CMW 2014: Saturday

By James Li

When you’re at Canadian Music Week, there’s no shortage of indie rock, electropop, or hip-hop to check out. But where do you go when you’re pissed off at the world? CMW’s punk rock offerings are somewhat thin, but the Off! show at Lee’s Palace seemed like it would fit the bill. Off! are a punk band from Los Angeles fronted by Keith Morris, formerly of Circle Jerks and Black Flag (if you consider yourself a punk fan and haven’t heard Group Sex or Nervous Breakdown, fix that now – it will only take twenty minutes). Given that nearly every Off! song clocks in under two minutes, there was enough time for a slew of opening acts.

Twelve Foot Ninja at Lee's Palace for Canadian Music Week

Twelve Foot Ninja at Lee’s Palace for Canadian Music Week

The first opener was Twelve Foot Ninja, an alternative metal band from Melbourne. I’m far from a metal purist, and I appreciated these Australians’ technical skill, eclecticism, and sense of humour. While I think fans of some 90s metal bands such as Faith No More or Primus would greatly enjoy their performance, this band was not really my cup of tea. The band’s sound alternated between chugging djent guitars and jarring forays into reggae, rumba, and dubstep (and an unusual take on Lil Jon’s “Get Low”). Still, I have to admit that the rhythm section could lay down a solid groove, and it was refreshing to see a metal band that didn’t take itself too seriously.

Organ Thieves, a Toronto rock band, was the next opener. Organ Thieves, like The Gaslight Anthem, Titus Andronicus, or The War on Drugs, play rock n’ roll strongly influenced by Bruce Springsteen. But if The Gaslight Anthem combines Springsteen with The Replacements; Titus Andronicus with Fucked Up; and The War on Drugs with Spiritualized, then Organ Thieves sound like a combination of Springsteen and Sum 41. I couldn’t shake that impression, especially as Organ Thieves is, well, a side project of Sum 41’s Dave Baksh. To their credit, Organ Thieves play more mature and focused rock than Sum 41, but their set was too mid-tempo and no-frills for me to fully enjoy.

Organ Thieves at Lee's Palace for Canadian Music Week

Organ Thieves at Lee’s Palace for Canadian Music Week

The dark horse of the night was Single Mothers, a post-hardcore band from London, Ontario. The band’s bassist and drummer came on set wearing black Been Trill tees. So are these guys, or have these guys, ever been trill? In my opinion, yes! The band’s jagged stop-and-start dynamics reminded me of classic post-hardcore bands like Drive Like Jehu or At the Drive-In, but singer Drew Thomson’s sleazy snarl and crotch-grabbing, pelvis-gyrating, mic stand-licking stage antics borrowed from punk personalities like Iggy Pop or David Yow. They ended their set with “Christian Girls,” which whipped the crowd into a frenzied mosh. I got knocked down in the middle of the mosh pit, but thankfully a stranger was kind enough to drag me out before I was trampled to bits. In my opinion, Single Mothers was definitely the most energetic and memorable opening band of the night.

Next on the bill was Brooklyn’s Cerebral Ballzy. Despite hailing from NYC, their thrashing riffs and bratty snot-nosed vocals sounded more like Southern California punk bands like Circle Jerks or Suicidal Tendencies than anything. Singer Honor Titus started off songs with the topics they were about (“This one’s about a girl back in New York,” “This one’s about skateboarding too fast”), and most of their songs seemed to rail against minor grievances like school and subway fares. Cerebral Ballzy certainly had energy and aggression in spades, and Honor’s obnoxious Bart Simpson persona is charming. They were an exceedingly immature and simple band for sure, but some people like their punk that way, and who am I to judge?

When Off! came on stage, Keith Morris chided the audience, asking if our parents let us stay up this late (“Even on a Saturday night? Even on Canadian Music Week?”). He sounded like an uncle lecturing us, but given that he’s 58 years old, it was one generation of punk rock talking to another. Keith might have been the one of the oldest guys in Lee’s Palace that night, but he was one of the most commanding singers in punk rock (or any genre for that matter). He shouted and howled through the entire set without letting up, proving that punk isn’t just a young man’s game. Off!’s performance felt like being transported to an 80s underground club, experiencing hardcore punk undiluted by any outside influences. Some might say that Off! sounds generic and redundant, and it’s true that Keith Morris and Off! are a one-trick pony, but they play that one trick with so much conviction that it’s hard to deny; Keith Morris still sounds like a pissed-off teenager at 58 which is a very good thing. Off! were the most blistering and efficient band of the night, punching out about 40 tracks in the span of an hour. Off! might be a little repetitive and formulaic, but considering that Keith Morris has been around since hardcore punk’s inception, he’s had a lot of time to perfect that formula.

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