There is a dark underbelly to the peaceful town of civil servants called Ottawa. In the basements of homes and pub rec rooms the gruesome gals, guys and gremlins of the city’s garage scene have been gathering in numbers to the point where a man dressed as a rabbit and a bunch of teenagers from Chicago can pack a good-sized dance club and prompt a near riot from the assembly.

It helped that Bay Area lo-fi garage popper Nobunny and Windy City boys the Smith Westerns had a trio of excellent opening acts in local party-rockers The Beach Blankets, Gun Club fan club Teen Anger and Montreal blues twisters Demon’s Claws.

The Beach Blankets have collected a faithful following after just a few shows. The bouncy quintet takes its cues from 1960s rockers like the Sonics and Wailers, as well as mutilating rhythm-heavy tunes like ‘I Want Candy’ into ‘I Hate Teachers’. Last time I saw them, the organist donned a gorilla mask and leapt on top of his instrument, and from there onto the lead singer, riding around on him for the remaining of the set. He was a bit tipsy to attempt such a thing this time, but the group did bring an inflatable plastic palm tree for set decoration and to throw into the audience when things got a bit hyper. As an added bonus they also broke out matching cardigans with “BB” stitched on the breast.

Toronto’s Teen Anger includes a couple of former Ottawans who once sang and played drums in a herky-jerky post-punk crew called Quebexico. Since leaving for the south, they’ve absorbed some mojo from Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Lux Interior (RIP), connected with a twangy guitarist with a Wyatt Earp style moustache and a supple-fingered bassist, and put a whole lot of delay on their vocals. It’s a good combination and inspired general adulation amidst some appreciative glass-breaking from the aforementioned tipsy organist.

Demon’s Claws have descended on Ottawa on more than one occasion. Last time I witnessed them they were a limber young crew with an affection for skronky howling blues demolition. They’re not so young now and there’s less howl and more twang in their sound. Their set was well-received, but a couple of people grumbled that they prefer the older, more ferocious Claws.

What little bad feeling there was evaporated early into the Smith Westerns' fabulous set. The high school quartet’s online tuneage suggests they’re fans of the Oblivians and bedroom-recording Memphis rock ... they’ve obviously evolved since then, perhaps due to a switch in singers to another lad who’s recorded as Teenage Lovers. Their previous influences have given away at least in part to a serious T. Rex addiction. Their energetic show plus some tossed confetti had the crowd eating out of their hand. Combined with some fine original tunes it’s hard to imagine they won’t make at least a moderate-sized splash in the future. After its set the band was widely acclaimed as the best surprise of an already formidable show.

As enthusiastic as the crowd had been for the Smith Westerns, they went even wilder for Nobunny, who slithered on stage wearing only his trademark, somewhat ratty rabbit’s mask, a pair of red Y-fronts, white platform heels and a tie on tuxedo front before launching into his signature tune, ‘Nobunny Loves You’, which bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’. The San Francisco-area act dished out the garage-pop racket with the energy of a sleazier Jay Reatard or a not entirely bandaged Mummies, and the audience was happy to surge along to the beat.

As his short set progressed several members of the audience washed up on stage until they were shooed off by a security duo. Unfortunately the audience’s enthusiasm would not be denied, and soon they were back on stage for Nobunny’s finale, finally hurling the performer into the remainder of the crowd on the dancefloor.

The night of crazed entertainment over, there was nothing left to do but raid the merchandise table and instruct members of the Smith Westerns in the intricacies of Canadian coinage (“Okay, is this a dollar ... or is it this one?”).

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Commenting On: Babylon, Ottawa, 26/2/2009 - Nobunny/The Smith Westerns

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