A noticeable energy surged through the city of Montreal with the political activism and unrest building with the student protests, the associated protests over Bill 78, and of course the news of an international manhunt for a suspect in a gruesome killing. However, the crowd that filled Club Lambi on June 1 would forget the outside world for a couple of hours to witness a mind-altering bill of local talent.
A recently formed Hiroshima Shadows opened the night's entertainment with a performance that set the bar for the rest of the evening. Although it was perhaps the least polished band of the night, their performance gave an indication of how great this band will likely become, and further demonstrated that everything Roy "Choyce" Vucino touches is gold. Hiroshima Shadows features Hannah Lewis on vocals and keyboards, Kieran Blake on vocals and guitar, Pierre-Luc Boily on drums, and Montreal's underground guru Mr. Vucino on bass (also serving as a musical equivalent of a foundation stone). Their set adrenalized the crowd with a punk rock / "shadow" disco hybrid, heavy in the low end of Roy's bass and Pierre-Luc's drumming. With vocal duties shared between Hannah and Kieran, the songs were plucked from several musical palettes, never pigeonholing this new band into one specific sound.
"It will be like any other Red Mass gig, but jammier..." explained Roy outside Club Lambi prior to performing his second set of the night. Adding "Disco 3000" to the Red Mass name for this gig was an indication that something would be different. It was a little more groovy, soulful (thanks to Taylor Hoodlum Stevenson guesting on vocals for a couple of songs), and yes a lot more "jammy". This was still the same shape shifting punk rock 'n’ roll beast that never fails to capture and energize an audience. In fact, I'd say the audience was left catching their breath.
With a new album due later this year, the band gave a little taste of what is to come. The set was made up primarily of new songs, jams, and familiar gems such as “Male Models”—a song that has been performed over the last couple of years, but never officially released. "Le Soleil De Glace" started the show with a build-up worthy of the invited two man horn section. The second song "U New U" emerged with a 60's pop patina. Hannah took lead vocals on "Sharp", a dark and moody disco song that seduced the audience, also indicating that Roy has found a perfect female foil in Hannah Lewis. The horns once again returning for a cacophonous breakdown resulting in what appeared to be an improvised jam.
One of the highlights of the set was "Dancing In My Grave". Guest-vocalist Taylor Hoodlum Stevenson nailed the track and perhaps raised the temperature in the room. His performance had soul to spare and was without a doubt the funkiest song of the evening. Every song was propelled by Yseal Pepin's throbbing bass lines and he was a pure pleasure to watch. This time around Pouf the Magic Drummer kept time with one of the most brutal displays on drums I have seen in a while, proving to these eyes, that he may well be the best drummer this band has ever had. Roy's guitar work never disappoints, and to hear him play you get the impression that between sleeping and eating he never really stops playing.
If this performance was any indication of the album to come, I'm hard pressed to come up with any other word but EPIC to describe it.
Although familiar with their albums, Anthologie Des 3 Perchoirs and In A Fung Day T!, this was the first time I had seen Duchess Says perform live. Damien "Sexual Chocolate" Edwards from the Long Beach, California band Crystal Antlers piqued my curiosity a couple of years ago when I met him in Toronto. He wore a Duchess Says pin on his jacket. When I explained I was from their hometown, he went on to say that after seeing them perform at a festival they were now his favorite band.
When I watched the headliners take to the stage, I thought of how hard it must be to follow Red Mass. But Duchess Says lived up to their reputation and did not disappoint. I would say I was converted, and now understood the praise put upon them. In Annie-Claude Deschênes, Duchess Says have a front woman whose stage aura is beyond hypnotic.
This band made sense to me as a live entity, their songs bopping and weaving with motorized precision. Guitar and synths meshed together to form a musical backdrop for Annie-Claude’s shamanistic performance. Keyboardist and guitarist Ismael Tremblay, guitarist and bassist Philippe Clément and percussionist Simon "Simon Says" Besre, concentrated on keeping everything in motion with little-to-no time stopping in between songs plucked from their two-album catalogue.
Annie spent a good portion of the set in and crowd-surfing above the crowd, eliminating any sort of boundary caused by having an actual stage. The cardboard chapel backdrops, after having fallen several times onto Ismael, eventually collapsed into the hands of the audience, which ensured proper destruction. As the props bent and tore to the crowd’s every move, so did the songs. At the end of their set, the band announced that they had a gift for all those in attendance, and a giant tarp with the band’s logo was revealed and laid out over heads of the crowd, providing a magic carpet from which Annie could once again join the audience and finish her punk rock sermon.
After seeing The Strange Boys, White Fence, and Ty Segall perform in May, I was left wondering if any other show this year could even come close to matching that line-up. My question was answered in the form of three local acts.