’s just that they seemed too plastic to me. She played her hits while the Krooks, her backing band, did their thing. It was contrived, seeming how a marketing firm thinks music should sound and look. I, for one, was not sold. I had to get away. Luckily, I knew just the place to go.
I stumbled my way to Loup Garou (forever known as L’Absynthe to me) to catch whatever remained of Prieur and Landry. The show area was packed. I handed my skateboard off to a stranger and bulled my way to the front of the stage to headbang and take some elbows to the back. This band, with Elliot Landry on drums and Gab Prieur on guitar and vocals, were a two-man wrecking crew in the venue. They had the crowd hyped and moving. Gab threw himself around the stage while Elliot wailed away like not just an animal, but the Animal!
Sadly, I only caught three of this band’s songs before taking a can of Pabst to the face and slicing my eyebrow open. The gentleman offender apologized and I shrugged it off. Sometimes you have to bleed for your craft.
On Friday, my first stop was Katacombes to check out the Ariel album launch, Croche. Man, that was one helluva show. The band looked like they were having fun, goofy smiles plastered across their faces. The four of them did not stop moving the whole time. They got the crowd into it. It was the proper way to kick-start an early evening. My highlights would be their second song, “Entre in extremis et trop tard,” and the way their bassist, Marie-Anne Arsenault, rocked the low end and kept her melodies in check. They were harrowing, upbeat, and classic.
I wandered down to Arcade MTL next and hung out in the alley. There was a beach party vibe surrounding the place and sadly, I realized I’d left my banana hammock at home. There’s always next year.
Mordicus were finishing off their set. Their stage was makeshift and essentially ground level. They were kinda cheesy, kinda groovy; the Canadian equivalent of Jet, shucking and jiving on stage. They had balls, but I’d equate it more to a newborn’s smooth testicles than to that of a wrinkled, ancient rocker. Still, it was a good time.
Club Soda was my next stop to catch Bloodshot BILL. If you’ve never seen this man live, please rectify that. He was set up in his classic one-man show, a kick and high-hat placed in front of his stool, which he manipulated to the beat while playing rockabilly guitar riffs. He played shoeless and threw his voice, one moment howling away while the next he was grunting like a pig. A backing band came out to join him for his last few songs. The crowd was sufficiently stoked for what was to come.
The Gruesomes came next, and they launched into their brand of surf-rock fuzz. If you like The Sonics, you’ll love these guys. Their songs were good, the music tight, but their live show could use some legs. It was lackluster, and not something I would normally pay $26 to go see. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as the crowd never really got dancing until their third song in the encore.
I made my way back to Katacombes to what I would call the show of the festival. The music was faster, the crowd livelier. This was my jam.
I walked in and caught the last bit of The Matadors. Their singer, Hooch, was decked out in a black tie over a red shirt. The bassist and drummer sported all black. The color scheme screamed. It was vibrant and it matched their music, which matched their stage presence, which matched the crowd’s intensity. The entire band was a non-stop locomotive force. They were begging for us to dance the night away, and we couldn’t help but give in.
It ended too soon.
Last up was The Brains. They attacked, and it was brutal. The Matadors set the tone; the Brains succeeded in making mine leak out of my ears. They were what rockabilly would sound like if you continuously shocked it with a cattle prod. The drummer, Phil, was a caustic ball of energy, while bassist Colin, was a fury of action. They all were. Hey, is that Jack the Ripper? Nope, just Rene. His voice cut through the room, clean at times but always punctuated with hidden gruffness. They were dressed in leather, denim, studs, and attitude.
Attitude. That about sums up the festival for me. Each band had their own, for better or for worse, but it all flowed and made for a very enjoyable experience.
Written by Aaron Deck
Photography by Stacy Basque and Melissa Martella
*edited by Kate Erickson