From its humble rebirth from the ashes of the Gaga Weekend, The Ottawa Explosion Weekend has slowly expanded to feature more than a hundred bands over five days, playing in ten different venues. With local bands evangelizing for the festival as they tour through North America and Europe, bands are now crossing oceans to attend: This year’s line-up included acts from Hamburg and Klagenfurt, Austria.

While a Monday show put on by Ottawa Explosion Weekend (or OXW, as it’s known) organizers, featuring hot Danish acts Iceage and Lower and local hardcore shouters Pregnancy Scares proved a big draw, the real action began on Wednesday in the courtyard of the SAW Gallery with a set from Black Tower.

It features members of local pop-punkers the Visitors and Leatherface-worshipping gloom-rockers Crusades and gives its members a chance to expunge their black metal jones in good style. Locals Uranium Comeback zipped through their set - virtually the same one they played at their first show, since they almost never perform and generally confine themselves to writing one new song a year. “Our secret - never play,” they explained.

Toronto Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs put on a guitar-boosted display of garage rock, while Bummer’s energetic set brought 1980’s post-punk to mind with its heavily chorused guitar sound, much like a less melodramatic Chameleons.

Hamilton’s TV Freaks stole the show with the bounding energy of their stout, shirtless and heavily tattooed frontman.

Thursday stepped things up a notch, as well as forcing Explosion fans to choose among a trio of venues. After sets from local rockers Average Times, a stop-and-start performance from minimalist and brutalist outfit Dagger Eyes and a squealing set of panic attack punk from Cambridge, Massachusetts’ White Pages, a brief departure from the festival to see Tav Falco & The Unapproachable Panther Burns meant missing Yellowteeth and booming local duo Big Dick.

Upon returning, the choice loomed: Head off to Cafe DeKcuf for an experimental evening with Scattered Clouds, the Dark Plains, Shahman and Drones (no, not those Drones ... and not those ones either); go to Mugshots - the only bar in Canada whose patio can once claim to have been a place of execution - for some more traditional rock-to-punk line-up with Finderskeepers, Camp Radio, The Decay and Panic Attack; or down to the basement of Club SAW for something more in the power-pop vein.

The latter option proved to be a wise choice, with Moncton, New Brunswick’s Mouthbreathers playing a fuzzy set (and a cover of Eric’s Trip) and Montreal 1960s revivalists Le Kid et Les Marinellis putting on a debauched display of rock’n’roll (Le Kid’s gold lame pants certainly helped). After much crowd-surfing and microphone abuse, it was time for Los Angeles’ Mike Krol to gingerly take the stage and clean away an improbable amount of beer cups.

What followed was a very capable set of lo-fi power pop that sounded heavily influenced by Weezer. Calgary’s Mandates finished things off with a harder sound that concluded with a cover of the Dead Boys‘ ‘All This and More’.

The festival spread its net even further on Friday, with a pool party across the river in Gatineau and an in-store performance at Vertigo Records.

Sets outside at the SAW gallery began sharp at 7:30 p.m., starting with local powerpop faves Voicemail, followed by a squalling set by Montreal’s Thee Nodes, whose abuse-hurling, bandage-clad frontman clambered up the tent’s supports, the better to berate showgoers from above like an angry monkey.

New York’s tattooed and booted Wyldlife came up from New York to deliver some Johnny Thunders style religion to the masses, while Columbus, Ohio’s Nervosas paid a repeat visit to the Explosion for a hotly applauded set of jittery, Devo- and Flipper-influenced postpunk.

Although Needles//Pins came all the way from Vancouver to be at the Ottawa Explosion, the trio has a couple of local expatriates and got a friendly reception for their rough-edged punk-pop sound.

A venue switch meant missing out on psyche-sludgers Holy Cobras under the tent and assorted flavours of punk rock from Toronto’s Valley Boys, Sudbury’s 1977-styled Strange Attractor, Montreal’s Ultrathin and Detroit basement dwellers Tyvek downstairs in the club proper.

Instead it was off to Cafe DeKcuf and Mavericks. Local Jesu idolators Stay Here had already played at Cafe DeKcuf upstairs while one-man band Robots! Everywhere had been and done downstairs at Mavericks. That meant it was time to dash up the narrow flight of stairs to DeKcuf to see local thrash veterans World War 4 burn up the frets. Downstairs again for some pop punk courtesy of Dayton, Ohio’s Raging Nathans, who managed to fill out a whole half hour with one minute songs and some frequent banter. There was more metal upstairs with locals Klovenhoofs, whose High-on-Fire influenced steamroller was in particularly hefty form. Downstairs again for more pop punk with West Coast baseball fanatics the Isotopes, who kicked things off with the national anthem before bouncing through some Ramones-fuelled tunes for an enthused crowd, some of who brought out their baseball gloves for the occasion.

Montreal’s Dig It Up capped the evening at Cafe DeKcuf with some very energetic hardcore rock, sounding not unlike a less-perverted Turbonegro. Local pop-punk titans the Creeps closed the night downstairs at Mavericks with a somewhat inebriated performance that ending with frontman Skotty tosing his guitar into his amp and stalking offstage.

The penultimate stretch of the festival began for relatively early risers on Saturday at 1 p.m. with sets by Robots! Everywhere! and East Coast duo Noisehounds under the SAW Gallery tent. The two Noisehounds were joined by two more East Coast compatriates decked out in Hawaiian shirts for some fuzzed out psych-punk.

More East Coast rock and an Eric’s Trip cover were delivered by trio Thalidomy Kids, while Street Meat provided a serious detour from the festival’s usual rock offshoots with some sleazy electronica.

Ann Arbor’s Chit Chat proved to be a festival highlight. The foursome from Iggy Pop’s hometown play unpretentious rock’n’roll with male and female vocals switching off to great effect. Milwaukee’s Sugar Stems are as poppy as their name suggests with frontwoman Betsy Heibler getting some able guitar backing from longtime punk-popper Drew Fredrichsen (ex-Leg Hounds, Screeching Weasel, et al.). Baltimore hairballs Hollywood are also making a second appearance at the festival and dished up some Stooges-esque rocking and rock-jumping.

Toronto’s Teenanger, like several other bands, features some former Ottawans and generated some enthusiastic singing along and moshing from pals in the crowd.

Locals New Swears provided the festival’s wildest set. The band’s four members - all denizens of notorious band dwelling the Fun Boy Club House - brought oodles of silly string, confetti dispensers, inflatable palm trees and other geegaws to toss into the crowd. As soon as they took the stage, clad in matching garbage bin liners, the tent was a blizzard of crowdsurfing, blow-up monkey-tossing and general misbehaviour. It can’t have been easy to keep up harmonized, catchy rock while being pelted with random objects and the occasional audience member, but the band pulled it off.

Unfortunately the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse, so the show headed indoors for Feral Trash; a band with two members of Thalidomy Kids and one member of Moncton’s Fear of Lipstick, which adds up to some foot-stomping pop punk.

The Kidnappers played a more rocking set, and they came quite a long way to do it: All the way from Hamburg in Germany, except for the drummer, who was replaced for this gig by Ian Manhire of Voicemail and White Wires.

With the rain outside relenting somewhat, the festival returned to the great outdoors for a set from Sonic Avenues. The Montreal band is a frequent visitor, and a proven crowd pleaser whose power-pop sounds have recently taken a turn toward harder sounds.

The festival returned downstairs for a set by the Tough Shits; the band left their rhythm section in hometown Philadelphia, but carried on with the help of Hollywood’s drummer through a set of trucker hat punk rock.

The Steve Adamyk band’s set outside also brought out a big crowd for the local rock’n’roller. Cincinnati’s Vacation won a bunch of new fans with their tense, noisy punk rock, with their singing, eye-rolling drummer getting particular raves for his hard-hitting performance.

New York’s Nude Beach finished things off outside SAW Gallery with some wiry punk rock that sounded like it took a bit from both Tom Petty and Joe Strummer.

Inside, things were taking a turn for the hazy with sets from Corporate
Ghost, Silver Dapple, Dumb Talk, Boyhood and Dream Affair, while fans of heavier sounds could head off to Mavericks and Cafe DeKcuf for another evening split between heavy metal upstairs (Merdarahta, LeKraken, Biipiigwan, Milanku, Alaskan and Asile) and punk rock downstairs (Four-Stroke, Chloroform, Hassler, Nervosas - again, Crusades and Solids). Fans of more off-kilter sounds could head off downtown to Babylon for music from King’s Quest, Phantom Shores, Mackenzie Rhythm Section, WTCHS, Suns of Stone and Motorleague).

The choice was made to head next door to “Canada’s only jail bar” and a cozy spot under the former gallows at Mugshots patio, where Montreal hardcore punk band Attention! gave an appropriately muscular performance. Klagenfurt, Austria’s DeeCracks pinched the prize for longest distance travelled between home and festival, and played a hard and fast set of pop-punk. Milwaukee’s Direct Hit! upped the Ramones-worship quotient further, with a lot of enthusiastic audience grappling and singalongs, while the Jetty Boys wrapped things up on a similar note.

Festival fans who survived Saturday had the option of returning to Club SAW for some afternoon sets on Sunday, with a gamut of bands across the punk, indie and rock gamut, including local Sonic Youth aficianados Roberta Bondar, psychedelic combo Mannequin and Victoria, B.C. freakout kings Babysitter.

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