Can you remember what you were doing twenty years ago? I was graduating high school in 1994, and my only introduction to non-mainstream music came by way of an individual who had a penchant for 18 hole docs and braces who told me that ska was his preferred genre of music. I asked him what it was, and he told me that it was speedy reggae that he and his friends listened to. At the time, I had long hair, and was into the likes of Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with healthy doses of the Beatles and Beach Boys in between, so I didn’t pay him much mind. I most assuredly did not know that one of the finest Canadian bands of any genre was in the process of its initial formation
In 1995, not long after this incident, I moved from Montreal to Alexandria, ON, where I became friends with a person named Mike, and we would spend many hours honing our skills of Mortal Kombat while listening to music. One day Mike put some awesomely catchy tunes, and when I ask, tells me they are a ska band from Montreal. I was hooked. I demanded a dub of the cassette, and it quickly became my new favourite album. It spoke to me on a level like no other music had, and the catchy grooves were addictively enticing.
With a week or two of my discovery of ska, I happened to be at work at a service-centre along Highway 401 when a red and white van pulls in for fuel and five guys get out. Striking up a conversation with the very tall man who had been driving, I discover they are a band. I’m sure my surprise was obvious when I asked what the name of the band was, and Matt told me it was the Planet Smashers.
“Really? I have a dubbed cassette of you in my car! You guys are great!” I responded, possibly making the most awkward introduction ever. But the coincidence of events was almost enough to make me believe in fate.
A few years later when I realized rural Ontario is no place for a fun-loving 20 year old, I returned to Montreal, and at a Planet Smashers show met Andrew Hughson of the Cartel, likewise inspired by bands like the Smashers and Me Mom and Morgentaler, who convinced me to join. My friend Mike who had originally introduced me to the Smashers’ music eventually moved out west and is still currently playing trumpet with the Mad Bomber Society.
I tell this story not only because I think it simply a cool story, but to illustrate that the Planet Smashers are not only a band. They are part of the substrate of Canadian music subculture, and have been inspirational to an entire generation of bands and fans. Just about anybody who has had any contact with them has nothing but good things to say. And that says a lot.
Twenty years later, and the Planet Smashers are not only still here, they are kicking ass and taking names better than ever. Their 20th Anniversary show saw the Planet Smashers in the centre of their bowling shirted glory. Opening strong, “Life of the Party” indeed set a tone that had more energy than I have seen before from the Smashers. They pulled out all the stops: keys, backing vocals from Motel Raphael, Howie from the Skinny joining in on trumpet, cannons firing confetti, and plenty of stage-diving and crowd-surfing fun.
They kept the crowd stoked and loving the show in spite of technical difficulties in “Surfin’ in Tofino” with Dave covering with an impromptu extended bass solo while Matt replaced a faulty guitar patch cable, then coming back and playing with the crowd. The smells of ganja wafted through the air during old classics like “Pee In The Elevator”, getting cheers for the habs during “My Decision” and what seemed like a good percentage of the Stomp stable of bands joining in for finale “Super Orgy Porno Party”.
But there was no way these enthusiastic young rudies were letting the Smashers out that easy. The demand for an encore rang out from 200 voices, and the Smashers obliged with a fantastic cover of the Specials’ “Nite Klub”, finishing the night off with a frenetic energy that stuck with me for days afterward.
Let it be known that the Planet Smashers are in fine form after these twenty years. They put out fantastic energy that the crowd just laps up, and then feed off the crowd, creating a sort of party feedback loop that is just mind blowing. Even if you’re ambivalent about ska or have never heard of it, the Planet Smashers are a must see, and one of the most entertaining bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.
Written by Pat Grace
Photography by Susan Moss