A couple of friends came by my place on Thursday and within a couple of
beers, we were off to the Playhouse to see Montreal’s most criminally
overlooked punk rock band, Ashtray Heart. Formerly a seedy Parc Avenue
strip joint, the Playhouse now hosts punk/metal shows on an occasional
basis through former Unruled guitarist Michel Cyr. I didn’t know what
to expect from the venue, except evidence of its former strip joint
persona. Add about 50 VLTs (well, a lot anyway), and you’ve got a
pretty good idea of the place.
As we approached the place, I could see Michel hanging outside, having
a smoke. Michel and I, while never actually good friends, are old
acquaintances. We met back in 1981 through Genetic Control’s Rob Huppee when we were in Sec IV. He was one of the few punks on Rob’s street in
Brossard, and going to his place for a visit was a chance to hear all
the bands we had heard of and wanted to hear but couldn’t. After a
quick chat, I went upstairs and was treated to some of the best punk
I’ve heard in a bar in years. The “hits” just kept
coming….Buzzcocks, SLF, Clash, Damned, Ruts, DKs, Viletones…..I
could go on and on.
Unfortunately for Ashtray Heart, our little crowd of 3 people and maybe
8 more were the only audience in the place. Worse still, Playhouse is
an absolutely terrible venue to play in when there’s only a few people.
The layout is a little weird. When you walk in the door, the stage is
to your left, actually right in the center of the bar. But it’s a wide
space, not long, and if you’re in the mood to sit down, your watching
the band from the side. So, for most of their set, Ashtray Heart were
playing in front of a full-length wall mirror about 30-40 feet
from the stage. Near the end of their usual scorching 40 minute set,
they actually started to play facing us. While they’ve been tighter,
they were every bit as intense as they are when they play a full-house
at Barfly. I love this band, and really hope they can get the crowd
they deserve in the near-future. Right now, it’s surely a labour of
Over all, a good night because the beer was cheap and the music great,
but I’m still not sold on the venue. I’ll have to check it out when
there’s more people.