Pouzza Fest [Day 1] - Live in Montreal (Cover Artwork)

Pouzza Fest [Day 1]

Live in Montreal (2024)

Live Show

Pouzza Fest has quickly become one of my favourite weekends of the year. I went for the first time in 2023 and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of Montreal, the sense of community among the festival goers, and the lineup of bands. This year was no different. I was able to meet so many awesome new people, catch up with friends, see more of the city, watch so many incredible bands, and eat a lot of great food. So much happened each day that it’s impossible to capture it all but I will do my best starting with day one.

To start off, I headed over to Pouzza HQ - Le Central, an aptly named food court that’s right in the middle of everything - to pick up our bracelets for the weekend. Guilhem was standing by to help and it was awesome to finally meet him in person! After a quick change back at the hotel, it was time to hit some shows. I raced to Théâtre Sainte-Catherine to catch Montreal-based metal-infused punks Gutser and came in right as they were finishing up a song. There was a good crowd there already but I was able to find a spot close-ish to the stage to stand. They shouted out a local drag queen who recently lip-synched to their song “Wholesome Family Fun” before launching into the track. It seemed like everyone in the room was screaming along to the lyrics. No stage can contain lead singer Chris’ incredible energy. Throughout the set he moved around the room, fully embodying the chaos of the music as he stomped around, danced, and interacted with the crowd. One of the best things about going to a Gutser show is when he gets in your face and you’re fully brought into the frenetic whirlwind of the show. You also have a moment to scream along which is a ton of fun. The band members who remain on stage are also just giving their all and having a blast. The energy that the entire band can pack into just a couple of minutes is mind-blowing. No one stops moving and they play as if possessed by the music. There is something magical about seeing Gutser live that everyone needs to experience at least once in their life. I wish I could’ve stayed for their entire set but after a couple of songs, hunger hit me like a sledgehammer and I needed to find something to get my blood sugar back up.

After eating some awesome pizza I went over to the Cabaret side of Foufounes Electriques to catch North Carolina’s Dollar Signs. They are always so much fun to see live and I was looking forward to seeing some songs off of their new album Legend Tripping live. I got there for the final moments of their set and it was a big finish! Everyone on stage was sweaty and euphoric as they channeled all of their energy into those final notes. Omnigone was on stage across the hall in the Electrique side of Foufs so I went over to check them out. The ska was fast, it was political, and it was very punked up. Lead singer Adam owned the stage as he headbanged his way across the stage before putting one foot up on the monitor leaning into the microphone and letting out an earth-shaking scream. Then he looked up and took in the crowd. They played a mix of songs from No Faith and Against The Rest and brought out Brit and Tim from Catbite for a Catfite version of their song “Scratch Me Up”. The crowd was going wild and everyone was screaming along and dancing. At one point Adam got down into the crowd and gave someone a piggyback ride. The passion that every member of the band has for the music they make was very evident and the crowd was giving all of that energy back to them tenfold.

Then it was time to see Chicago’s very own Devon Kay and the Solutions over on the Cabaret side. I made my way back across the hall and found a place near the front to stand. The room filled up very quickly and soon beach balls were being tossed around in the crowd. The energy was electric as we waited for the World’s Greatest Band to begin their set. As the band finished up soundcheck, I got a closer look at their shirts which had “The Solutions” on the front and their first names on the back. They launched into the first song with vigor and had everyone dancing within seconds. Devon informed us that this was their first time playing Canada as a band and urged the crowd to make even more noise than they were already making saying, “This is Pouzza Fest, not SNOOZA Fest”. They played a mix of songs from catalog including “Pump Fake” and “Bitchin’ In Stereo” from their recently released EP Fine: A Ska EP. They also brought out Kailynn from Tiny Stills for a rousing cover of the Blink-182 classic “Dammit” that had everyone singing along and they brought out Erik from Dollar Signs near the end for a superb cover of “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish that in my opinion, might be better than the original. At one point during their set Jacob and Ian, the trombonist and trumpet player, got off stage and paraded through the crowd, out one of the doors and back in without missing a single note. This (along with their secret set on Sunday, but we’ll get to that later) was hands down one of the funnest, most high-energy sets of the weekend. They call themselves the World’s Greatest Band for a reason.

It was back over to the Electrique side of Foufs to see Stop The Presses out of Brooklyn. I got there a few minutes early and was able to get right up near the front. The crowd was used to a little bit more punk in their ska but Stop The Presses soon won them over with their killer blend of traditional ska, rocksteady, reggae, and pop. Lead vocalist and keyboardist Ali along with backing vocalists Kristin and Jade never stopped dancing, performing both separately and doing synchronized moves. Their energy was off the charts and their moves were perfectly curated to make you feel like joining in. I danced my butt off (and even skanked in public for the first time!) throughout their entire set and needed to grab a couple cups of water afterward. They played some of their hits including “Ride or Die”, “Fat Cats”, and “Swords” along with three excellent covers - “Deadman’s Party” by Oingo Boingo, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, and “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill. If you don’t think any of these songs can work as ska, you are very, very wrong. I love “Rebel Girl” and I teared up during their cover. It was great. Before the band left the stage, Ali came up to the front and gave the people who were dancing (including me!) fist bumps. It was a perfect way to end a set that was good vibes personified.

Following a quick water break, I headed back into the Electrique side to see Florida-based JER. I was super stoked to see them and with the cost of touring for bands, I was well aware this could be my only chance to catch their show. I couldn’t wait to experience their awesome blend of ska, punk, indie rock, and pop. Following soundcheck, Jer asked the people doing lighting to not use strobes so people who had epilepsy could enjoy the show without fear of having a seizure. That gesture was much appreciated and the lighting people did an amazing job throughout the show. Jer introduced themself, made sure everyone knew their pronouns (also very much appreciated), and proceeded to kick ass. The band launched into their first song and they were all jumping around, moving all over the stage, and playing the hell out of their instruments. They were extremely cohesive and played together as if this lineup had been performing for years when in reality, this was the first show that this lineup had ever played. They played lots of songs off of BOTHERED / UNBOTHERED including “Decolonize Yr Mind” which was introduced with Jer talking about the residential school system and genocide of Indigenous people that Canada is responsible for. They made sure to talk about issues that were important to them in between tracks and also touched on the rise of misinformation - especially the anti-vax movement and bands like the Defiant who are poisoning the scene with their message and the importance of not letting hateful rhetoric into the scene. They spoke about the rise of anti-trans hate and racism, imploring the crowd to put their energy into community to strengthen it and make sure spaces remain safe for all people - not just cishet white men. In the lead-up to their most recent single “Say Gay or Say Goodnight”, they were talking about the state of LGBTQ rights in Florida when someone from the crowd yelled, “Fuck Florida!” Jer didn’t miss a beat as they promptly shut that down, saying how much they love Florida and how the problem isn’t the state but their homophobic, right-wing governor Ron DeSantis. The crowd went wild during all of the songs - moshing, dancing, and singing along. (Adam from Omnigone was also right up front and rocking out.) At one point Jer took off one of their shirts and started fanning the crowd with it because things were getting really sweaty. Jer’s kicks and jumps seemed to get higher as the show went on and they did several backbends where they went right down to the stage. For one of the last songs, saxophonist extraordinaire Emily took over vocal duties while Jer grabbed their trombone and played through the crowd to get back on the stage. JER’s performance was full of joy and life. They played excellently and struck that perfect balance between having fun and opening conversations about tough topics.

We went up to the balcony for the next band, Cabite out of Philly! I’ve heard a lot of great things about their live show and I was really excited to finally be seeing them in person. We had a great vantage point and could see the reactions of the crowd and the band clear as day. It was evident that the band was excited to be there and stoked to play which amped up the excited buzz of the crowd that much more. The band played lots of songs from their album Nice One including “Asinine Aesthetic”, “Call Your Bluff” (if you want to talk about cathartic songs to scream along with in a crowd, this one is in the top three), “Stay”, and “Bad Influence” along with a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”. During “Scratch Me Up” lead vocalist Brit told everyone to make claws and do a scratching motion during the chorus. It was a ton of fun and when everyone was doing it, it looked like a sea of hands. Brit also led a sing-a-long for “Come On Baby” which was an absolute blast and had a bonding moment with the crowd when she counted to three and we all screamed together. The crowd opened a pit very early on in the set and kept it going throughout with more and more people crowd surfing, even guitarist Tim jumped in and surfed for a bit. I had very high expectations for Catbite and they completely smashed through them. I can’t wait to see them again.

We stayed in our spot on the balcony for the next band, Montreal-based ska punks Rollerstarter. Even more people filed into the venue and started up a chant of “Roller! Roller!” before the band came on stage. I was unfamiliar with them before seeing them but they quickly won my heart and my ears. They spoke and sang in a mix of French and English and effortlessly mixed the upbeatness of ska with the heaviness of hardcore punk. The pit was wild and lots of people were crowd surfing. The band has incredible energy and I will be checking out their recorded material as soon as I can.

Then I went across the hall to the Cabaret side to check out Pigeon Pit who had replaced Worriers after they dropped off due to health reasons. I had a friend who had gone to the Laura Jane Grace show in Toronto earlier in the week rave about them so I made a point to check them out. Based out of Olympia, Washington, Pigeon Pit, the folk-punk project of Lomes Oleander, played both solo and as a full band. The first couple of songs were done as a full band with Lomes on vocals and guitar, Maddy on bass, Jim on pedal steel, and Olive on drums. Then Lomes played a handful of songs solo (and played her guitar so intensely at one point she broke a string) before the band came back out to finish the set, with Maddy returning to the stage in an awesome dinosaur onesie. The songs felt more like stories as Lomes explored living in a capitalist society, mental health, friendship, and so much more in a short amount of time. In between songs, Lomes would talk either about the songs or about what’s going on in the world, calling for direct action to be taken to make the world better, calling for an end to genocide, and reminding us that we all have the power to change the world. I wasn’t familiar with Pigeon Pit before but I sure am now. I didn’t know what to expect and I ended up loving them.

I stayed on the Cabaret side and moved up closer to the stage in anticipation for the Anti-Queens’ set. They are one of my favourite bands and every time I’ve seen them, they’ve completely blown me away. Their show on May 17 was extra special because that marked the release of their killer second album Disenchanted and I was beyond excited to hear the new songs live. They took to the stage, gathered around the drum kit, did the devil horns and put their hands in the middle before lifting their horns to the sky and starting their set. They played songs from Disenchanted and Self-Titled including. “Bulldozer”, “Love’s Heavy Burden”, “Doomed Again”, “Dirty Girl” (complete with the thunderstorm intro - thanks to a new sample machine they had on stage), “Owe U Shit”, “Overthinking”, “Saviour” (this is my favourite song off the new album and I went HAM - I thought I’d lose my voice), and “Worse Than Death”. “Apocalypse She” and “Magnolia” got their live debuts and Tracy from Cross Dog hopped up on stage to perform “Crusade” with them. They introduced “Miss Scarlett” by asking anyone who was on their period to raise their hands before melting everyone’s faces off. To say the band were on top of their game would be a massive understatement, they were on fucking fire. Every note was perfect and the energy was off the charts. The power of Emily and Valerie’s vocals was unmatched and the very soul of the band was on full display. There were sing-a-longs, there were clap-a-longs, and every member of the band had their time to shine. Valerie and Emily came right to the front of the stage and absolutely shredded some solos, Michael stepped up and ripped his bass parts, and Sara killed it on the drums. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, and I had an absolute blast. I can’t wait until the next time I see The Anti-Queens.

That was a wrap on day one. As we headed back to our hotel, I was struck by all of the amazing music and people I was fortunate enough to see and replayed the sets in my head so I wouldn’t forget anything. Then I dropped into bed, exhausted and excited for the next day.