FEEL MY MOUSTACHE, my friend Aaron yells at me as he points to the piece of brown felt Scotch-taped to his upper lip. No wait, YOU get the moustache. Aaron fumbles onto the stage and, with a last, desperate reach, slaps the fuzz onto the lead guitar. Suck it man, roars front man Lester Del Ray, towering over Aaron who collapses into a drunken heap on the stage. The audience laughs. With a final breath, Aaron howls BURT REYNOLDS GUITAR, and passes out, strewn across a sound monitor. Earlier that evening I received a text message from Aaron claiming that the best garage band in Canada was playing at Sneaky Dees. The Black Lips? I replied. Yeah man, the fukin lips.
Turns out The Black Lips werent playing, nor were they even in the same city — something Id learned from the bemused entry-man at the venue. Instead I was met by another garage-rock/country-punk outfit from Montreal, The Demons Claws. Sporting headbands, various vintage Ts, and other various items including long-johns, the group looked like they cleaned out the local Goodwill. Thats how you know theyre good, explained the whiskey-soaked gentleman sitting next to me at the bar. Watch, its like opera.
Needless to say, I was sceptical of the tipplers taste in song. Before able to call him out on it (he also had a Hedley pin on his lapel; haw haw) a visibly inebriated Aaron pulled me of my stool, shouting something about his missing girlfriend. The big guy took her, he just plucked her out of here man!
What big guy? What are you talking about?
That bouncer dude caught her drinking my bottle of brandy, now shes on the street, he explained. You should go help her then; take her home or something. Nah man, this band is going to be awesome — best show of the year, and with that, trailed off into the crowd in front of the stage.
Lester Del Ray leans into his microphone and whispers ready? The Demons Claws take off. And now were fucked on ketamine, growls Del Ray, accompanied by Mr. No Breakfasts rolling bass line and the snare-heavy country drumming of Skip Jensen, …dying like a dream. Pat Meteor, the rhythm guitarist, contributes the occasional harmony and guitar accent, but remains low-key with his toque pulled over his eyes.
I catch a glimpse of Aaron who is busily making no friends at all, yelling wildly and moshing by himself. Is that your friend? a girl asks me pointing to Aaron as he climbs onto a stack of speakers. Sure, why not, I reply. She is not impressed.
The Devils Claws start playing a dirty western riff, Trip to a Clinic. Del Ray has a sort of squeaky voice which goes rather well with his monotonous punk tendencies. A bit of snarl as well, to match his trebled-out crunchy Gibson. Meteor adds little notes of effected sound through his Jazzmaster, calling to mind You Made Me Realise-era Kevin Shields. Most notable however is Mr. No Breakfasts bass, which switches between following the vocal melody and bopping along a more traditional line. His sound is thick but gentle, mixed way high through the speakers giving the song its strong rhythmic quality.
I see Aarons bulky body making its way across the crowd towards me. FEEL MY MOUSTACHE. Ten seconds later, he is wasted on a speaker on the stage. The band continues to play.
Im out behind the barn, shrieks Del Ray while performing one of the bands faster numbers, Behind the Barn. A few guys in the crowd have picked up on Aarons antics and have begun to run into each other at full speed, leaving paths of spilled beer and broken bottles in their wake. The guitars start to get bigger; Del Ray and Meteor are strumming furiously. Jensen is slamming on his cymbals as fast and as hard as he can, which causes some feedback in the microphones. The room reaches a state of rapture, carried on the backs of the four Montrealers, to be brought back into the real world with a quick switch back to the original riff. The crowd cheers, elevated by what just transpired. Aaron gets up off the floor and begins to dance on stage, but is quickly thrown off into the arms of four drunk girls.
The band swiftly goes into their next song, Shadow of a Castle, an immediately catchy, hard-hitting tune replete with Del Ray shrieks and yells. Mr. No Breakfast goes at his bass with the utmost intensity, carrying the rest of his bandmates along. The band (save Jensen) lines up along the front of the stage, axes pointing outwards, and delivers the end of their song in true hair-metal fashion — a successful attempt at cheekyness, no doubt.
Aaron makes his way back to me, slowly, bleeding from his head. Are you OK? I shout, trying to be heard over the loud music. Of course, this song is fucking great, he says as he makes his way back into the fold, dancing slowly, but dancing nonetheless.
That is the way I imagine The Demons Claws. Full of swagger and substance, they dish out the music the way most bands should — with attitude and intensity. At the same time, they carry themselves with such self-awareness that their more off-beat moments, whether in song or performance, seem natural and fluid. Johnny Cash did it. Fuck, Roy Orbison did it better and with style. The Demons Claws are all about melding things together and keeping it strong and true to the bone, just like the Orbs. Operatic? Probably not. Exceptional? Without question.