The first ever three day Heavy Montreal offered fans of heavy music of all sorts plenty of reasons to be head bang, mosh and sing along, with a varied lineup that went from punk to hair bands to hardcore with a little bit of everything in between. The punk side of the event was particularly strong, with stand out performances from Strung Out, NOFX, Rocket From the Crypt, Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg (who chained Ramones classics one after another for an hour) and, of course, the legendary Iggy Pop, who at 68 still looks like a singing madman (in a good way).
Korn and Slipknot capped Friday and Sunday brilliantly, while Faith No More returned to Montreal for the first time since 1992 (at the infamous Olympic Stadium riot show with Metallica and Guns ’n Roses). They perhaps encapsulate best the dichotomy of Heavy Montreal: they’re not quite metal (except when they flat out are), and not quite punk either. Their performance, all dressed in white, on a white stage lined with flowers, was technically perfect, inspired, and slightly unpredictable. They didn’t hesitate to play their version of the Commodore’s “Easy”, as song that’s as far removed from metal as can be, although Fozzy came close on Sunday with their metal cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” that still had the crowd throwing the horns. Even Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor were watching that one from the sidelines, grinning like maniacs. Hey, a good song’s a good song; the rest is just arrangement.
Over 70 bands played on the festival’s four stages, and 40,000 people passed the gates during the weekend. Sunday definitely felt the busier day of all three, with Slipknot fans lining up in front of the Molson Canadian stage from the moment the gates opened (I wonder what they thought of Dokken?). With so many bands playing, the Heavy Montreal experience differs from one concert goer to another, but my personal highlights over the weekend were Extreme, who played an amazing set, Strung Out, whose blend of punk and metal was perfect for this festival, Testament, who seem to get better with age, Iggy Pop, who was every bit the legend he is despite a strangely structured set that was heavily front loaded with hits, Warrant, whom I did not expect to be so good, Fozzy who gave everything they had in the unforgiving 1 PM slot on Sunday and up and comers Wilson who played an energetic 30 minute set on the forest stage while everyone else was watching Lamb of God.
Ever since expanding its focus from metal to include punk, the festival has been struggling a little to find its identity, and while last year it probably benefited from the Metallica’s crossover appeal to bridge the gap, it seemed to me that this year, the split between punk and metal felt a little more awkward. Never was it more obvious than on Friday when Strung Out singer Jason Cruz became frustrated with the large number of headbangers who preferred to stand in front of the other stage while waiting for Arch Enemy rather than move over to enjoy the California punks’ performance, calling them over to “where the people having fun are”.
Having said that, I think we should cherish such a diversified event that puts in the spotlight music that is mostly ignored by the main stream. This is a marquee event for our city, and Evenko keeps making it better each year (special kudos to the cleaning crews who kept the site much cleaner than in years past). And with four stages, there should be something for everyone at all time. Haters gonna hate; music fans will mosh, head bang and raise their horns. I’m already looking forward to Heavy Montreal 2016.