Published Oct 20, 2013The Montreal Ska Festival is a bit of a bittersweet event for ska fans. For those who grew up in the Montreal underground when ska was a big deal and shows were happening every weekend, it's sad to see that, in 2013, it's been relegated to the sidelines 361 days out of the year. There are so few checkered Vans slip-ons and so many wife beaters and throat tattoos these days.
But while ska-punk is seemingly going the way of the dodo, it's still 2002 to the Montreal Ska Festival. Everyone's playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and no one's wearing deodorant.
For the 2013 edition, the fest welcomed, among others, the Expos, Inspecter 7 and Green Room Rockers, in addition to all the locals who played: the Real Deal, the Lost Ideas, One Night Band, Danny Rebel & the KGB and Skatton Club.
Vancouver's Rude City Riot deserves a hearty shout-out — their Friday night set really showed off great songwriting and musicianship on songs like "Victoria," "See You In Hell" and a cover of Bad Manners' "Sally Brown." Their performance was definitely among the best of the fest.
But the crown jewel in this festival was, of course, Roy Panton and Yvonne Harrison, a Jamaican duet that has been performing together since the 1960s. Backed by the Prizefighters and dressed in matching sparkly purple outfits, Panton and Harrison charmed the crowd at Club Soda on Saturday.
Saturday night was by far the best night of the Montreal Ska Fest. Perennial favourite the Slackers headlined the evening's festivities, and fuelled by beer and cheap Montreal Pool Room hot dogs, the crowd happily danced to "Have The Time," "No Love" and set opener "The Nurse." This was the third time the Slackers had been in town since May, but the room filled up for their set all the same.
The kick-off party on Wednesday (October 16) at Katacombes featured a live broadcast of local college radio show Roots Rock Rebel, with host and DJ Aaron Maiden and Pressure Drop alum Mossman spinning Trojan Records nuggets and other goodies. But it was a bit of a slow start to the festival — it felt more like a winding down than a revving up. Chalk it up to it being mid-week.
The next night's bill (October 17) was punctuated by the presence of Mad Bomber Society, who hadn't been to Montreal in a decade. The band tried hard to engage the audience — at one point, the entire brass section was in the crowd — but perhaps many of the people at Café Campus were too sober to appreciate the frenetic performance. Over at the Skatton Club, an ensemble of talented Montreal musicians pleased crowds with a more traditional-style ska.
Friday night's headliners, Big D and the Kids Table, went over well, due largely in part to the band playing more songs off of Good Luck and The Gypsy Hill ("Dirt Lip," "Checklist" and "Take Another Look" among them), but singer Dave McWane is the only original member of the band left, and seeing them now isn't quite the same as during their heyday.
There were fest lows — Friday night openers KMan and the 45s' Ramones covers were disastrous, their atrocious rendition of "Commando" in particular — but the highlight sets by Roy Panton and Yvonne Harrison, Rude City Riot and the Slackers, among others, were more than enough to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Ska Fest.