There has been an explosion of amazing ska shows in Montreal lately. From the Montreal Ska Festival, to the Stomp Records 20th Anniversary (both of which were covered by Bucketlist), to the Toasters, Montrealers have been treated to some high-quality Jamaican-inspired live music. But the best of the lot took place on Friday the 13th of November at Petit Campus—New York City’s heavyweight ska and rocksteady ensemble, The Slackers.
Local rockers The Beatdown were the only band given the honour of opening for the ska legends, and these guys are quickly becoming one of my favorite local bands. The Beatdown sound is textbook rock and roll ska – or “Jamaican rock and roll,” both descriptions are accurate – with a raw energy and R&B- inspired soulfulness that sets them apart from so many other generic pop-ska acts.
Tracks like “Get Ready” incorporate classic Jamaican sounds with a faster, punk-rock edge; the bristling energy coming mainly from lead vocalist Alex Giguere’s raw and almost bluesy singing, upbeat guitar, and harmonica. Roots-reggae gets a tough, Montreal-style reworking courtesy of The Beatdown’s heavy feedback and distorted guitars. The Beatdown hit the road with the Slackers for a gig in Rouyn-Noranda on Saturday night, and if it wasn’t for the seven hour drive and a few too many Jameson shots at the show on Friday, I would have easily made the trip for that one as well!
The Petit Campus crowd surprised me. After seeing the stylishly dressed mods that came out for the Montreal Ska Fest, I was expecting more of the same fitted suits, skinny ties, and pork-pie hats. Unfortunately, aside from a few Fred Perry jackets, the ska-style was noticeably absent on Friday. But that’s not to suggest it was a boring crowd! By the time the Slackers took the stage the venue was packed, everyone was on their feet dancing, and the good vibes were infectious.
The Slackers, of course, delivered an undeniably energetic and strong set. Formed in New York City in 1991, the prolific six-piece band has incredible musical range and talent. At a typical Slackers show the crowd can expect to hear some killer ska, as in the catchy “Everyday is Sunday,” vintage rocksteady like “You Must Be Good,” and, true to their NYC roots, some jazzy numbers like “Sarah” that show these guys have some serious “chops.” But then, just as I thought the night couldn’t get any better, the band dropped a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” that brought the crowd to their knees and almost tore the roof off Petit Campus. Wow; just wow.
Vocalist and keyboard player Vic Ruggiero played a short but sweet acoustic set, and Glen Pine, who provided vocals on most songs, had his own solos and moments in the spotlight. Pine looked like a 1960s gangster in his suit and, along with Ruggiero and saxophone player Dave Hillyard, showed veteran showmanship and stage presence.
The evening unfortunately began on a tragic note as terrorists killed at least 129 people that night in Paris, including 89 at a rock concert. I was apprehensive about attending a concert the same day as these horrific events. In the end, however, it was a good idea to go, because in dark times music is a positive and uplifting force that brings people together and represents all that is good about our culture.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON!
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Kate Erickson