This past Friday I attended the first edition of ‘77 Montreal at Parc Jean Drapeau. The festival showcased punk bands from different eras, some having formed decades ago while others were only a few years old. It was the perfect replacement for Heavy Montreal or the long-departed Vans Warped Tour. And we couldn’t have asked for a better day: clear blue skies and hot weather.
I managed to catch the last three songs of local all-female band Pale Lips, who were putting on the moves on the early birds slowly trickling in. As soon as their set finished, Barrasso struck their first note from the stage on the opposite side of the grounds. Having missed their set at Pouzza Fest, I’m glad I finally got to see them live. Barrasso had the responsibility of representing Quebec, since they exclusively sing in French.
There was no waiting time between bands, so I found myself running back and forth between the two stages. I was excited to witness a slice of Montreal punk history when Genetic Control took to the stage. They disbanded back in 1986 and moved away to different parts across Canada, yet they played as if no time had passed since their last gig. They opened their set with covers of “White Riot” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” before launching into their catalogue of originals. According to singer Mike Price, the original pressing of their 7” First Impressions has become so rare, a single copy costs $1500. Not only was it a reunion for the band, but it was also a reunion of fans who had seen them play thirty years ago. Genetic Control ended their set with a few covers by the Bad Brains and Minor Threat, keeping with their theme of 1980s hardcore.
Next was an incredibly fun set by local ska outfit The Kingpins, consisting of ten members, three of which were saxophone players. The combined vocal abilities of Paddy Walsh and Lorraine Muller is definitely worth mentioning as well. At one point, stage hands started blasting the crowd with water cannons and I had to evacuate my camera equipment away from the torrents.
The Creepshow had a rocky beginning with low volume and squealing microphones. I used to be really into psychobilly back in the day, but the one-dimensional gimmick became really stale real fast. Especially for the Creepshow, whose best years are way behind them since enlisting their third frontwoman. I took the opportunity to explore the festival grounds and check out the Marché des Punx, where merchants were selling records, toys and dolls dressed up as classic horror icons. There was also an exposition of posters, many of them for shows that took place years before I was born. Next to the market was a kids’ area, complete with a bouncing slide and face-painting. Entrance to the festival was free for children under the age of 10, so I saw lots of kids running around with little punk vests and mohawks.
I met up with some friends in front of the stage while Joyce Manor played. Fans were doing the traditional emo dance by standing in one place and looking sad. Other audience members were left with a frown on their face, as if they were thinking “I can’t bang my head to this!” On the opposite stage, Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers was playing some acoustic folk tunes. I overheard someone from the Maritimes make a quip about how he looked like his old Irish uncle.
Things got kicked into high gear when Madball came on stage. Audience members got to relive their high school lunchroom brawling days by demonstrating classic dance movies like the hardcore 2-step, the windmill and the loose-change-pickup. At this point, it was getting increasingly difficult to get close to the stage to take pictures, as I didn’t have press access or camera lens longer than my arm. Also there was no way I was going near a moshpit with something I spent my life savings on.
Being in a porta-potty is the last place I want to be during a music festival, but I could no longer delay the inevitable and had to watch the beginning of the Bouncing Souls’ set from the bathroom line. Luckily, once the deed was done, I was able to find a spot close enough to the stage. Singer Greg Attonito got up close and personal with fans while singing “Lean On Sheena” and their closer “True Believers.” The entire time he had a big smile on his face as audience members patted him on the back and took selfies while he sang.
Like many people I talked to, I was looking forward to seeing the Vandals play. The stage banter went as I had expected; grown men making immature dick and fart jokes. Guitarist Warren Fitzgerald in particular was entertaining to watch, as he frequently mooned the audience and tried to balance on one foot. For the encore, Fitzgerald removed his bright blue shirt to reveal a bright red shirt to match with his bright red pants. He grabbed the microphone and ran through the crowd and climbed up the gates, all while singing “I Have A Date.”
Surprisingly, not many people were rushing to the stage to see legendary punk veterans X perform. You kids clearly didn’t do your punk rock research. The one and only Exene Cervenka strolled up to the microphone stand, looking too cool for school, wearing shades and a hoodie and crossing her arms. She eventually loosened up by the third song. Half-way through their set, bassist John Doe declared “we can’t always be playing straight motherfuckin’ punk rock all the time,” before launching into a cover of a song from the 1920s. Other band members got a bit more creative with their instrumentation; drummer DJ Bonebrake switched over to the xylophone while Billy Zoom transitioned between playing guitar and saxophone. They closed their set with songs from their 1980 debut album Los Angeles.
It was St. Patrick’s Day in July when Dropkick Murphys came on stage, all wearing flat caps and Fred Perry shirts, not allowing the Proud Boy movement ruin their sense of fashion. I was expecting them to play a handful of songs I didn’t know, yet they played such classics like “Barroom Hero” and “The Gang’s All Here.” For their closing song, they invited audience members (mostly girls) to come onstage to sing along, finishing with an explosion of confetti.
During the turnover, I checked out my friends the Barrel Heads, who were playing on a much smaller stage near the market on the opposite side of the grounds. The Barrel Heads were the winners of a competition open to local bands to play between the two headlining bands. I believe their victory was thanks to Montreal Rampage when we randomly used their picture in our preview article for ‘77 Montreal. For a small stage, it was surprisingly well-attended. I managed to catch a few songs, but had to run back to the main stage because I didn’t want to miss Rancid.
Hey! Who let that crazy homeless guy from the X-Files on stage? Oh, wait, that’s Tim Armstrong? My bad. I have seen Rancid play live half a dozen times, but for some reason, seeing them headline ’77 Montreal was a lot more emotional. I kept getting flashbacks to the first time I heard …And Out Come The Wolves in the back seat of my parent’s car. I stopped listening to Rancid more than five years, yet I somehow knew all the words to the songs off Trouble Maker, which came out two months ago. For the encore, Rancid invited members of Dropkick Murphys to help them sing covers of the Ramones, the Clash, Johnny Cash and ACDC.
The punk rock movement today is purely nostalgic for the golden years. But the bands that have stood out throughout the years are the ones who have created something new while still keeping to the punk values of rebellion and free expression. ’77 Montreal is a demonstration of those innovators and how they were able to shape the minds of past generations. As musicians, it is our duty to continue that legacy and influence the next generation of free thinkers. I hope the festival becomes a regular thing and brings in more artists in years to come.