The History of Gunpowder + The Rising Few @ Le Divan Orange – January 7th 2017

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2017 is finally here! I already bought a gym membership that I’ll never use, and filled out two cheques with the right date. I’ve completed all my other New Year traditions – and now that I’ve seen my first show of 2017, the year is officially underway. Lucky for me, that show was The History of Gunpowder and The Rising Few. Thanks to these guys, I am absolutely starting 2017 on the right foot.

I first saw The Rising Few in September, at the same POP Montreal showcase where Po Lazarus figuratively kicked me in the chest (and not for the last time). Even with a heavyweight card like that, The Rising Few’s blend of folk, rock, and rhythm-and-blues stood out as a highlight of that night – and at Le Divan Orange, I was happy to see that this was no one-time fluke.

Anchored by guitarist/vocalist/illustrator Karim Terouz, the Rising Few feels a little bit like a revolving door of rock-and-roll troubadours, giving musicians from across the city (and around the world) a chance to come together and build something special. The group’s lineup tonight was almost the same as what I remember from September’s show at Club Lambi, switching Erik Manucharyan’s saxophones out for the grit and lyricism of Isaac Gesse’s trumpet, and adding the guitar of Antoine Loiselle.

What is always consistent is the band’s passion for all shades of music and Montreal. This is The Rising Few’s playground, proudly jumping from the dark romance of “Sinners on Saint Laurent” to the swinging Sam-and-Dave tribute to busboys “Not This Time” and stomping rock rant “Big Boy Games”. Closing the set with the one-two punch of “Soleil” and “Try Try Again” gave the whole band an opportunity to shine, including a chance for keyboardist Anton Kaioukov to show off his equally-impressive and and always-welcome skills on the violin. It’s definitely something that left me telling myself “I wish there were more violins in rock and roll”.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait very long to get my next fiddle fix. The History of Gunpowder’s setup also features some searing fiddlework. And bird puppets. And also burlesque dancing. It’s all part of frontman Alex James Morison’s apparent mission to craft an experience for showgoers like no other, putting everything he has in him up on the stage before burning it all down.

Using a throat that would make Tom Waits and Nick Cave jealous, Morison kicked off the show with a stomp-and-howl number that made me scribble two words in a notebook: “holy shit”. A 6-piece lineup featuring drums, guitar, fiddle, synth, and upright bass, The History of Gunpowder plays a genre of music that might be described as “roots-rock”, but only if those roots reach down into Hell. Face-melting and head-banging, Gunpowder’s controlled chaos hypnotizes crowds into a sludgy dancing fever, like a hoedown at the Apocalypse.

As if by music voodoo, songs crumble apart and come back together again. Joking covers of “We Will Rock You” and “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” sneak their way into other tunes, turned upside-down by the band’s twisted funhouse mirror vibe. The live soundscape does justice to their 2016 release Stained Glass, Rye, and Wax, successfully bringing the record’s immediacy, urgency, and freaky psychedelia to the sweat of the stage and the dancefloor. This all reached critical mass with set highlight “The Ditch”, a thundering workout that gets pushed even deeper into madness with twisted puppetry, costume design, and primal dancing from special guest Jessica Rae.

2016 might have felt like a garbage fire for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that we’re out of gas yet. Together, The Rising Few and The History of Gunpowder made sure that 2017 started off with a rager – and I’m excited to see them keep it going into the new year.

Review – Dan Corber

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