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Steelworkers rock club soda

by Archives February 10, 2009

There’s something bittersweet about seeing the United Steelworkers of Montreal on the stage at Club Soda.
While it’s been a long time since they could pass as unknowns, in this town at least, there was something appropriate, something special about seeing them on stage at Barfly or even Sala Rosa. Club Soda is too clean, too impersonal. But if anyone could make that room feel like a dive bar somewhere around the middle of the last century, it’s the Steelworkers.
Friday night marked the release of the band’s third album. Three On The Tree has more of punk-tinged hard driving bluegrass anthems and historical ballads than what this band is usually known for. While the songs frequently focus on death, depression and desolation, there’s a certain tongue-in-cheek charm that keeps them from being too much.
There’s also a real sense of humour that runs through the album, the song “Making Babies” begins with the line “Well I’m 30, drinking a 40 of 50.” The band also continues their tradition of setting their songs in Montreal, singing about Griffintown and drinking by the Jacques-Cartier.
But the Steelworkers are first and foremost a live band and Friday night was as much a celebration of the band itself as the new album.
The Steelworkers started early, playing the new album from start to finish. As good as they are recorded, there’s something missing, something that makes them really real.
But it’s not just the way they play, it’s how they play it. The way singer-guitar player Gern f. strums an undersized guitar with his meaty hands, like he could snap it in a second. The way singer Felicity Hammer, with her bright orange hair stomps her feet as she rasps, coos and warbles through the songs. When stand up bass player Eddy Blake balances on the bass, without missing a note, it’s too perfect.
Gern introduces the song “What a Riot,” about the summer’s hockey riots, by asking the audience who was there. Three hands go up.
“Oh there was more of you than that,” he said. “Don’t worry there are no cameras here.”
As he delivers the sermon that comes near the end of “Jesus We Sweat,” the last song on the new album, the whole crowd gives back the “amen,” it’s like a sort of awesome church.
The rest of the show is a tribute to the Steelworkers, three bands playing covers of their songs.
Dirty Old Band is up next, and despite sharing guitar player Matthew Watson with the Steelworkers, it’s not the same. They bring on William Rockwell, of open mic night at Brutopia. Despite being dressed in a tiger mask and a cape, Rockwell (who is allegedly starting a wrestling career) delivers pretty well on the song, “Life Bearable In Texas.” He does the Gern parts well, and his Felicity style coo is hilarious and surprisingly good.
Two songs and it’s onto Ladies of the Canyon, who do a pretty version of the song “Union Man,” that has some real righteous anger.
The Unsettlers are up next and deliver a dark version of “Life Bearable In Texas.”
The Steelworkers come back to the stage, joined by special guest Jonas. Now I’ve never heard Jonas before, I’ve just seen his ads on the metro, and I’m glad I haven’t. In a show that’s so real, he comes off as fake. I’m sure he likes the Steelworkers, but the way he grabs the mic, posing before the song even starts, the way he keeps checking the lyrics off a sheet on the floor and the way he sings, like it’s a Black Crows song, not the United Steelworkers of Montreal, really takes something away.
Fortunately he only sings one song before the Steelworkers start the second set. It’s pretty much all obscure covers and while they’re good, they’re not satisfying. The band’s obviously having a good time, but I’d rather hear some more Steelworkers, the whole thing feels like an encore that’s gone on too long.
For the last song they bring everyone back onstage to sing a rousing version of “Place St-Henri.” It’s good.

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