You’d think that after three days of non-stop live music, partying, moshing, and general disregard for our overall health, the crowd at Ottawa Explosion would thin out a bit as the days wore on. It was just the opposite. Saturday saw more people and more music than any other day so far, and the atmosphere was full of excitement and anticipation. We were all ready for one hell of a night, with events scattered around the city.
My day started with one of my local faves New Swears. For those who aren’t as familiar with Ottawa bands, New Swears are the funnest, most ridiculous, self-destructive group of guys in the entire region. Maybe even the province. Maybe even the country. Their late afternoon set kicked off in the same fashion as always – countless floatation devices and blow-up pool toys, bodies flying everywhere, and some great tunes coming from the four guys up front wearing ripped up hospital gowns (and ripped up underwear) with bandages all over their body. Some songs that got people going mental were “Rather Be Dead,” “See You In Hull,” and their bad ass new single “No Fun” which will appear on their new record coming out in late summer before their European tour. Ending with their own version of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which ended with multiple crowdsurfing bodies colliding and half the band on the ground in a pile of dirty, sweaty human flesh. The tone was set and it was pretty much everything you could ask for from the same guys that snowboarded down their stairwell with snow they brought in from their yard.
After, there were a couple of sets happening around the corner at Vertigo Records, so I headed that way and crammed in with all the others. Philly punk rockers The Abandos were first up, and they played quite a few of songs that were short and sweet. They ran into a few problems with feedback, which is completely understandable since the bands were essentially playing in the crowd due to limited space. Their music was fast, frantic, and full of energy. Lead vocalist Street Kyle’s ultra-fast and ultra-aggressive vocals really stood out and I dug the crunchy reverb he had coming from his guitar. The songs got heavier and heavier as the set went on, and they surely garnered some new fans.
Between sets I went and got a sub and mixed a little bourbon+ Coca Cola concoction, thinking I was really smart. I returned to the venue only to realize it was filled to capacity. I was locked out with a few other poor bastards, watching Ming Wu dance his little heart out to TV Freaks up front inside. But we made the best of it, and there was only a thin pane of glass separating us on the street from the band. Hailing from Hamilton, ON, they were super heavy and fun to watch on stage. Their music reminds me of the good ol’ days of punk rock, and their live show is one that I think Iggy Pop would get a kick out of. Even a homeless gentleman came up and had the time of his life watching the band from outside, and received a fist pump from the drummer on the other side of the glass.
After the Vertigo sets, things kept on going over at Club SAW. One of my most anticipated lineups of the festival was the Dirtnap Records showcase. I pretty much love everything bands on this label put out, so we were all in for a treat. First up was Voicemail, which is fronted by Ian Manhire of The White Wires. With WW only playing a few shows a year, it’s so great to see Ian on stage doing his own thing with Voicemail. Their tunes are straight-up fun garage music, with the same spirit as WW minus the surfiness. They ended on a great note with a cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
Next up was Montreal’s Sonic Avenues, a band I discovered recently and absolutely fell in love with. I can’t get enough of their garage punk-pop sound, and their set did not disappoint. The high point of their set was when they played the song “Automatic” from their latest record Mistakes, whipping the crowd into a frenzy that lasted the rest of their set. My favourite track off this new album is “New Vogues,” which sounded even better live. Do not miss these guys when they come to town!
Another one of my local faves is Steve Adamyk Band, and these Explosion veterans took over the SAW courtyard next. During Sonic Avenues’s and SAB’s sets, a legion of sweaty, hungover people were up front belting every word of their songs. The guys from Needles//Pins, amongst many others, were joining the band in singing such catchy punk tunes like “Wait For Your Number,” “Speed It Up,” “Katakombs,” and a few new tracks like “Careless” off their new album Dial Tone to be released July 1. Guitarist Davey Quesnel ripped it up the whole set, and with years of band experience under his belt, his technique was infallible up there. His balance, however, was not – Davey took a pretty big spill over the monitor at one point, but he got up and shook it off like nothing happened. An internet high five to Davey for that one. Even Adamyk’s former Sedatives bandmate and Ottawa Explosion organizer Emmanuel Sayer was singing his heart out and loving the shit out of life as the band played.
A bummer was that I only caught the first few songs of The Marked Men, who came from Texas to play Explosion this year. Probably the most anticipated band of the festival, The Marked Men had the crowd in the palms of their hands from the first stroke of the guitar. These guys have been around since 2002, and although they haven’t released a record since 2009, they showed no signs of slowing down. They ripped through songs, and the energy exuding from the band on stage seemed to demand an equally strong reaction from the crowd. Below is a video of the band performing the song “On The Outside” at Explosion this year shot by Chris Cook of Finderskeepers.
Many of us went to Ritual Nightclub for METZ afterwards, but there were also events happening Avant Garde, House of Targ, Cafe Dekcuf, Mugshots, and Club SAW (inside). By the end of the Dirtnap showcase, there was no denying that this was not only the best night so far, but that this was the strongest year of the festival yet.