Swingin' Utters - Live in Montreal (Cover Artwork)

Swingin' Utters

Live in Montreal (2014)

live show

Ever since I heard their debut album In The Streets of San Francisco in the mid 1990's, the Swingin’ Utters have remained a constant force in my top five favorite bands of all time. When they rolled through eastern Canada with labelmates Lagwagon and newcomers This Legend, I made sure not to miss what I would expect to be one of the best live sets of the year. After a traditional Quebec chicken dinner at St-Hubert, I headed across the street to Olympia de Montreal to catch the show.

Built in 1925, Olympia was originally a cinema with theatre style seating that has since been converted into a modern concert hall. With a capacity just shy of 2,500, the venue was among the largest, if not the largest, on the entire North American tour schedule. The sound system dwarfs that of your average bar and the spacious layout features stepped plateaus that offer great sightlines for people less than six feet tall, plus a giant balcony with theatre-style seating. It’s easily the nicest club I have ever seen a punk gig in and gives bands from the golden age of Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords the chance to be kings again for an evening in Montreal.

After the release of Fistful of Hollow a few weeks ago, I was hoping to hear the Swingin’ Utters play a bunch of newer songs from the album. After barely acknowledging the 1,500 or so crowd, they quickly opened with the classic “Windspitting Punk” followed by “Taking The Long Way” and “Pills & Smoke.” The sound was rich, full and loud, but not loud enough to make your ears ring excessively the next day. Operating as a four-piece without the second guitar of Jack Dalrymple, the band simply stared down at their instruments unhappily and hammered them at double-time while vocalist Johnny Bonnel paced back and forth, occasionally bashing his own forehead against the microphone. This was exactly how I wanted the Swingin’ Utters to be- they don’t play happy songs so I don’t want a happy vibe.

I was more than pleased to hear “Tell Them Told You So”, “Fistful of Hollow”, “Tonight’s Moons” and “Agonist” from the new record. Hearing these songs live only made me want to listen to the new album even more. The band’s ability to constantly inject new material into their live set is a strength that many other bands from the mid-1990s heyday don’t seem to bother with. However, there were also many trusted oldies like “Tied Down, Spit On”, “No Eager Men”, “Five Lessons Learned” and the closer “Next In Line” that helped form a very well-rounded set spanning most of their catalog.

Despite the high energy song tempos and exceptional guitar lines by Darius Koski, the majority of the crowd seemed indifferent to what was going on, which is unusual for Montreal, a city known for being passionate about harder music. Perhaps their lyrical content failed to connect with the francophone audience or maybe few have bothered to keep up with the band’s more recent releases, but speaking as a fan I can say this was easily one of the best live sets I’ve seen in 2014 and only reinforced their place among my favorite bands of all-time. And please, no smiling.