“You ready to rock?” Propagandhi bassist Todd Kowalski asked the throbbing crowd at the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday. Deafening cheers, raised fists, and flying beer cans declared a resounding yes, and if that wasn’t evidence enough of the anticipation for the legendary Winnipeg punk band, the turn out said it all — the first of two sold-out shows at the Eastside venue had both the floor and balcony completely packed, with concertgoers overflowing into the aisles and pressed up against the doors.
Friday night was, in fact, Propagandhi’s first show of their 30th anniversary tour — according to Kowalski, the band officially formed on the same date in 1986. The group’s longevity in the Canadian punk scene has not only been attributed to their heavy sound and deft style, but their sharp political awareness and numerous contributions to charities have also established their legacy as a greatly respected one.
Like the mosh pit that continually swarmed at the front of the stage, Propagandhi’s energy never wavered. Songs like “Rock It For Sustainable Capitalism” showcased frontman Chris Hannah’s commanding vocals, Kowalski’s brawny bass, and drummer Jord Samolesky’s relentless skin pounding. New addition to the lineup, guitarist Sulynn Hago, equally impressed, fitting right into the band’s dynamic as she delivered power chords, contributed vocals on “Fuck The Border,” and traded shreds with Hannah on the new cut, “Laughing Stock.”
Kowalski, who donned a pair of basketball shorts, encouraged the crowd’s vigour even further with enthusiastic fist pumps and manic energy, and was just as much fun to watch as he was skillful. His own vocals, slightly huskier than Hannah’s, were front and centre as he took the lead on “Cognitive Suicide.”
The band explored the length of their catalogue and the evolution of their sound, from the tight thrash on 2012’s Failed States to 1996’s scrappier “Apparently, I’m A P.C. Fascist” and “Less Talk, More Rock.” Songs were introduced through witty banter (a birthday shout-out to Don Cherry, for example, opened “Dear Coaches Corner”) and as either “sad songs” or “party songs.” “Back To The Motor League” definitely fell into the category of the latter, as the mosh pit went wild with arms thrust in the air. Declared sad song “Without Love,” despite its hard-hitting percussion and raw guitar, maintained its melancholic intention through Hannah’s emotive shout.
The home stretch of Propagandhi’s set celebrated Canadian punk with a couple of special guests. “This is one of the guys who first got me into punk rock,” Hannah said as he welcomed Mr. Chi Pig, another prairie punk legend, onstage. Glittering gold in leggings and a sparkly top, Pig took the mic to screech out verses from Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up.” Cheers then erupted from the crowd when Vancouver’s the Rebel Spell joined Propagandhi for a jam, after which Hannah paid respects to the Rebel Spell’s late lead singer, Todd Jenkins.
It’s not difficult to understand why Propagandhi is such a highly esteemed band. The energy of their live performance alone could easily rival bands half their age and sonically they are both dynamic and compelling. However, it is the heart behind it all — the socially-charged intention, its honest delivery, and a genuine rapport with the audience — that sets Propagandhi apart. And it was worn right on their sleeves on Friday night.