Montrealers and Mother Nature have what could be best described as a complicated relationship. For a good part of the year, we hurl furious invectives at regularly occurring phenomenon like “Wind Chill,” “Frost Warnings,” and “Snow in Motherfucking April Are You Kidding Me?!” Then, come mid-to-late May, Ms. Nature parcels out a few days of summer-ish conditions, and like the good little co-dependents we are, collective amnesia sets in and the previous eight months of suffering are magically erased from our collective memory. That’ some pretty thin gruel, but you know what? When those first beautiful summer days coincide with the sixth edition of Pouzzafest, a three-day, multi-venue smorgasbord of punk, ska, metal, craft beer, and fast food, all is forgiven in my books. Better yet, the show I was attending was being held at Pouzza’s outdoor, all-ages beer garden in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles. Let the madness begin!
This was my first year attending Pouzzafest since the addition of the outdoor stage, and I was blown away by the set up: a big, beautiful stage; ample libation options from drink sponsors Beau’s Brewery, Trou du Diable, and Sailor Jerry; and plenty of grassy space for the growing crowd. After picking up a beverage at the Beau’s truck, I made my way to the stage to catch the last bit of Les Happycuriens‘ set. The group seemed in fine form (getting an eight-piece band to sound tight live is no easy task), and their traditional mid-paced ska sound set a great tone for the rest of the evening.
Up next were Montreal’s PL Mafia, whose poppy-but-gritty, up-tempo brand of ska-punk pushed the youthful crowd in front of the stage into the first of many mosh and skank sessions. “What time did you guys start drinking?” asked vocalist and trombonist Mario Ouellet, clearly impressed by the crowd’s early vigor.
While the next band was setting up, I couldn’t help but notice the demographic composition of the audience. The field was chock-full of couples pushing strollers or leading around kids wearing huge protective headphones. While I initially thought it odd to see so many tiny humans at a ska-punk show, their presence made complete sense; this style of ska reached its popular zenith in the late nineties and early aughts, thus giving fans ample time to bone and produce offspring. SCIENCE! Anyway, I digress…
This was my first time catching Montreal four-piece The Beatdown. The roots-reggae-ska-rocksteady act were the perfect compliment to the evening’s blissful vibe of “Thank Christ it’s finally warm.” The group’s groovy, soulful jams got heads bobbing and feet moving, especially on tracks like “The Other Side” and “The River.” Lead singer and guitarist Alex Giguere’s vocals were expressive, with just the right splash of punk snarl. After a spirited cover of The Clash‘s “Revolution Rock,” Giguere modified the lyrics to one of their own songs and led the crowd through a chant of, “We Want Pouzza!”
Up next was Boston’s Big D and The Kid’s Table. When I told Bucketlist photographer Mel that I last saw Big D in Montreal approximately twelve years ago, she informed me that she was ten years old at that time. (Thanks Mel, I’ll just go be old somewhere else.) Thankfully, the band showed no signs of rust, kicking off their set with classic sing-along anthems from 2001’s The Gypsy Hill, including fan favourites “Checklist,” “Those Kids Suck,” and “Scenester.” Although frontman David McWane’s pitch wavered at times early in the set, his performance was brimming with infectious energy. The older material sounded bang-on, and the crowd, which had to be nearing capacity, was dancing up a proper storm. The band ended their set with “L.A.X.” This crowd favourite is a sardonic love letter to wealthy, entitled scene brats, and a snapshot of a young touring band’s struggle. One would imagine McWane & Co. take a certain satisfaction performing the song twelve years after its release.
Rounding out the show was The Planet Smashers, the evening’s headliners and arguably the linchpin of the Montreal ska scene. This particular Smashers set was special for a number of reasons. For one thing, this was the band’s first gig since January when lead singer Matt Coyller broke his neck. Secondly, the group would be performing 1999’s Life of The Party in its entirety. The massive crowd erupted when the Smashers launched into the album’s title track. While Collyer’s injury saw him delegate guitar duties for the evening, he otherwise appeared to be in great shape, perceptively energized by the audience’s joyful exuberance. During “Surfin’ in Tofino,” Collyer commanded the crowd to kneel down, and I don’t think I saw a single motherfucker acting too cool for school. Part of what made the set so special was the band’s energy. It would be easy for these guys to go through the motions on a classic set list and still have an appreciative audience, but the tunes sounded incredibly sharp and full of life. During his solo on “All Men Fear Women,” I thought sax player Al Fecteau might actually explode. As the band made it to the mid-point of the album, Collyer mentioned that some of the deeper cuts such as “Whining” and “Kung Fu Master” had never been performed live and “would probably never get played again!” After closing out the album play-through with mellow slow jam “Save It,” bassist Dave Cooper rushed backstage. He returned sporting a giant foam hippopotamus mask just as the band launched into contemporary favorite, “The Hippopotamus.” The Planet Smashers rounded out their excellent set with a pair of fan favorites, first blasting through the hilarious “Pee in The Elevator” and then returning for an encore performance of “Sk8 or Die.”
Day one at Pouzzafest will be hard to top as it was a confluence of so many awesome things: great weather, cold beer, stellar music, and an appreciative crowd who were in the mood to party.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Melissa Martella
*edited by Kate Erickson