This past Wednesday, Detroit post-punkers Protomartyr visited Babylon, along with Hull’s Scattered Clouds and Ottawa’s own Baberaham Lincoln. I was really excited to finally see the headliners since 2014’s Under Color of Official Right, which was chalk full of catchy-but-thoughtful songs that really centred on front man Joe Casey’s compelling vocals.
Unfortunately, I only managed to arrive at the venue just as Scattered Clouds was finishing their set and Protomartyr began to set up. A modest crowd was already lingering around, having braved the drizzle and humpday blues to come out for the evening.
I was immediately intrigued by a suited gentleman wearing a baseball cap who hanging around by the stage and didn’t seem tot match the vibe of the room. As the band came out onto the stage he assume his position by the microphone as I quickly realized that the man dressed like a car-salesman was actually Joe Casey (the Detroit ball cap should have been a dead give away).With little banter the band got right into their set with as more people started to show up.
The wholesome thirteen-song set feature some of their most popular tracks from their two most recent records, the aforementioned Under Color of Official Right and mostly from last year’s more polished The Agent Intellect, with a few new tracks peppered in. Every song was delivered with nihilistic exuberance as the suited frontman passionately belted out the lyrics to Protomartyr’s noisy anthems with a beer in hand and free styled lyrics like “Don’t fall in love with your own asshole” on their rendition of “Maidenhead.” All of Casey’s stage presence was derived from his lyrical delivery by bellowing or almost talking through the words as he stood relatively still on stage.
Despite the relatively low turn out (which was substantial given the circumstances), the rest of the band seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they play through some of their songs with breakneck speed that threatened to tear them apart. Many songs from their last album, including “Why Does it Shake?”, “I Forgive You”, and “Pontiac 87” were prominently featured as well, with the latter’s refrain of “There’s no use being sad about it/ What’s the point of crying about it” emphatically repeated accompanied by a frenetic instrumental crescendo.
The rest of the set played out in the same way, punctuated by energetic increases in speed volume and noise along with a halftime breakdown here and there. As a whole, the four piece was very compelling, using a pointed guitar licks and economical but effective drum grooves to accompany Casey’s weighty lyrics. As the band finished their set I felt the need to go revisit the lyrical content of these songs after seeing odd and engaging way that Casey delivered them – you can tell that there a bigger ideas and themes behind the sometimes simplistic lyrics.
Day three of Ottawa Explosion Weekend was absolutely insane! Got started at 6 pm with acoustic punk, later included an amazing The White Wires set and The Creeps stirred the place into a frenzy inside.
One of the best acoustic acts going, period, is Jon Creeden. He writes great tunes that just urge you to sing a long the entire set. And what is even better is he was still all smiles and upbeat despite getting a $90 parking ticket while loading. He played a bunch of songs we all knew like “Swept Away” and a sweet combination of “Dominos” and “The Captain.” But the highlight for me was the three new songs he wrote about Ottawa that he played in the middle of his set. One was about Jean-Sebastien, one about Robot!House!! and another for SCUM House on Gladstone (RIP). Looking forward to getting my hands on those recordings whenever they are pressed.
Up next was the one-man party explosion Robots!Everywhere!! One thing I truly love from Robots! sets is how he gives a little story or teaches you dance moves before every song… both are always hilarious. He rocked us with great tracks like “$400,” “Best Friends,” “Taco Party,” “Sports Off,” and a new song. He taught us awesome choreography for “Drunk at Work” and got into some aerobics by convincing everyone to run on the spot during the chorus of “Building Materials.” He then showed everyone what Ottawa Explosion is all about by moving his mic in the crowd having all of us surround him as he played the Ottawa Explosion theme song. We then all had a massive sweaty group hug.
Outtacontroler from Halifax got things kicked off once we all moved outside back to the front of Club SAW. They played some pretty darn sweet garage rock. I was really digging it but my stomach was yelling at me to eat, so I had to duck out. This hunger also caused me to miss The Famines…but that almost feels appropriate.
I did return just in time to catch Vancouver’s Tough Age. They kept the kind of garage punk vibe going, and I was not complaining. I freaking loved the lead singer’s voice, it just had that perfect ring to it. “We’re Both to Blame” and “Heart of Juliet Jones” (the first two songs off their most excellent album) were my favourites from their set.
Next up was Protomartyr, such a cool band name I may add. The lead singer looked like a drunk business man after a hard week of work with his suit on and stumbling, but they were great. I truly enjoyed their set, most notably the second song the boys from Detroit played called “Scum.”
It was now time for local favourites The White Wires. The band pretty much plays two shows a year as their members are all doing different things, including Allie rocking out of California now as Peach Kelly Pop. Ian and Allie were ready to go, but bass player Luke was nowhere to be found… so Emmanuel jumped on the bass for the first song. It will probably go down as one of the coolest moments in Ottawa’s punk folklore. Their set was unreal and jam packed with all the hits. “Let’s Go to the Beach,” “All Night Long,” and “Roxanne” stuck out for me from the set and so did every song they played, actually. The crowd was going nuts charging the mic to sing along, moshing, crowd surfing and just having a riot.
It was time to move inside, and after the amazing The White Wires set, the bar was placed pretty high for the next few acts. They did not disappoint. Dig It Up from Montreal are simply put, awesome. They blasted through their set at warp speed. The singer spent almost as much time in the crowd as he did on stage and he was hands down the most energetic and entertaining frontman of the festival so far. I am so glad I caught their set as I missed it at Pouzza Fest.
Another Ottawa band that just doesn’t play enough are The Creeps. The crowd inside agreed as they screamed along and crowd surfing non-stop. Their music is upbeat and fun, while their lyrics are creepy and stalker-ish, a wonderful combination. They played many great songs and I was happy to hear one of my favourites “Follow You Home.” Emmanuel was up front as always and got up on stage to sing some, it is so great to see the organizers having a blast at their own festival.
With so many great acts done there was still one question… who was the secret band closing out the night? The answer, The Marked Men side project Radioactivity. At this point I was feeling rather exhausted so checked out four or five songs and had to pack it in. The band was great and set the stage for Saturday.