It was the first show at the venue since the pandemic began
The Damn Truth and Po Lazarus breathed life into the Corona Theatre Thursday night, playing the venue’s first concert since the pandemic began.
The show was part one of a two-night headliner at home for The Damn Truth, who are currently wrapping up a small stint around Quebec before embarking on a European tour in December. The hard-rocking Montrealers have been inching towards greater stardom for nearly a decade now, opening for behemoths like ZZ Top, Styx, and the Sheepdogs, while also securing legendary Metallica and Mötley Crüe producer Bob Rock. However, before they hit the stage, folk-psychobilly rockers Po Lazarus, also from Montreal, had the pleasure of warming up the crowd.
While most attendees paid their fare to see the radio rock headliners, those who had the curiosity of showing up early to catch Po Lazarus’ set (which most did) were in for quite the surprise. Frontman Joshua Carey commanded the stage with what can only be described as an ominous vulture-like enthusiasm, as he mixed his softer melancholic vocal notes with animalistic yelps and shrieks.
“In the moment you’re like ‘Am I doing too much? Am I doing too little?’ but no, we’re having a good time and we’re just dancing to the music,” Carey said while reflecting on his performance after their set.
Po Lazarus are truly an act easier shown through a video than described over paper. The sextet pack their output with seemingly contradicting sounds; some tracks based around punky electric guitar riffs and others better described as folk ballads. However, the one consistent factor between all is Carey’s singing style; somewhat similar to the sporadic vocal nature of the Cramps frontman Lux Interior, or perhaps Sebastian Murphy, commander of the Viagra Boys. Through his meaningful yet nonsensical lyrics and sometimes soft, sometimes yelping vocal style, Carey adds a melancholic and satirical layer that permeates Po Lazarus’ sound — an aspect necessarily grounded by the five musicians who play with him.
“I know that the band behind me is the best it’s ever been and they’re just way better musicians than I am, way better people than I am,” the frontman said. “And thus it just makes me elevate.”
Carey’s phenomenal bursts of energy were equally met with more heartfelt moments, like on softer ballads with violinist Mackenzie Myatt, with the two interchanging vocal duties. These more subdued yet comfortably driving tracks contrasted nicely with off-the-top psychobilly anthems like “Despair, Too,” the band’s newest single.
“That was a huge risk to play some of the slower ones tonight because of the people who are coming to see The Damn Truth,” Carey said. “You gotta represent the band correctly on-stage.”
The headliners then followed, wafting burning incense around the stage before their set, presumably in an effort to cleanse the air of quirkiness left by the opening act. The Damn Truth showed their true colours as they walked on-stage, sporting flowers behind their ears and floral-patterned shirts as opening anthem “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane rumbled through the speakers. While The Damn Truth’s vibe screams nothing but late ‘60s psych rock, with frontwoman Lee-la Baum’s voice often compared to that of the talented Janis Joplin, their sound is much heavier than anything from the flower power era.
Lead guitarist Tom Shemer delivered repeated sonic attacks via an arsenal of interchanging guitars, quickly riffing on licks and wah-ing out in front of the crowd. These harder-edged solos, coupled with Pierre-Yves Letellier’s grounding bass playing, created a groove that got heads bobbing along for the ride. These elements were fused together in ultimate harmony by Baum, who delivered a driving vocal performance through the band’s back-to-back hard blues anthems. Baum sang with real soul, clearly bringing it all for the many fans in the audience who hadn’t been to a live show since April 2020.
The chemistry between Baum and Shemer was arguably the fiery highlight of the group’s performance, as the two frequently enjoyed getting inches apart and locking eyes on centre stage, Baum chanting into the microphone and Shemer doodling on his guitar. At one point, the frontwoman even dropped to her knees in front of the guitarist during one of his passionate solos, inciting an audible reaction from the audience.
These pure human moments were a healthy reminder of what music fans lost as a result of the pandemic. While the crowd seemed somewhat more subdued than usual, perhaps due to the ever-present indoor mask mandate, seeing musicians get hot and sweaty on-stage and putting on passionate physical performances was immediately refreshing. Whether you’re more of a fan of Po Lazarus’ unique approach to songcraft, or if you’re more into The Damn Truth’s harder radio-geared rock, it doesn’t really matter. In the end, musicians got the chance to do their thing in front of a live in-person audience, and that’s a victory for everybody involved.
Photo by Catherine Reynolds