“If you never try out anything new, you won’t know what you’re missing.” As the lead singer from Animal Ethics used the latter statement to justify why his band has two drummers, Mell Martella (photographer) and I applied his statement to the entire PouzzaFest, while we ventured from venue to venue to see band after band at a festival neither of us has ever witnessed before.
Animal Ethics kicked off Pouzza for me at TRH Bar with a pretty neat layout: while most of the musicians played inside TRH’s traditional skater bowl, the band’s second drummer was precariously perched with her drum kit on the ledge. Although the actual music was barely audible above the two loud percussionists, it was neat to see all the musicians stop the cacophony perfectly on cue, creating quite a magical silence. When I asked the band about the origin of their name, it was Thomas (backup vocalist) who answered me: “Animal Ethics has nothing to do with animal rights – we are talking about the corruption of our own politicians. They follow their primally selfish needs and lack humanity; they are closer to animals than to humans.” I love it. This is how every band that deems its genre as punk rock should roll.
Next, Mell and I headed to the dungeon maze that is Foufounes électriques, where most of the festival’s headliners were playing. Foufs is a carefully crafted alternative rock venue, charming for its many intricate metal sculptures, high ceilings and red lighting. Once we managed to find the correct concert room (this took quite some wandering around), I got to see Jeff Rosenstock for the second time ever (he was in Montreal with Andrew Jackson Jihad, Chumped and The Smith Street Band this past March).
“After this show I’m going to have to go get ‘henged’. Do you know what the hell ‘henged’ even means? Neither did I. That’s what young people today say to get stoned. I just made friends with someone younger and every time she texts me something, I have to Wikipedia what she says.” With his humorous crowd interactions and dynamic stage presence, Rosenstock effortlessly charmed his spectators. Indeed, the audience was won over as soon as Jeff started prancing around the stage while head banging with his short hair. The spectators eagerly sang along to You In Weird Cities, Nausea, Beers Alone Again, and many, many more. I personally loved the live rendition of Nausea – tenor sax and trumpet players surprised the crowd with their rich sounds while Jeff held a harmonica to his lips. And when the drummer ditched his kit to play the keyboard, viewers finally got to take in the full length of his ankle-long dread locks… The overall playful punk rock music was really dancer friendly – as people waltzed and crowd surfed about, a sense of unity really permeated the crowd.
I was particularly impressed when Jeff shared a brief speech in between two songs: “A couple days ago, this girl at our show was getting sexually harassed by some really creepy guy next to her. We just stopped the fucking show and called him right out on it. People are conditioned to think that such behavior is okay, and that speaking out makes it seem as though you cannot handle a pickle. But sexual assault is sexual assault.” Although Rosenstock was not sharing any shocking revelation here, I want to thank Jeff for speaking out on a very universal matter. The show ended gloriously to the song Darkness Records – Jeff went completely insane and let the audience play his guitar, while the keyboard took on a beautifully psychedelic turn.
Mell and I were really proud to have subsequently trapped an incredibly drunk Jeff Rosenstock for a casual interview. We were both thrilled to find out how down-to-Earth and friendly this fellow really is; a lot of musicians simply project a positive image for commercial reasons, but Jeff is just naturally welcoming to everyone.
Nadia Blostein (NB): What was it like to tour with brilliant bands such as Andrew Jackson Jihad, Chumped and the Smith Street Band?
Jeff Rosenstock (JR): Just imagine touring with fifteen of your best friends. I just love them all as musicians and as people.
NB: And whom would you consider as your biggest musical influences?
JF: That’s a very vague question, but I’d have to go with the Dead Kennedys, Dookie by Green Day, Biohazard, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys… And I honestly love pop music; Cyndi Lauper is the best.
NB: And why did The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, one of your previous musical projects, ended up breaking up?
JF: Honestly, the ASOB phenomenon is interesting because while we were together, we didn’t make any money… Our name only expanded after we broke up. The band was really focused on selling merch because we made no money and I just got fed up, to be honest.
NB: What do you tend to write the most about?
JF: I tend to write a lot from depressed states about classic themes such as heartbreak and depressions, since happiness does not really sound believable.
NB: Where is your favorite city to play in?
JF: I would have to say Brooklyn, where I grew up. They simply have the best DIY spots, even though DIY is sadly dying in Brooklyn…
NB: What would you define as a DIY venue?
JF: Somewhere where bands play casually, where shows are not corporate run…
NB: I think we have that here in Montreal. Ever heard of Death House, in the Fatale complex?
JF: Oh yeah! I remember playing there once. The place didn’t even have a mic for me…
Pumped by our first pseudo-interview of the festival, Mell and I continued excitedly running from the Katacombes to Foufs – we thus got to see Pkewpkewpkew (a funny ensemble with a hippie-meets-boy-band look), Pup, Fake Problems, Chumped (too pop punk for me, but the pixie lead vocalist is adorable) and Teenage Bottlerocket.
PUP (Pathetic Use of Potential) really captured the essence of punk as the lead vocalist manically smiled out at the mosh pits. What happily caught everyone off guard was when PUP suddenly began covering the Beastie Boys greatest hit, Sabotage. Even Rosenstock joined in, as he temporarily stole the mic before frantically crowd surfing away.
However, the award for the biggest spectacle of the festival must go to Teenage Bottlerocket’s show. The musicians from this skater punk band, excessively oozing testosterone, seemed to have recently upgraded from their part-time job as bouncers. This macho band even confirmed their masculinity when the lead singer stated that “when we come to Montreal, we eat at Schwartz’ Deli”. It quickly became obvious that while the backup vocalist was probably raised by wolves, the drummer must have been found in the sewers. And as the bassist maintained his legs in an awkward split position during the whole show, the lead singer’s head seemed to carry more gel than hair. I was particularly moved by the vocalist’s invested facial expressions as he emotionally sang songs about Burger King and wet dreams. It was funny to see such buff, grown men musically express their inner teenage angst. However, I ended up getting really annoyed by how seriously these “bros” seemed to be taking themselves. The set culminated in absurdity when a keen girl mounted the stage and victoriously jumped into the audience to crowd surf. Instead, she landed on the floor, flat on her back. Luckily, no serious injuries occurred but the result should have been filmed for America’s Funniest Home Videos. As Teenage Bottlerocket seriously nodded their heads away (smiling makes you look less manly), I had a lot of trouble holding in my laughter.
The next day, Counterpunch offered a fun but generic punk rock set with their mass-appealing choruses and endless reserve of energy. Pale Lips, an only-girl rockabilly band, later gave a really shy performance at Piranha Bar. Although the band has been playing for two years, the set felt like it must have been their first show ever and even if the band aesthetic may be to come off as endearingly “cute”, I did not understand the pertinence of including such a band at a punk rock festival. They have a lot of potential, with their sassy lead singer and orientation towards rock and roll, but Pale Lips really lacked stage energy.
Finally, Mell and I were in for a real treat when we saw Not Half Bad for the first time ever at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine – in fact, they should re-label themselves as “Not Bad At All”. We both agreed that this was our favorite discovery of the whole festival. Mell even added that the band “captured the essence of punk really well.” The singing was raw, playful and reminiscent of the Matt & Kim duo. Although the sound quality of the venue was shot to hell, Not Half Bad pulled off their set beautifully. This Texan band even played a song about everyone’s favorite week of the year: Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Besides pointing out how much the Montreal roads “suck”, the lead singer added that they’re “pretty stocked to be part of Pouzza.” The set ended with the singer’s sad statement: “I’m totally out of beer…”
With summer come the festivals, and what could be better than the combination of warm weather, cold beer and entrancing music? PouzzaFest was crawling with great bands from out-of-town, booze, pizza and poutine (fun fact: pizza + poutine = “pouzza”). Festivals are a great way to indulge in a dynamic atmosphere, meet new people and expand one’s artistic horizons. The next big festival coming up in Quebec will be Amnesia Rockfest. I recommend any rock fans to check it out; Rockfest will be hosting one of the best festival line-ups of the summer.