It’s been a few months since we’ve been able to have a drink and check out a band with others in public. It’s been considerably longer since we’ve been able to do that at the Jailhouse Rock Café.
The now-legendary Montreal music venues closed its cell door at 30 Mont-Royal Ouest for the last time in 2001, so we’re talking almost two decades. Now, thanks to a new book by Domenic Castelli (if you remember the Jailhouse, you know who he is) you can relive the scene.
The Jailhouse Rock Café – Show Posters 1988-2001 Montreal is exactly what it sounds like and then some. It’s a visual history of the venue from its early days as Bar La Terrasse and then as Jailhouse under original owner Jacques Corbo to when Castelli convinced his brother David to buy the place in 1998 and the Castelli Bros moved everything around, turning it into the venue most of us remember, and right up to when the landlord refused to renew the lease.
Jailhouse was mostly known as a punk venue, and for good reason. Many a local and touring punk band graced their stage (and wrote on the backstage wall).
But the venue also featured rockabilly, ska, rock, you name it, they had it at some point. They even had burlesque, vaudeville and horror theatre all rolled into one.
Full disclosure: I was part of that particular show, Dead Dolls Cabaret, and yes, some of our posters are in the book. I also went to other shows at Jailhouse, some where I had friends in one of the bands and some just because.
While I only really started going to local shows in the later years of Jailhouse, the whole book is full of memories for me. That’s because in those days, you didn’t have to actually go to the show to remember the poster.
Show posters were part of Montreal’s landscape. You couldn’t walk around the Plateau without seeing a bunch of them.
Whether they were made by a professional graphic designer or the bassist who also happened to draw, they were art. A lost art form that comes alive again in this book.
While there are plenty of photos, both on stage and back stage, as well as the odd set list, newspaper listing and bit of text explaining things, the show posters are key. And they look great, even on a computer screen.
Of course this is meant to be a physical coffee table book, the kind you invite a few friends over to look at over drinks while listening to music from the Jailhouse era. And that version is coming when we can all get together in public without fear of the pandemic.
The theatre is dark, the rules are announced, and the band breaks into America the Beautiful as a solitary figure in a blonde wig and cape approaches the stage. Waiting is the band and a drag king in leather jacket, denim, and do-rag, with the sad-downcast eyes of a domestic abuse victim. The figure approaches the mic and in a reveal reminiscent of FranknFurter in the Rocky Horror Show, the cloak is opened to reveal a facsimile of the Berlin wall, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s title character breaks into the show’s first song Tear Me Down.
Following a successful run in November 2018, In the Wings’ Promotions’ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was invited to be part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. As director and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal put it:
“The show is so iconic in the community, that it’s the perfect fit for Pride.”
The venue has changed from Cabaret Mado to Café Cléopatre, but aside from a few enhancements, the show is every bit as riveting as during its first run.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is the brainchild of actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask, who developed the off-Broadway show which then became a cult film and from there a Broadway show starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show is about a slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin and is a blend of glam and punk rock, politics, and gender bending, with tunes so catchy even the biggest curmudgeon will be dancing in their seat.
Trask was a major part of the first Montreal run, sitting on dress rehearsals and answering Hannibal’s texts as needed. The result is a show that’s more than just pretty makeup, gender-reversals, and catchy tunes.
In my review of the show’s first run, I noted that the relationship between Hedwig – played by New York based actor Andrew Morrissey, and Noelle Hannibal’s Yitzhak was interpreted as one of domestic abuse. In this rendition that portrayal is enhanced with more passive aggression by Yitzhak – there are muttered curses, and spitting, and Yitzhak’s eyes seethe with the hatred of the powerless for their oppressor.
Morrissey’s Hedwig contains more deference for Yitzhak’s talent, as if the abuse comes from the recognition that her talent is no match for Yitzhak’s and she can only shine by putting him down. It provided more nuance to the characters from a script that by Hannibal’s own admission, had very little to guide them.
Morrissey’s Hedwig is much improved from the November run. Though his German accent is on and off and his voice is occasionally pitchy, you see more madness behind the makeup, more sincerity behind the line:
“I’ll laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.”
With this more nuanced portrayal is all the sass and sex the part requires, and Morrissey pulls that off beautifully.
As important to the production as its stars are the band and costumes. Hedwig undergoes multiple costume changes during the show and designer Sig Moser clearly understood what the show is all about.
“He was very familiar with the show and the film version and brought in some fantastic ideas that would work with our extremely tight, indie budget. He can whip up a dress in an hour,” said Hannibal, whose own costumes were tweaked to work better for this run.
The outfits are an amazing mix of showmanship, denim, leather, lace, and sequins, a true nod to music genres you’ll live during the show.
The band, made up of Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione, are not passive background musicians, but people who must actively interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak on stage. Though I wished the tempo of Tear Me Down was a bit quicker, the band did not disappoint. Decked out in punk rock pieces and colored hair, they are an amazing accompaniment to a show that features glam and punk rock in all its glory.
That said, the show is iconic for a reason, so come with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed!
The current run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch finishes tonight. Tickets available through HedwigMontreal.com
Yeah, maybe summer 2019 has been a little mellow so far, but nothing lasts forever… and Montréal’s most kickin’ punk festival is finally back in town and ready to rumble for its third season, celebrating the last 40 plus years of punk rock.
The one-day punk festival, ’77 Montreal, will be going down for its third year in a row once again this Friday the 26th at Parc Jean-Drapeau, with headlining bands Bad Religion and Pennywise as well as many more.
Including an exciting mix of punk groups from far and wide, such as The Exploited all the way from the UK, to Wavves from California, to our very own Montreal punk rock bands like the Gutter Demons and Red Mass, who will all be featured at this year’s ’77 Montréal for a fully immersive punk rock festival experience. You can find the full lineup below.
’77 Montreal boasts an experience for all ages of punk rockers, with free entrance for kids 10 and under and a Kids Zone equipped with crafts, games, and a relaxation area. The festival will also bring out some of Montréal’s staple food and beer vendors, as well as a record and poster fair, the ‘Marché aux Punx’, to anyone looking to satisfy their nostalgic fix through vintage vinyl, posters, collectible items, and other exhibitions.
Dawn McSweeney, who covered the event for FTB last year, made a playlist for this year’s event to get you ready:
Tickets are on sale on ’77 Montreal’s website for $77 plus tax, with a Gold Pass option available for $117. And for those of you who don’t wanna miss out on Montréal’s Heavy metal festival, you can also get the 3 day Weekend Warriors pass for only $225 which includes tickets to both festivals!
Alright Kiddies, it’s time to lace up your boots and get your hair all spikey, ‘cuz the punk show is coming. 77 Montréal is back for its sophomore season, and it’s bringing bands spanning 40 years, two continents, and four countries to celebrate the history of punk music and culture in our badass belle ville.
Rise Against is headlining, along with AFI, and Suicidal Tendencies (Get Your Fight On! is out now), but the whole lineup is a veritable Who’s Who.
Reuniting in 2015, OG riot grrrls/nineties icons L7 released their first new music in 18 whole years last year, teasing a 2019 album. The singles, Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago and I Came Back to Bitch make it clear that they’re still ah-mazing and political, so whether you’re feeling nostalgic, or looking to be cutting edge, this one’s special.
From the eighties, there’s Sweden’s Satanic Surfers who got the band back together after an eight year break for 2015’s Amnesia Rockfest, and have been rocking since, while NYC’s Sick of It All haven’t stopped since 1986, so why the hell would they now?
You know that punk cover of that non-punk song that you dig so hard? It’s by Me First and The Gimmie Gimmies, and they’ll def be bringing sing alongs to this party.
I had no idea that hardcore pioneers DOA were Canadian, but they are, and that’s awesome! From Vancouver in 1978, all the way to their 2018 release Fight Back, they’ll be closing out the night with decades of bangers.
And while they’re repping our West Coast, The Planet Smashers, Les Fucking Raymonds, and Pussy Stench will be showing off Quebec’s skills.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s The Rezillos have been together longer since they reunited in 2001 than their original 1976-1987 stint, but they still deserve the old school cred. They, as well as The Interrupters, are scheduled to make me wish I wore my crinoline, so catch me doing my best Daisy Duck dance by these stages.
I’ve got a Spotify list going, so you can really plan your day!
But wait, my Hardcore Hotties, there’s more than just music!
There’s a vinyl booth promising new, used, and rarities, along with a concert poster gallery showcasing some of Montreal’s rock history, with prints for sale. I’m betting they’ll have some of the goodies featured on the Mtl ‘77 You Are the Scene Archive, which is a trip all by itself. There you can find a poster for when the Dead Kennedys played The Spectrum, with tickets on sale at Dutchy’s, and pics from when Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Blondie played for a whopping $6.50 a head.
In that vein, films and documentaries on punk history will be played on site throughout the day, making it a full throttled cultural immersion.
This is the first Parc Jean-Drapeau event with a straw ban, but beer sucks with a straw, so whatevs. Reusable water bottles are being encouraged, with free refill stations to keep us hydrated, which is awesome, as paying for water is decidedly not punk.
All this bang is a seriously reasonable $70, and for the rockers who just can’t get enough, you can combine it with Heavy Mtl for $210, and really call it a season.
“Too old” is a state of mind. I am certain of this as I wake up fairly bright and reasonably early, my eye makeup still quite intact (thank you, Rimmel; sorry, bunnies) after my first legit punk show.
And if there is a punk band that can be called legit, it’s Bad Religion. They’ve been rocking out since I was a newborn (which feels like a seriously long time to rock) and aside from their own music, they started the Epitaph label, which put out Offspring’s Smash album, which remains the biggest selling indie album of all time. No small feat. And while I heard some rumours and concerns through the crowd that this may be their last tour, their energy shows no signs of waning, and that shit is frankly admirable.
T-shirt spotting is rarely so good: from Megadeth to Sonic Youth, everyone was repping someone (not least of all Bad Religion themselves, through generations of cotton) and it spoke to the eclectic array of peeps who can suddenly find themselves punks by association.
I’m sure there’s a venn diagram on this that proves punk is a wild wonderful middle ground. Shoutout to the guy who amid the band merch was rocking a Be The Change shirt; that makes my venn diagram even prettier.
First up was Polar Bear Club, who were fun, energetic, a little sloppy, but uh, I don’t really mind in that context. Dude can jump about as high as he is tall, while screaming and that’s a pretty decent way to get a night rolling.
Next up, The Bronx, who I’d never heard of, but hope to hear and see more of asap. Tight, steady, bouncy, there were times it seemed so clean I was surprised it was live, to be honest.
I went in hopeful that the Bad Religion dudes had found us a new treasure for an opening act and these were the guys (though they formed back in 2002). Even my Official Music Man (in his Death tee) was digging ‘em, further proof of the awesome crossover given our often disparate taste in tunes, so I’ll be tracking these dudes tour dates and strongly suggest you do the same. Their latest album is The Bronx (IV), but seriously: see them live.
By 10pm we’re eager, waiting with bated breath, our impatience stoked by the HOLY SHIT big crowd that is just coming and coming and leaving me happy as can be that we lost our place on the floor and have instead staked out spots by the bar, because it’s oppressively hot and personal space stopped a long time ago. I love a crowd…outside. Here, we’re breathing 90% humidity comprised of the well earned sweat of engaged fans and probably some of the beer that guy who was tripping balls sprayed from his mouth into the air like he was about to do a fire breathing trick. We’re comparing which parts of us are covered in various spilled things and trying to ascertain the last time we’ve seen the Metropolis so very packed and jumping.
Personally, I haven’t seen so much moshing, crowd surfing and random flying things in near 20 years (gah…maybe I’m doing it wrong) and when frontman Greg Graffin said it’d been awhile since they’d been here, but it looked like we hadn’t changed at all, he was dead on. In fact, I told myself repeatedly that it was only the heat that kept me from struggling through the crowd to surf it (which I haven’t done since Sloan at the Spectrum circa 1994) because here we were timeless, the energy infectious, the night perfectly old school. They played their new offerings from their latest True North, and I can say they sounded like the old in the exact way I like it: they sound undeniably like Bad Religion songs and really, isn’t that what we want in the bands we dig?
I wasn’t the only one whose inner teenager was waiting for a couple of specific classics and it’s no surprise that 21st Century Digital Boy brought the house down. Thrilled though I was, I have a sneaking suspicion that few had the epic time that Mr. Tripping Balls of the Beer Spray had as he kneeled by the bar, basking in the music on the verge of tears. He may have saved some drugs from the 90s as well. We all probably should’ve licked him.
At more than a few shows, dude would’ve gotten into a fist fight between the two opening acts, but here, he was cared for, a safe ride home was confirmed and space was given. It went even further to impress me, as I had already decided this was the warmest, friendliest crowd in a far too long while. Smiles were abundant, conversation at the ready.
While out catching some much needed air, my Bestie and I had a shared gut feeling and rushed back inside in time to catch most of Sorrow, which, had we missed it, would’ve made for much angsty pouting and some unbecoming whining.
I may have headbanged a little. To Bad Religion. Live. Just saying.
We left after that, which I never do, but it was like breathing fog in there and I couldn’t fathom waiting in a coat check line if we didn’t beat the crowd. Outside, drenched in sweat and beer, it was clear we weren’t the only ones who’d had the thought and the place seemed to empty out pretty quickly.
I fell asleep with my ears happily buzzing, and awoke with the soft aches and sore throat of a concert properly done. This was the 10th show of Bad Religion’s world tour which comprises over 100 dates and I expect their last will be as energetic and great as their first.
So please, for the love of all that is cool and holy, the next time you feel too old for something, anything, look to Bad Religion, put your punk face on and crank up your life.