January 14, 2023 – Piranha Bar, Montreal, Quebec
Wow-ho-ho what a great a night on the lash was had at the Piranha bar tonight, as the legendary The Mahones returned to Montreal – the town they once called home, for a right piss up with Eamon McGrath, R!ot, Guttrot and Smoke Smell in tow for company.
This though wasn’t your average Piranha bar gig – as this was held downstairs in the spot that used to be Frits Alors – the go-to spot for poutines when bands played at the old Piranha joint on the second floor (or technically the third floor now I suppose). Whether or not that upper venue will still host shows I am not sure, but the downstairs location is a far improved venue and a new area and room for concerts in the downtown Montreal region. The sound is vastly improved, as are the lights, although there is till room for improvement in that area. This though, is a great spot with potential to become one of the key locations for live music in this fine city; a city that lives and breathes live entertainment.
See Also: Katatonia at TD Studio, Montreal
There were hiccups though – at the bar, the internet connection was constantly failing which made credit card and debit card drink purchases difficult in a time where cash is seen as an evil as opposed to the main form of currency it one was – and should still be. I suppose this is but a growing pain that will soon be put right. Asides from that, the only main issues with the venue were that the lighting racks seemed to be aimed too low and hit the musicians in their gut as opposed to their faces, and minor issues with the bathrooms; the men’s lavatory lacked any way to dry hands and from what I was told, the women’s facility was leaking water – again, just hiccups that I am sure will soon be put right.
Overall, the new downstairs portion of the Piranha bar has the potential to become one of the best spots for live music in Montreal, a city that has its fair share of competition in that regard. Perfectly located on Sainte-Catherine’s street, with a great upstairs bar but another of that and onto the show!
But enough of that – It has been a while since Finny McConnell and The Mahones have travelled the Trans-Canadian highway back to Montreal, and the return was a welcome one. Especially on a Saturday night down in the city core, the long-storied Sainte-Catherine street, where so many of the Montreal Canadiens parade routes – and Saint-Patrick’s day parades for that matter, have marched.
Local folk artists, Smoke Spell continued to impress with another stellar set. Each and every time they take to the stage, they show a little more, a slight improvement over their last set, and that is something to behold – as they are always a great band to see live and in the flesh. The addition of Patrick Gillett on guitar and Gabriel Lecompte (Carry Me Home) on drums, percussion – you know, washboards and things of that ilk, has really done wonders for the group that was original the duo of Krystle McKillop (Chix N’ Dix) and Jason Lariviere (Hobo Outlaws, Joel Kaiser & The Devil’s Own).
Smoke Spell are carried by the voice of McKillop and her guitar work – but the addition of Gillett has really brought a new dimension to the fold. There is certainly a lot of folk to their music, blues as well – and an underlying punk mythos and ethic that melds their sound together. With a set made up of tracks their two records, Evil In Me and Don’t Die Before You’re Dead, Smoke Spell played to a room that was willing to dance despite the evening still being young.
As they often do, Smoke Spell caped their set off with the one track they still have not yet recorded that really needs to be. That being a wonderful cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene that really gives McKillop a chance to showcase what she can do with a microphone. Perhaps on a future recording. My absolute favorite moment of their set was also my favorite part of their newest record – that part on Time To Roam, where the nice, calm melody that comes from Gillett’s guitar hits that second we ain’t going home line, and the band go batshit for the final thirty seconds of the tune. Can never get enough of that.
Every band that played on the night were great, but Guttrot had something special going on. This being my second time seeing Guttrot, with the first coming amusingly while playing with Smoke Spell at this very venue albeit the upstairs venue – but I left tonight much higher on this band than I had the previous time. Tonight, I felt the band more than before. Maybe because the sound down below is better, maybe the band were just better – or could it be something to do with the amount of wobbly pops I may or may not have consumed on either night? I can’t say for certain.
Early on, the band seemed a tad timid but after a song or two, when it became obvious that the crowd were digging what they were hearing, the band seemed to relax a little and really let loose. From that point on, Guttrot got better and better and I must say, Annick has a great voice and vocal delivery. One of the cities emerging punk rock acts, and most definitely one that I will be keeping an eye on as they certainly sound like they have something special in them. (check out the single they dropped in late 2021 and see for yourselves.)
Wait – maybe that was the difference maker between the two gigs. The crowd and confidence thing I allured too. If so, that will surely soon be a thing of the past because I would think Guttrot are going to continue to impess going forward.
Featuring Sean “Riot” Ryan, who is also a member of The Mahones (and Irish Nails), on guitar and Danny Duke (The Ataris, The Queers, Ripcordz) and Guillaume Lauzon (The Brains, Gutter Demons) battering the skins – is enough to consider R!ot a supergroup; and that is certainly how they come off on stage. There is no mistaking their collective experience, not just from the sound they emit but the image they portray too. This is a group that steps out and lays down solid music, while giving off that rare vibe that screams shut up and fucking listen to this.
Ryan and Duke are both showmen that know what it takes – through extensive touring with their other bands, to rile up a room. And while R!ot is a name I have heard spoken a few times, is a group I have largely been sleeping on. Shame on me. In my defense though – there isn’t a lot to be found on R!ot in the dark recesses of the internet. A few few tunes on Youtube and that’s about it. Having seen them live now, I’m genuinely intrigued to hear some studio recordings.
Tonight, R!ot showed what they bring to a room – and the room reacted in kind. Energetic and pragmatic, poised and glowing with veteran musicianship.
Because diversity is such a great thing, this gig also featured Toronto’s Eamon McGrath – a country musician adorn in a Napalm Death hooded sweatshirt. Appearing on stage with just a lamp for company, something that is seemingly McGrath’s thing, he toned down the energy of the room with a barrage of great, moody acoustic tunes.
McGrath went about his set, showing off another great voice on a night where the microphone was a testament to the quality of music on display. For a man playing solo but for his lamp, McGrath was sure able to deliver. As I have since learned, having not heard much of his work prior to this night, his music varies from record to record – where he has already amassed a whopping three hundred songs and counting. Live – he lets his vocal range carry his message (as a voice does) and sets a comfortable yet sometimes somber atmosphere.
The one downside to an acoustic set on a night like this, playing with more rowdy artists for people that enjoy such things, is that the lowered volumes allow the chatter of the crowd to play a bigger part in the sound of the room than would be the case with an all electric band. I find it disrespectful to talk while someone like McGrath is up on stage, playing such great tunes – but what can you do? After all, events like this are a social event where drinking is at the forefront of the page, given that bars and venues rely heavily on the sales of such beverages to make ends meat and turn profit. I get it. It just irks me that more people aren’t taking the opportunity to appreciate what is in front of them. Or maybe I’m just getting old. It’s probably that actually.
By now, everybody and their dog knows that The Mahones are the main influence of Celtic punk tropes such as the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, and for more than three decades now – since McConnell left England, after leaving Ireland, for Kingston, then Montreal and off to Toronto (and probably a few stops I’m drawing a blank on too – this man gets about in his spare time, does he not!), they have been crafting tunes in a genre that they pretty much kicked off. If that isn’t something worth celebration, what is?
For reasons I didn’t try investigate, the band were without an accordion player or a tin whistle, which doesn’t quite feel right. Katie Kaboom and Michael O’Grady were missed, while former Dropkick Murphys bagpiper Scruffy Wallace is seldom seen – at least in this part of town. Don’t get me wrong; The Mahones were still a fun, energetic good time – but those missing elements sure do have an impact. What is Celtic music, punk or otherwise, without a tin whistle!?
During Shakespeare Road, McConnell’s guitar amplifier decided to be a drunken lazy bastard and give up on the lads. While McConnell and Ryan diagnosed the problem, fiddle player Jonathan Moorman (The Peelers, Bodh’aktan) stepped up into the limelight and put on a twelve minute long fiddle solo. Despite the other missing instruments, Moorman single-handedly had the room dancing a jig, enjoy the night and allowing time for his bandmates to get the kinks worked out (switching amps to be precise) – and when they had, the show continued on as if nothing had happened. Brilliant.
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Without skipping a beat, The Mahones then belted out a cover of Teenage Kicks, by Irish punk band The Undertones. With more than three decades worth of catalogue to chose from, you’re sure to get a solid setlist, and of course that was the case here. Selections such as Drunken Lazy Bastard off of the bands debut record, Draggin’ the Days, that came out back in 1994.
Whether it’s folk, punk or country – the message is the same. Setting aside the tempo or volume of the music; it becomes clear that all the different styles of music on display tonight stem from the street. From people. Music made about society and the good and bad sides of that – with a do-it-yourself ethic. It took me a long time to learn and understand that simple fact but nights such as this work wonders on refreshing the memory. Tonight was a good night. Parts of it are a blur, lets say, mostly the how did I get back home part – but the email receipt from my Uber ride fills in that blank well enough.