Po Lazarus + Frisky Kids @ Petit Campus – November 5th, 2016

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I first saw Montreal’s own Po Lazarus this September, playing in a showcase for POP Montreal alongside other stellar local acts like The Rising Few and Bud Rice. As just one player in a full evening of music, the band’s set was instrumental in showing the wide spectrum of art that this city can cultivate – but last night at Petit Campus, celebrating the official launch of their debut LP Ways To End The Night, Po Lazarus was square in the spotlight as the stars of the show. They deserve every damn second of it.

Also hailing from Montreal, three-piece Frisky Kids had the honour of opening up the show with their Jack White garage-rock skiffle. Though they wear their British Invasion influences on their sleeve with early Kinks riffs, yelping harmonies, and bassist Matisse Gill’s Beatlesque Hofner, Frisky Kids aren’t staunch traditionalists. This music is fun, and the band knows it, trading lead vocal duties between Matisse and guitarist Calum and complementing songs like “On My Own” and “I’ll Be Loving You” with goofy faces, stabbing guitar solos, drummer Matt Grant’s time changes, and, on highlight “Enchanté”, failed (but admirable) stabs at rapping.

After Frisky Kids’ fast-and-frenzied set, the men of the hour took to the stage and slowed things down a bit, kicking this album launch off with the record’s first track, the plaintive “I’ve Been Sitting Here (All Alone)”. Singing at first without a mic over a foundation of Paul Mascarenhas’ gentle guitar, and then building intensity as drummer Josh Grant and guitarist Aaron Cohenca joined them, Joshua Carey turned the tune into a whole performance – actually acting out the wounded protagonist’s goodbye instead of just reciting the words. As it does on the disc, the song then segued quickly into the uptempo “Breaking Bottles”, which seems to have leveled up since its recording (as have many of the album’s 10 tracks) into a much more muscular bit of indie rock – thanks in no small part to the addition of Cohenca’s alternatingly warm and searing guitar chops.

I’ve never been to an album launch before, and it makes for a totally different performance and showgoing experience when the crowd is packed with friends and family instead of arm-crossed skeptics waiting to be impressed. For the audience, just like the band, this was all about marking this important milestone – and there were obviously no complaints from any audience member as Po Lazarus went through the next two sequential songs from the disc’s upside-down Americana road trip. Though Carey took a second after the dancey “Will You Be My Baby?” to admit that the band was nervous and to shake his head in disbelief (“Oh my god, there are so many people!”), everyone seemed to ooze peak confidence. Especially Carey himself, who seems to have no trouble gliding all over his vocal range – and certainly not during the demanding “Blood Cake”, a sludgy and greasy horror story stew that inspired a moshpit with more than a couple growls, death screams, and psychobilly freakouts.

As much as this was a victory lap for the past, Po Lazarus also shared a peek into the future, taking a pause after the first half of the album’s program to play a handful of brand new songs that are just begging to be recorded. The first one (referred to by Carey as “Body of Water”), showed off new textures from Cohenca,who offered sun-kissed guitar solos to a “Creep”-like chord progression, bringing up the mental image of Radiohead spending a day at the beach. On the whole, these new songs point to a pretty exciting new direction for the band, feeling a little more upbeat in what seems to be a move away from the darker freak-folk murder ballads and drinking songs. Even so, the band doesn’t seem like they’re in a hurry to abandon the things that make them so special in the first place, sticking to darkly funny songwriting (“I don’t care / I don’t mind / I just want to touch your behind”), supernatural stories, and impressive musicianship.

No celebration is complete without guests, and the second half of the set saw Po Lazarus open the stage up to a few special people, including the album’s studio guitarist Luc Delisle, the returning Frisky Kids, and John Jacob Magistery’s Mackenzie Myatt and Johnny Griffin, who helped produce the record. Together, these guests helped build the standout moment of the night, providing more guitar, violin, and harmonies to the already-spine-tingling campfire singalong of album highlight “If You Are Alone”. It was enough to get Carey a little bit choked up when he thanked the crowd and his cronies – and as someone who has a habit of losing patience during the last few songs of any concert, I can still say that I didn’t actually want the moment to end, either.

The band seemed to loosen up a bit after that emotional hump – never losing step with their radio-ready music chops, but basking in the afterglow of an already-great evening. They very clearly had fun playing through the rest of the record, accompanied by dedicated crowdsurfers and the three-part harmonies of the Frisky Kids, who crowded around the mic like a beer-soaked We Are The World. Although some of the quieter moments (“I Won’t Take You Home Again Kathleen”, “Do You Think Of Me?”) were a little marred by club thumps as the upstairs Café Campus came to life, you couldn’t get Po Lazarus down. After celebrating Carey’s birthday with a singalong and finishing up the rest of the album, the band left just Paul and Josh alone on-stage. After thanking Paul, explaining that he was “so lucky to have met him,” Josh began one more song – one that saw him walk out into the crowd with his mic and get hoisted into the air to crowdsurf, singing from his back while Paul’s guitar serenaded him from the stage: “we’ve still got more to show you”.

I know, and I’m excited.

Review – Dan Corber

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