Bad Bad Hats + The Beths @ Casa del Popolo

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When tonight’s show was announced, I had to do a double-take. The Beths have been garnering all kinds of buzz in recent months thanks to their stellar debut LP Future Me Hates Me and a European tour opening for the mighty Death Cab For Cutie, and yet here they are, playing one of the smallest stages in the city… and my favorite one, the wonderful Casa Del Popolo.  There was no way I was missing this.  The 99 other people who helped sell out the show had the same idea.

Seemingly lost in the buzz, though, is the fact that this is a co-headline tour with Minneapolis 4-piece Bad Bad Hats.  I hear one guy come into the venue, ask the bartender when The Beths play and say he will come back later.  And that’s a huge shame.  I will be the first to admit, when the show was announced, I wasn’t too familiar with them either, but I’ve been spending a lot with their new Lightning Round sophomore record since, and it’s wonderful.  I’ve been looking forward to them every bit as much as The Beths and they don’t disappoint.  After the angular Pavement-esque riffs of the amusingly-titled Liz Phair and Girl opens proceedings, kooky frontwoman Kerry Alexander jokes “welcome to our first ever Montreal show!  If we get famous you can say you were here!”  Joseph brings in husband/guitarist Chris Hoge on harmony duty, together with their touring bass player, to spectacular effect.  As a side-note, the latter is an absolute dead-ringer for the guy that Ace Ventura dupes while dressed as a DHL delivery guy during the opening scene of the first movie; it’s uncanny.

Kerry is a master story-teller too.  Prior to Wide Right, she relates how the song was inspired by the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXV appearance, in which kicker Scott Norwood missed missing a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of the game.  The account is complete with amusing commentary and funny impressions of different characters as part of the narrative (“go Scott, you got this! Woo!“).  Ultimately, “this song has nothing to do with football, but how we often juuuust miss out on love.”  And there’s the link!  The song itself is a very groovy number and is followed by consecutive standouts from the Lightning Round record in the form of Talk With Your Hands and Write It On Your Heart, which gloriously showcases Kerry’s angelic voice.  Shame is a huge contrast to this fragility, being almost thrashy garage rock in nature, with some thunderous bass distortion thrown in.  To add to the garage rock vibe, Kerry sports a pair of sunglasses halfway, basking in the cliché, before informing us at the song’s conclusion “even rock stars spill lotion in their purse…”  Nothing Gets Me High follows and is another standout from the new record, sounding every bit as good live

The merch sales pitch is a good one too: “we have shirts, CDs, vinyl if you like a larger CD and Hats!  We didn’t always have hats… that was a mistake…”  Midway and It Hurts close out the wonderful 55-minute set to rapturous applause; those who came early were richly rewarded.  A fantastic Montreal debut.

Bad Bad Hats Setlist

1.       Liz Phair

2.       Girl

3.       Joseph

4.       Get What I Want

5.       Wide Right

6.       Talk With Your Hands

7.       Write It On Your Heart

8.       Super America

9.       Shame

10.   Nothing Gets Me High

11.   Spin

12.   Psychic Reader

13.   Midway

14.   It Hurts

It’s a Montreal debut for Auckland’s The Beths too.  Fresh from the Death Cab For Cutie tour (bassist Ben Sinclair is still sporting the t-shirt), they bound on stage and without a word, launch into Whatever, with Ben and guitarist Jonathan Pearce providing perfect harmonies to frontwoman Liz Stokes lead vocals.  Australasian accents abound around the room during the singalong that accompanies the chorus breakdown, before being quickly replaced by a hearty clap-along to start the brilliant You Wouldn’t Like Me.  Liz later acknowledges the boisterous crowd: “wow you’re happy!”  A frantic Not Running merges into Warm Blood, from their 2016 EP of the same name, and sees new drummer Tristan join the harmony party.  Great No One, which opens the acclaimed new record, elicits another huge singalong.  Liz explains “we are gonna play our whole album; we don’t have that many songs!  We are gonna play our ballad song now.”  River Run: Lvl 1 is indeed the closest thing they have to a ballad, and has the rousing feel of a stadium set closer already.  Idea/Intent dramatically transforms the vibe to a frenetic garage rock one in much the same way as Bad Bad Hats did during their set earlier.

During a guitar-tuning break between songs, the crowd begins shouting out random Kiwi expressions, to which Liz responds “very good, any more?!”  After another handful, Jonathan jokes ”thanks, this was a real cultural experience!”  The vocals on Happy Unhappy are fast and furious, almost verging on hip-hop in places before the song closes out with an intricate bass solo from Ben.  The accents around the room come to the fore again on Little Death, before a raucous Less Than Thou closes the main set.

Of course, at Casa Del Popolo there is nowhere for bands to go at this point, besides hopping down and waiting beside the stage for a while, so they jump down for a few seconds, then jump back up again, the crowd cheering all the while.  Liz responds to the applause: “thanks, you didn’t have to… but it would have been weird if you didn’t, we were right there!“  The breakthrough Future Me Hates Me opens the encore and sounds huge in the live setting, a juggernaut from start to finish accompanied, unsurprisingly, by another huge singalong.  Uptown Girl closes out their set, also at 55 minutes.  And a huge Montreal debut for The Beths too.  What a show overall; gig of the year so far.

The Beths Setlist

1.       Whatever

2.       You Wouldn’t Like Me

3.       Not Running

4.       Warm Blood

5.       Great No One

6.       River Run: Lvl 1

7.       Idea/Intent

8.       Lying In The Sun

9.       Happy Unhappy

10.   Little Death

11.   Less Than Thou


12.   Future Me Hates Me

13.   Uptown Girl

Review & photos – Simon Williams

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