Nobody died, but Rockfest was our Altamont

If you haven’t heard, last weekend’s Rockfest in Montebello was a shit-show. Our columnist Johnson Cummins worked the festival, and found himself on the wrong end of a near-riot. Thank Christ for Black Flag.

There was a TV show from the 1950s called The Little Rascals (later retitled Our Gang) that was a favourite of mine growing up. In my favourite episode, they put on their parents clothes, put on a show in a barn and charged a nickel. This year’s Rockfest music festival, which took place last weekend, a 90-minute drive from Montreal, in the tiny town of Montebello, QC (pop. 900) was exactly like that, but instead of a nickel, it cost $100, and instead of the lil’ rascals getting out of their parents’ garb and jumping into their jammies after their vaudeville show, a large portion of the paying crowd was forced to stay on the street in the freezing cold, and, uh, well, there was a lot of seething anger, potential violence from very drunk crusty punks, general confusion, fear, complete disorganization AND acrid wafts emanating from rivers of piss and shit flowing from chemical toilets. Other than that, though, it was EGGZACKLY like my favourite after-school TV program. Did I mention that the Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Lamb of God, Anthrax, and a ton of shitty punk and metalcore bands played over two days? Apparently those bands are popular with people who buy their clothes from head shops, which would appear to be a huge portion of the Quebec population.

The main character of this Lil’ Rascals fuckfest would be the Alfalfa-like gothy scamp Alex Martel. Martel originally hatched the fest eight years ago and got local bands to play in a field, charged $10 and got 500 people to show up. In my books, dats da tits, but unfortunately this hayseed got a little tipsy with power and started hatching a plan to make the fest progressively bigger at any cost, with his lofty end goal being to lure Metallica as a headliner. If this seems a little far-fetched, it should also be noted that this barely out-his-teens goth’s parents won the lottery and are now multimillionaires. Unlike the Lil’ Rascals, Martel’s dream of getting Metallica to play his tiny hump town was shot in Technicolor, not black and white. To help achieve his dream of snaring the saddest metal band currently stomping the pines, he began getting a little too big for his britches.

Being a struggling freelance journalist, I took a job at Rockfest this year, as I thought I would just have to screw the pooch and I could get a chance to see my all-time favourite band (well, an incredibly accurate tribute to my favourite band), the reconstituted version of Black Flag — Flag — and fuggit, the paycheque would help to keep the lights on this month.

I could go into details about how disorganized the festival was and how myself and crew were stretched beyond our limits, found ourselves at the wrong end of a near-riot situation, humiliated by a certain superior who didn’t possess the skills to work in a call centre blah blah blah, but this story is just starting to depress me.

Of course the one positive note for me at Rockfest was getting a chance to see Black Flag alumni Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Bill Stephenson and the Descendents’ Stephen Egerton subbing on guitar. After two full days of being inundated with the most tepid, safe, predictable “punk rock,” it was these veterans that could still show the young punks how it’s really done. Brimming with piss and vinegar, Keith Morris reared back and hurtled the intro to the set opener “Revenge” — “It’s not my imagination, I’ve got a gun in my back” — and the band took off like a jet and didn’t let up over the 20-song set. They focused mainly on the Damaged record material and the early EPs but squeezed in “My War” and the first song of the encore, “I Love You,” for good measure. Dez took over the vocals for “Six Pack,” “Thirsty and Miserable” and a particularly teeth-gnashing encore closer “Damaged II.” What can I say? Black Flag are the greatest rock band of all time, and seeing these hardcore pioneers was the chance of a lifetime. Bonus points go to Egerton, who managed to capture the immediacy, heaviosity, passion and musical discordance that current Black Flag mastermind Greg Ginn has long since abandoned.

A festival where you won’t have to worry about overflowing chemical toilets is Suoni per il Popolo, which heaves its last breath this week, so don’t be tardy.

Thursday – Two of my four picks of the week happen tonight, with Stare Case featuring Wolf Eyes’ John Olsen and Nate Young. Opening is Tiger Hatchery and Tired at Casa.

Another guaranteed killer show would be Southern Lord’s Masakari, who will brutalize Rats 9 with fellow Ohio buds Nervosas and Vacation and the debut of local costumed garage rockers Dead Future.

At Little Italy restaurant-turned-venue Kathy and Kimy, you can catch two New Brunswick bands, Feral Trash and Thalidomy Kids, along with Dead Future, doing double duty tonight.

The Sake of the Songs series continues with a tribute to the early ’80s independent label scene that found homes at labels like Rough Trade, Stiff Records, Fast Products and Postcard Records. This all goes down at 6011B Parc.

Friday – Stare Case and Masakari are guaranteed to thrill on Thursday night, but my big pick of the week will have to go to local and largely unsung dark ambient drone duo Aun, who will launch their record Alpha Heaven at Casa as part of the Suoni fest with Theologian (!), Teloahqaal and Worker.

Saturday – Suoni keeps kickin’ at Casa with the cinematic post-rock of Del Bel crushes with the Krautrock of Fresh Snow and Big Brave.

Stare Case, Aun and Masakari — not a bad week, huh? Well, here’s the kicker: Detroit’s post punk/punk band Tyvek with the Soupcans, Ultrathin, Hand Cream and the Fuzz at Brasserie Beaubien. Ba-boom!

Sunday – Finally, if you dig the brilliant power-pop of the Bomp label and the Real Kids, don’t miss a chance to catch Sonic Avenues with Needles // Pins, New Swears, Hollywood, the Tough Shits and the busiest band in town, Dead Future, at Brasserie Beaubien. ■

Current obsession: Kwaidan, Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright

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