Not feeling the least bit proud of living in Quebec, I ended up spending my Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Bar Le Ritz P.D.B. seeing six back-to-back bands. The lineup consisted of a mix of hardcore and powerpop bands, half of them coming from California. It came off as odd to me, but I suppose there needed to be a balance of aggression and positive vibes. Upon entering the room, I noticed the DIY banner draped behind the stage; a bed sheet with each band’s name spray painted in red.
In order to get through six bands, the show had to start a lot earlier than I was used to. Up first was Montreal’s own Pale Lips, who kicked off their short set with “Don’t Bring Your Switchblade To New York.” I had seen them live before at the first edition of ’77 Fest, but I was particularly looking forward to hearing them play songs off their latest album After Dark, like their single “You’re a Doll.” It also happened to be Lynn Poulin’s birthday, who looked cool as hell wearing sunglasses inside as she drummed along to the band’s Ramones-inspired pop rock (though Jackie Blenkarn is a much better singer than Joey).
It was my second time seeing Niagara Falls hardcore act Wild Side, the self-professed “baddest band on the planet,” though I couldn’t remember when or where I saw them last. All I remember is frontman Brandon MacFarlane’s energy, and he retained the same energy this time around. All of the hardcore dancers came out of the woodwork for this band, punching the floor along with the beat. Though MacFarlane stole most of the attention prowling back and forth and high-kicking, I was drawn to guitarist Emmett Morris, who was endlessly shredding on the side of the stage.
Next was Dare from California, the band so straight edge, they took their name from an anti-drug campaign. Maybe I’m getting old, but the members looked like teenagers, especially drummer Anaiah Lei (either that or a drug-free life is the key to eternal youth). Building on the energy of the previous band, Dare blasted through minute-long songs with very little time to breath in between. Unfortunately, that momentum was interrupted by a broken string, which was expected, considering how fast they were playing.
The mood of the room drastically changed once Toronto’s Young Guv took to the stage. The quintet was dressed as if they had stepped out of a time machine from the 1970s. And they sounded like it too. Fronting the band was Ben Cook (of No Warning and Fucked Up), who sang mellow tunes, with the aid of cosmic country guitarist James Matthew VII. Add to that an acoustic guitar and a looper pedal, creating a calming wall of sound. At one point, Cook asked about the origins of Quebec’s holiday, and if Saint John was a decent guy. I shouted out that he was decapitated, but Cook misheard it as “it’s complicated,” which I suppose was true as well. For their final song, they invited Emmett Morris of Wild Side on stage (because three guitars weren’t enough). Morris ripped through yet another solo, as each member unplugged and walked off the stage one by one.
As I was scratching my head about this unexplained marriage of hardcore and powerpop, Tony Molina bridged that gap in my mind. The Bay Area musician, backed by a full band, opened his set with a whole lotta feedback, then came in with some crunchy distortion. But then Molina brought in the pop elements, singing upbeat dreamy melodies. Listening back to his discography, it sounded more like his 2014 release Dissed and Dismissed than his more recent acoustic numbers off Kill the Lights and Confront the Truth.
Prior to accepting to cover this show, I had never listened to Culture Abuse, and when I did listen to their songs online, I wasn’t that into them. But I was absolutely blown away by their live performance, as there was a lot more fuzz in the amps, and vocalist David Kelling sang with more howls and grit than on the recordings. Anaiah Lei of Dare made a second appearance as the band’s fill-in drummer. Kelling is affected by cerebral palsy, so he stayed in place as he sang. But he was able to inject the room with overwhelmingly positive energy. His positivity is reflected in Culture Abuse’s songs, specifically “Bee Kind To The Bugs,” with Kelling singing “Be kind to yourself / even though it gets hard / don’t let the distractions/stack up to the stars.” The audience responded with enthusiasm, and a few people even sang along to every song. Hell, even I sang along with Kelling on the closing lines of “Goo,” when the rest of the band went silent. It was a powerful moment. But I was most surprised when Culture Abuse launched into a noisy cover of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by the Clash.
Even though I was exhausted and weak on my feet by the time Culture Abuse finished their encore, I was very satisfied with what I had experienced. I had little expectations going in, but I left with a wide grin.
Written by Chris Aitkens
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Danielle Kenedy