When the cold Ottawa winds start nipping around this time of year, there’s no better way to escape frozen realities of the north than going to a loud and sweaty show. That was certainly the case on Friday night, but the weather didn’t prevent people from coming out in droves to check out a special show at The Brass Monkey on Ottawa’s west side. Hailing from Brampton, The Flatliners headlined the night and played their groundbreaking 2007 album The Great Awake front-to-back. They were joined by A Wilhelm Scream (AWS) from New Bedford, MA, who also played their album Career Suicide from start to finish, never missing a beat. Both acts were preceded by London, ON’s Single Mothers and Little Junior.
After a lengthy trip from downtown to The Brass Monkey, I made my way into the venue for the first time to the sweet, sweet sound of Single Mothers exploding on stage. Approaching the place, I was surprised to find it located beneath a strip mall. Not exactly what you’d expect, but The Brass Monkey extended the whole way along and was packed to the brim with folks from all over Ottawa. It was pretty impressive to see that many people come together at this out-of-the-way venue for a show like this, but the sound there is known to be one of the best in town and that counts for something.
Single Mothers has been picking up steam since their debut LP Negative Qualities was released into the world in 2014, and gained notoriety for their brash and untethered live performances. This one was certainly no exception, as the band cranked up the energy immediately. The crowd wasn’t quite ready to warm up and get moving yet, but got there by the end of their set. Single Mothers released their second album, Our Pleasure, earlier this year and played a combination of tracks from both of their full length records.
Lead vocalist Drew Thompson channeled the full force of his band with his trenchant vocals in tracks such as “Half-Lit” and “Overdose,” seemingly ripping up his vocal cords with throaty and guttural delivery. But Thompson never relented, as he and the band kept the crowd locked-in with untamed stage antics and infectious punk rock. The group bucked any critics by playing a dynamic set which featured newer tracks such as “Leash” and “Long Distance,” offering us a glimpse into a side of the band that is more than the blunt-force trauma of distortion, but also layered with melodic elements and lyrical prowess.
I wasn’t that familiar with AWS going into this show, as melodic hardcore isn’t really my thing. But I gave their 2007 album Career Suicide a solid listen ahead of the show and was genuinely impressed by the sheer magnitude of the band’s sound. Although it’s not the kind of album I’ll put on every day, I appreciate how well it is composed from start to finish and looked forward to how it would translate live. I should also say that I appreciate that they named their band after a hilarious sounding stock sound effect, a recognizable scream which we’ve all heard in movies before.
AWS exploded into their set with a trio of fast-paced heavy hitters in “I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz,” “5 to 9,” and “The Horse.” Right away the crowd lovingly started belting out each line, word for word, as lead singer Nuno Pereira egged each audience member on with his interactive stage presence. His jugular seemed to protrude more and more with each song, and his liveliness was reciprocated by some of the die-hard fans up front. The onslaught that is Career Suicide continued, and the 15-song tour-de-force was fully realized in this live setting. The band’s tightness is undeniable, as each member seamlessly plays off the others without missing a single beat. Pereira took pause to tell a quick story in the middle of the set:
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years! We got a message from the guys in Flatliners on MySpace asking if we could join them for their record release shows. We said ‘fuck yeah’ and had a great time doing it.”
The only thing that detracted from the music for me was extended guitar solos throughout, as I’m not a big “solo” guy. This detraction is merely preference, and certainly had nothing to do with the skill of the band members. AWS’ tendency to blend old-school So-Cal punk rock with metal and even prog-rock is a bit of a stretch at times for my liking, as the sprawl across styles can be distracting. But there is a definite primal feel to their music, an intensity and attitude that are distinctive and comparable to bands like Propaghandi. The near-perfect live execution of the complex song structures on this record are worth seeing, even for a layman like me who might not be as familiar with AWS’ catalogue.
The headliners of the night, The Flatliners, took the stage last and performed their much-loved 2007 sophomore album, The Great Awake. The band were Canada’s ska and punk rock darlings of the 2000’s, getting noticed by Fat Mike of NOFX’s label Fat Wreck Chords and getting the opportunity to play with well-known bands associated with the label at a young age. My first experience seeing them was in Detroit in 2008, opening for NOFX and No Use For a Name just after the release of The Great Awake, and I have fond (sweaty and bloody) memories of that show. Needless to say, a lot of us at the show were really amped to see the album played live front-to-back.
Right out the gate, the punching percussion of “July! August! Reno!” thundered from the stage and the raucous crowd burst into moshing as expected. “What do you do when doing what you love gets you nowhere? It gets you nothing. These loaded guns are nothing until they’re fired,” is a sentiment most of us endure at some point in our lives, and a powerful beginning to their set. Immediately after, the band transitioned right into my personal favourite, “Eulogy.” The song is a young person’s account of the death of someone close, a friend or family member, perhaps for the first time. This one hits hard for those of use who listened to it in the wake of tragedy.
The set went forward full-speed, and those who love the ska beginnings of The Flatliners got down to “The Respirator” and “Mastering the World’s Smallest Violin” but the band’s turn towards punk rock on this record was as well received in 2017 as it was in 2007. Chris Cresswell’s in-your-face vocals were absolutely mind-boggling throughout, which is a mystery to me since he’s abused his vocal cords for so many years. This album in particular is not a walk in the park, by any stretch.
The band ripped through their set, sweating up a storm and playing highlights such as “Mother Theresa Chokeslams the World,” This is Giving Up,” and “Hal Johnson Smokes Cigarettes.” Scott Brigham backup vocals and guitar riffs enveloped the crowd and kept the energy high until the very end.
The love for the record was felt through everyone that night, and I’m sure many of us had lost our voices by the end of the night. Overall it was a big treat to see all these bands play together, and have a hell of a party out in the suburbs of Ottawa.
Remaining shows on tour for The Flatliners
12/09 Montreal, QC – Club Soda ^
12/14 Long Beach, CA – Alex’s Bar ^
12/15 Phoenix, AZ – Marquee Theatre %
12/16 Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl %
01/12 Chicago, IL – Cobra Lounge
01/13 Pontiac, MI – The Crofoot Ballroom #
^ with A Wilhelm Scream
% with Descendents
# with Twin Peaks, PUP