It’s impossible to think about guitar music without considering the contributions of our cousins across the pond, and often all it takes is a touch of bias for someone to claim such groups as being superior to their North American counterparts. In such debates, without getting too much into it, most end up reaching for artists of decades past to support arguments of who’s better. This is no longer to be the case, as Shame are part of a brazen new wave of artists forcing those who say guitar bands have nothing left to offer to hold their tongues, taking the best parts of tradition with enough detachment from it to craft a sound entirely their own.
Realistically, no lover of music will list their favorite artists without expressing an admiration indiscriminate of borders, and after their sets, the members of the two Montreal-based bands supporting Shame’s stopover in their city could later be seen amongst the most passionately dancing fans. Lemongrab scuzzed up the stage with a predominantly female cast and no less than three guitars. A lo-fi, distorted vocal filter transported early viewers to the garage where I’m sure the band rehearses, obfuscating most of the lyrics but letting through all of their grungy attitude. Perceptible sound bytes like, “This was not a disco party until you came late and drunk” only served to reinforce the impression. Another line, “Do you like to fuck?,” was feverishly repeated by the singer’s increasingly Karen O-esque shrieks as her female entourage gradually gathered momentum behind her. Looking on with the band’s male members, who had stepped off for the last number, I almost felt sorry for whatever misguided boy warranted such a scathing impersonation. Almost. The setup for Mundy’s Bay followed the guitar band legacy more closely, with the addition of a girl on synth. More pop-palatable melodies reminiscent of fellow Canadian indie darlings Alvvays were mixed with a touch of Jesus and Mary Chain to provide some balance to the garage grit of the previous band.
Requisite smoke break over, the members of the headliner emerged from backstage and took their places, led by Charlie Steen’s sense of humor: “We’re Shame. We’re an electro-pop band.” What followed was certainly not that, as they swaggered into a mostly tracklist-obedient run-through of their entire and currently only album, Songs of Praise. After commanding the crowd to “step closer to MEEEE” over jarring guitar dissonance in “Dust On Trial,” Steen started a story about the last time the band was in Montreal. He got as far as setting the scene during winter in a penthouse overlooking the city until someone interrupted to wish him a happy birthday for his recently celebrated 21st.
Whatever train of thought had been developing got immediately redirected to the next song with a brisk, “Montreal, this is Concrete.” Steen supplemented the sonic vehicle’s velocity with piston arms at every breath before bursting into a chorus demanding “no more questions” of the call-and-response verse with bassist Josh Finerty. As if to address the inevitable guy in the crowd who seemingly showed up just to start a mosh pit, Steen reminded us (him) that there was to be “no aggression, only entertainment.” He followed up on his promise of a good time for all by mischievously untucking his Billy Idol tee to trace over his nipples with the fingers of his free hand in a grinning contradiction of his words, “Well I’m not much to look at.” By the time new song “Human” was through, the shirt was off completely.
The inertia-resistant bass line propelling the punchy spoken prose of “The Lick” helps it stand out during play-throughs of the record. Finerty, thrilled by his feature, made the track even more memorable by bouncing between bandmates with enough reckless exuberance to disconnect one of the guitarists from his amp, pausing only long enough to help plug him back in before continuing to pogo across the stage. Not to be outdone, Steen jumped onto upraised arms with enough time left in “Tasteless” to kick down some dormant confetti from a ceiling lamp.
Without being given the chance to think about how long the shreds of paper had been gathering dust up there, fans were distracted by another exhortation from Steen that the show was purely for the purpose of fun. Instead of being a warning, this time read more like an encouragement to let loose, and everyone duly agreed. The temperature in the venue crept up as heat radiated from bodies rubbed against each other in honor of “Friction.” Again, Karen O came to mind, this time evoked by the beer spraying out of Steen’s mouth to cool down the audience before an untitled 2-week-old song got some brief stage time. The somber subject matter of “Angie,” in addition Steen’s emphasis on crowd inclusivity, was a reminder of the band’s surprising maturity and the resistance to cocky rockstar stereotypes vocalized in an interview with the Guardian.
Fuzzed-out guitar and a count-off from the microphone beat against Steen’s chest kicked off the rush of “Lampoon” with enough force to send someone from the crowd careening off the stage and around the venue hoisted over people’s heads. Emboldened by this display, Steen stepped off the stage himself for “Gold Hole” to stand on the hands of the crowd while the rest took it upon themselves to “shake me up,” ricocheting off each other as if to replicate on human scale the pinball machines that formerly sat in le Ritz’s back corner.
This left just one song from the album, and after some weary (or wary) attendees vacated their spots, the excited remainder made full use of the new space and every second of “Donk”’s compressed minute and a half to thrash to the band’s hardest-hitting cut. The amount of energy and sweat (and beer) exuded by both band and audience, exemplified by a set list saturated in liquid which I decided against taking, makes one wonder at the intensity of their UK shows. Though Shame may not stand for the leather jackets, buckets of cocaine, and aloof attitudes of their ancestors, the energy of all those packed stadiums might be distilled into the pure spirit felt in every city they stop by. And to those aware of a previous promise made, yes, this time I definitely joined the mosh.
Review – Dylan Lai
Photos – Jean-Michel Lacombe