Published May 02, 2015As long as the Montreal Canadiens are in the NHL playoffs, every bar in the city is essentially a glorified jumbotron until the game is over. And, in the case of last night (May 1) at le "Ritz," that resulted in concertgoers being relegated to the back of the venue — or outside — long after the intended set times as the Habs and their new playoff opponents the Tampa Bay Lightning went into overtime. Not only did this irk non-sports watchers, but Habs fans weren't exactly in the best mood following their loss in double overtime, and the musicians had to work extra hard to wash away the inevitably sombre, post-OTL vibes that hung around the bar like a dank cloud.
Local instrumental rockers the Thin Blue Line opened. They sound like a pared-down version of post-rockers such as Explosions in the Sky — driving, winding guitars in front of rumbling bass and steady drums — but without all of the build-up, which led their instrumentals to sound like a variety of indie rockers, including Girls — Thin Blue Line's "Telegraph 3AM" is essentially an instrumental version of the now-defunct outfit's "Vomit" — and local legends Sam Roberts Band. Though poppier tunes, like "Welcome to Pine Point" helped to lift spirits, the band were slightly stifled by an apparently malfunctioning keyboard, which elicited some pained looks from keyboardist Toby Andris. Their set ended on a fun, uplifting note, and was definitely a nice start to the night, though the group was unable to fully escape their influences for a distinct sound.
Given the delay in the night's proceedings, Cymbals Eat Guitars' lead singer Joseph D'Agostino was already drunk by the time his troupe went onstage, and his reduced inhibitions definitely aided him in producing his pop-punk snarl. With a setlist mostly culled from the Staten Island quartet's third LP, last year's LOSE, they quickly proved themselves to be quite adept at replicating the record's atmospheric, calculatedly explosive rock sound. The set largely consisted of them reproducing the same formula: nimble bass lines, atmospheric keyboards, reliable drums and poppy, wordless vocal harmonies behind sharp guitar riffs and D'Agostino's driving voice, which oscillated between a raspy whisper and an impassioned, whining howl depending on whether the song was in the verse or chorus. Though it's no fault of a band for finding a sonic niche and sticking to it, the set's tunes tended to blur together into an extended jam punctuated by breaks; the band was tight and well-rehearsed, but ultimately left much to be desired, with minimal stage presence and a repetitive sound.
Even before D'Agostino revealed "Jackson" to be his favourite song, it was undoubtedly the set's highlight from the moment it began, with a nice keyboard intro that built up into a ferocious climax with an impeccably hooky guitar riff. Ebbing and flowing from simmering verses to raucous choruses, the tune ended with a beautiful guitar solo that transcended the band's song formula into a cascading collision of indulgence and greatness.
Though D'Agostino ranted that he wasn't going to do an encore, and that he was just going to spare the audience the bullshit of walking on-and-offstage for what is pretty much an inevitability at shows at this point, he did so anyway, taking to the stage alone for an encore of "Child Bride." With only D'Agostino's voice and guitar, the song benefitted from its stripped-down arrangement, eschewing the electronic drums that dragged down the version on LOSE; though played with an electric guitar, D'Agostino's delivery would've fit right in at a coffee shop, as his earnestness did.
His passion for his craft shone throughout the entire set, but even though the music was well executed, D'Agostino was the only one who seemed to be putting any heart into it. The moments where he was the most engaged resulted in the best moments of an otherwise middling set.