The Slackers + Danny Rebel & The KGB @ Cafe Campus

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They say good things come to those who wait. Sometimes, that means waiting through cancellation after cancellation while a pandemic sweeps the globe and like a tornado, wrecks everything in its obnoxious path. So, wait we did, both those of us eager to spend a night skankin’ to the sweet, sweet sounds of The Slackers and the band themselves.

Energetic front-man Vic Ruggiero loves to play Montreal, whether it’s with his band or solo – and he can normally be found wandering the streets or sitting in a park somewhere, sipping on some beers and soaking in the city. I once found him sitting alone at the Foufounes Electriques and when I approached him, he invited me for a beer – which I took him up on. Another time, on my wandering, I came across Ruggiero playing a solo set while sitting at the back doors of his van.

On this night, I arrived early as I generally do, as the Cafe Campus imposes curfews on their shows. The upstairs stage is a wonderful spot and a place I wish more concerts were held. It is both spacious and well-planned out, with a nice balcony and three bars. The stage is positioned so that it is easily visible from anywhere and the lighting is nearly always great. However, as I mentioned, they do tend to place curfews on their shows as they turn the place into a club, thus shows start and end far too early.

Tonight, Danny Rebel & The KGB stand on stage facing a mob of ten people, wondering if they should start or wait for more spectators to wander in. With the curfew though, pushing the show later wouldn’t be possible, alas the KGB began to wail away. Danny Rebel has a soothing voice and he and the KGB are one of the better rocksteady or reggae groups in the nation right now. Stragglers slowly found their way inside and by the time the KGB had finished their third number, the place was solidly packed. Danny Rebel & The KGB  always get the sound system thumpin’ and the dance floor bumpin’!

Before long, couples were swinging about the dance floor, others sang along and swayed to the rhythm. Danny Rebel & The KGB are always a good time, and now that this tour had brought them back home – I was pleased to see such a great response. Why Montrealers insist on showing up late to everything is a mystery that will probably never be solved. A laissez-faire attitude that sums up this fine metropolis pretty accurately, but when it comes to the arts, maybe that should be set aside a tad.

New York’s The Slackers took to the stage following a bit of a pause – with a seeming laissez-faire attitude regarding gearing up – and perhaps why they love to play Montreal so. Slowly they tuned instruments and set up playlists and the usual things a band does before a gig. Fair warning though, they’re called The Slackers. The clue was in the name. And once they did get going, not a single toe in the room was left still. No, everyone was moving from the opening notes of Fried Chicken all the way to the end of their set.

There is so much class and charisma that emulates from these lads, who, despite being down a member, still managed to put on a hell of a show. Sadly, Glen Pine – who normally sings and plays the trombone, had to miss out due to a covid scare. On the final night of dictator Legault’s mask mandate, covid still managed to take the spotlight. The Slackers though didn’t miss a beat. From Marcus Geard, the always grinning and ridiculously well-dressed bassist, to Ruggiero, through to Dave Hillyard and his frenetic saxophone, The Slackers are phenomenal.

At about the midway point, Ruggiero traded in his keyboard and harmonica for an acoustic guitar as the rest of the group, save Dave Hillyard and his saxophone. Ruggiero often plays solo shows, and tonight he received a warm welcome. What makes him stand out so much, is his onstage banter and ability to weave stories into his songs. I could listen to the man talk for hours. He is the embodiment of everything New York; a cool cat with swagger and tales to tell. Down to the way he dresses, everything about the man screams New York to me, at least the image of the great American city that resides in my head.

Danny Rebel rejoined the stage to perform a pair of tracks with The Slackers, in what was one of many highlights on the night. Following that, a drunkard in the crowd seemed to try to invite himself on stage for a wee duet with Ruggiero, and was politely shot down. “We already have our set planned out,” said Ruggiero, adding “maybe later though.” Such diplomacy can only come from a seasoned Ska musician. The drunk staggered off towards the bar, where he pouted amidst the comfort of a fresh bottle.

The Slackers walked off stage, but not far enough as to not be seen by the crowd who were already calling them back to the stage. The encore has become such a norm these days, that it is more shocking if it doesn’t happen. Like a cat and mouse song and dance, and interaction between the gathered and the performers, a given that the band would come back. Given that the band were still stood at the edge of the staircase that leads them offstage, it was just a matter of moments before the fellas walked back up onto the stage to sing a few more for us all. And they did.

Married Girl began, to many a cheer, before moving into Everyday Is Sunday, and finally Please Decide. The night was young yet the night was over, and the sundresses and suits and fedoras weren’t ready to go home yet, but they couldn’t stay here. It had been a lengthy wait, but a worthwhile one, that had passed by way too quickly. As is often the case when The Slackers come to town.

Review & photos – Kieron Yates

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