Ratboys Celebrate The Window With A Raw, Frenzied Set At Pop Montréal 2023
It was bound to happen eventually: As we got deeper into Pop Montréal, the conflicts got worse. On Friday night, there was a ton to choose from, including a mind-blowing performance from Shabazz Palaces and the last minute addition of Backxwash when Junglepussy couldn’t make it anymore. Part of me wanted to go zone out to the ambient psychedelia of TENGGER. Unfortunately, they were on at the exact same time as Ratboys, and even with everything else going on across Friday night, it felt like Ratboys were the can’t-miss option.
You know this, I know this, but Ratboys are having a hell of a 2023. Last month, they released their new album The Window, which has been widely acknowledged as a breakthrough, a level-up, the band instantly jumping from warmly regarded to feverishly fixated upon. The band always had a free-wheeling energy to them live, but now you can tell they are running on a specific kind of fuel from this moment.
As varied as the artists are at Pop Montréal, so too are the venues. Thus far I’d seen arty gigs in theaters and rappers in outdoor tents; I’d seen electronic artists in basement clubs and jazz-folk in cafes. In that sense, Ratboys’ show was something overdue for me: a proper sweaty rock show in a small, grimy room. Following Ellis’ set, Ratboys took the stage at the Diving Bell. The venue is on the third floor of a building, above a normal ground-level bar, and a second-floor bar that looked like some old wooden sports bar and charged a cover and was full of college kids. That makes the Diving Bell feel almost hidden away, a low, dark space with a lone miniature mirrorball hanging above; it was brutally hot inside. The whole thing seemed to heighten the intensity of Ratboys, who shows up and charged through a set stacked with highlights from The Window.
The band launched right into the same opening one-two that kicks off the album, stirring up a bunch of noise while ratcheting up “Making Noise For The Ones You Love.” Maybe it was partially the nature of the club, but it soon became clear that while The Window adds new heft and nuance to Ratboys’ scraggly roots-indie, the live show remained primarily raw and frenzied. The rollicking guitar lines of “Morning Zoo” unspooled next, but without the fiddle accompaniment the song began to feel more like a jangly college rock jam than a windows-down highway rambler. Other moments, like “Empty,” were delivered with a seething punk fervor.
Early on, Julia Steiner took a moment to address the crowd excitedly. “This is our first Montréal show in five years,” she said. “Most of these songs didn’t exist back then!” That was by way of introducing the pandemic jam “Go Outside,” but was true for the whole set, which really focused as a celebration of The Window. Halfway through, the band slowed things down for a bit, and threw in some oldies like “Elvis In The Freezer.” Every now and then they implemented some other texture from the recordings — like a drum machine pulse for “Break” — but mostly they recreated all the new material in its scrappiest, most homespun form. That was even true of the epic guitar solo duel in “Black Earth, WI,” during which the band became a languid descendent of Crazy Horse.
In some ways, it was a gig you could see anywhere, at any time — a charming rock band slugging it out in the kind of rooms that birth these bands. But it registered differently, seeing Ratboys, on this album, here. They proved they’re still plenty comfortable in these surroundings, but watching them jubilantly roar their way through the hour-plus set, you couldn’t help but think of the much bigger rooms these songs will soon fill.