Thursday, 4 April 2013

Tintamarre, the Steady Swagger and Bad Uncle proved it at Katacombes, on

Bad Uncle + The Steady Swagger + Tintamarre at Katacombes


The first time the Steady Swagger and Bad Uncle teamed up to play within the skulls-covered walls of Katacombes, it’s not exaggerated to claim that the night turned into mayhem. “It was madness,” recalls Steady Swagger vocalist and guitarist Pi Sailin Cutler. Indeed it was. How mad? Mad enough for people with media passes not to be granted entry. Mad enough for the promoter who put together the event to be stopped at the door due to lack of space. Mad enough, in fact, to assume the event would most probably sell out again if there were to be a second time around.
Guess what. There was, and it did.
On this year’s snowy Nuit Blanche, the Katacombes staff looked slightly scared, as if they were apprehending  having to deal with yet another drunken assembly of hard-to-reason-with moshers. Hell, I have a friend in her 30s who had to walk back home to get her ID, because the door people were systematically filtering out every soul they could. 

Nervous, are we?
Who could blame them to have aired on the safe side, though? What ensued was indeed pretty hectic. The sheer number of beer-thirsty fans was impressive enough. “It’s a real good feeling to arrive at a show, and before the first band even played, to realize it’s already sold out,” says Steady Swagger’s contrabassist and vocalist Matt Lacombe. His band’s recently recruited drummer Brigitte Desjardins concurs: “After the sound check, I went to take a break outside, it must have been 8:30, and there was already a queue of people. In my experience as a Steady Swagger member, it truly was a first for me.” And that was not just any crowd, people. The Katacombes-dwelling folks don’t tend to enjoy quiet and serene contemplation. Rather, they’re known to be prone to clamorous shoving and vigorous pushing, in the sole name of a memorable show-going experience.
Case in point: I don’t think anyone is likely to forget this one.
The night began with franco act Tintamarre, a joyful crew of gifted musicians who enjoy being the instigators of loud sing-alongs and chaotic moments of liberating dancing. They were not shy to live up to their deliciously candid mission on that night, forging fast-paced folky melodies with the array of instruments in their numerous hands: accordion, trumpet, guitars, upright bass, and probably a few more that the night’s utter craziness are making me forget as I’m writing this. “They were in good shape,” remembers Lacombe. Unsurprisingly, the mosh pit started a few seconds into their set, and lasted until the end of it. During the whole time, it raged with all the vehemence it was capable of displaying.
It then enjoyed a small hiatus before the Steady Swagger, the dirtiest of power trios, climbed up on stage and began to rock it out. And I do mean rock, because even if this unit’s sound is undeniably folk, the fact that its two frontmen come from heavier backgrounds is also very hard to miss. One could think that, after being subject to the collective energy of a group of seven or eight, the public would find a trio to be quite a slim unit. Wrong. I’m not quite sure how this lovely crew does it, but it always, without fail, manages to fill the atmosphere with the most festive of vibes, without leaving an inch of space for quietness. “We find the three-people dynamic very comfortable, in every detail,” says Desjardins. “We never had a reason to add a fourth member,” agrees Pi. “It’s the classic power trio!” concludes Lacombe. Wise words. The merry members of this triangle of souls did appear very content as they offered their songs about whiskey-filled nights and drunken sailboat rides to a delighted (and still moshing) public, who was unmistakably getting rowdier by the minute.
Then, it was the heavyweights’ turn to take the stage. Indeed, Bad Uncle’s reputation preceded it when it finally set foot under the spotlight of Montreal’s most famous hardcore den. Frontman vocalist and accordionist Santosh Lalonde, trombonist Eli Richards, drummer Ram Krishnan, and contrabassist Jean-Pilippe Demers-Lelotte were exceptionally accompanied on stage by the Steady Swagger’s guitarist, the beloved abovementioned Pi. Of course, as soon as the unit started playing, it was clear they would not allow the audience to forget why they enjoy a solid name within Montreal’s very healthy folk scene.
For those who don’t know, Bad Uncle’s dirty folk is prodigiously fun. It could be described as kind of polka-flavoured cocktail made from raw rockabilly ingredients, with a dash of punk added for good measure. Their sound is similar to those of their two predecessors of the night, in that it also displays a kind of hardcore approach to folk. However, there is an element of epic in Bad Uncle’s songs. It might be because of the contribution of astonishing trombonist Eli Richards, as horns do tend to give any musical effort a touch of grandeur. It might also be the dark quality of the tales that Santosh either sings at the top of his lungs, or growls in Tom-Waits-y fashion. They are sinister, morbid, funny, weird, unsettling, or strange, and the cheerfulness with which they are delivered must be the paradox that gives Bad Uncle that theatrical edge.

Touch | Bad Uncle 2013
In any case, Bad Uncle shone once again, injecting a generous dose of adrenaline in the ever-going mosh pit. As well as the classics the long-time fans have been loving for a while, the band played the songs of its latest “experimental EP”, titled Touch. Apparently, Pi and Santosh are behind the project, which consisted of getting together a collection of musicians from various bands all over the city: Paul Dawson (violin) and Lucas Choi (clarinet) from Street Meat, Aly Neumann (vocals) from Dirt Cheap Winos, Dug Kawliss (drums) from Ol’ School Johnny and Tempete, Yannie Paradis (vocals) from Die Sashiko, Matt Lacombe (contrabass) and Pi (drums, effects) from Steady Swagger, Aviva (bass clarinet) from Barons of Tang, and a bunch more. Unsurprisingly, the result is a delightfully dark set of dirty folk songs, most of which have a macabre circus vibe, thanks to the eloquent use of accordion, clarinet and trombone. Of course, it also displays the ever-so-weird storytelling that constitutes Bad Uncle’s trademark, mainly delivered by Santosh, this time with the help of several guest vocalists. A gem, if you ask me. The best part? The claim on the EP’s bandcamp page, which reads: “We hope to make more experimental EPs like this in the future.” Yes, please.
I would not be surprised if such projects concretized, because the music that is usually referred to as “dirty folk”, “post-folk” or “folk sale” is enjoying quite a momentum these days. The very existence of Touch serves as proof of that, as is that of the Festival du folk sale, the first edition of which, last year in Ste-Rose-du-Nord, is remembered with nostalgia by most of the people who attended. It seems musicians who are either metal heads or hardcore music enthusiasts did not hesitate a second to transfer the energy of their beloved genres to the folk realm, and it also seems that the response from other head-bangers is big and loud (as are most things hardcore, I guess). 
However, it’s not only metal heads who enjoy dirty folk, as Matt Lacombe explains: “The metal scene is a very unique one. You’ll see a lot of people getting together; it’s like a big family. Once you get out of the metal scene, the doors open a little bit. As you enter the folk realm, the energy of rock and metal remains, but some older, some younger people who’d never go to metal shows will come to whiskeybillie shows. There’s still that metal aspect, but we introduce it in a different way. We had 80-year-olds come to our shows and tell us ‘I like that! I can understand the lyrics! It’s not too aggressive, but it still has that energy, that raw aspect.’ ” The somewhat universal appeal of the genre also pleases Desjardins: “What’s interesting about dirty folk is that it really reaches lots of generations. It may make my parents remember the old folk they used to listen to; there is a kind of return, but, evidently, there is also something a bit more contemporary, since we are a new generation. […] Hell, I made my cousin’s 4 and 5-year-old little girls listen to the album yesterday, and they loved it, too! The extent to which it reaches all generations makes me very happy.”

The Steady Swagger
There is, indeed, a lot to be happy about. If you’re looking for specifics, here it goes: Montreal’s favourite “classic power trio” will play with Bad Uncle on two back-to-back occasions: at Montreal’s CafĂ© Chaos on April 18th, and at Sherbrooke’s Bar Magog on April 19th. Then, prior to touring the province for the summer, the Steady Swagger will launch their second LP at Petit Campus on June 1st. “It’s going to be more of a ‘live’ record,” says Pi about the album. “We’re trying to recreate the live feel, rather than overproduce. The sound has improved, we learned to work together.”
I leave you with quotes from the interview I conducted with the Steady Swagger. You know, the kind that were too great not to be written down, but too unorthodox to fit anywhere in the article. Enjoy.
Matt Lacombe: “I arrived, I had a headache… COCONUT WATER. Coconut water and greasy food. That’s the way”.
Pi Sailin Cutler: “I sent the Tintamarre guys out to get me poutine. I didn’t have time… I asked politely!”
Brigitte Desjardins: “Life in a band is like life in a couple.”
You’re welcome.
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