Valentine’s Day with The Planet Smashers

When February 14th rolled around this year, I found myself tragically on my own, as my wonderful girlfriend had gone back to her studies in Germany.  I did find one bright spot in the evening however — The Planet Smashers, my favourite ska band, were playing a show in Toronto.  (You can check out some of their music here on their website.)

So it was that I found myself heading out to The Opera House — not to be confused with the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts — that evening, venturing into parts of Toronto hitherto unknown to me.  It was easy enough to find, marked as it was by people lined up outside and around the corner down a side street.  I was mildly miffed at this — I was arriving some time after the doors opened, and still there was a line.  In fact, even after I joined the line, it was over twenty minutes before I actually got inside.  That just seems so… inefficient.

At this point, you may have gathered that I am a crotchety old man, and apparently always have been — this is not a new thing since I turned thirty a month ago.  I’ve never been especially happy with these sorts of club shows — too many opening acts that I don’t care about, and the band I actually want to see doesn’t start till late and never plays as long as I’d like.  So I was bracing myself to spend most of the evening in a grumpy mood.  This expectation was further reinforced when I heard there would be two opening acts, not just one.

I was even more disheartened when the first act took the stage, and I saw four guys with guitars (of various kinds) and a drummer.  I am of the mind that four guitars is too many, when they’re the only instruments in a band.  They introduced themselves as The Snips, and, thankfully, were actually all right.  They weren’t all-guitar all the time, and in fact used a trumpet and trombone is some of their more ska-like songs.  In general, they weren’t quite my cup of tea, but unlike many other opening acts I’ve seen at shows and venues like this, they did not fill me with rage.  They played for about 45 minutes, and then ceded the stage to the next act.

The Creepshow (also on Myspace) were on stage next.  I actually quite enjoyed this band, so much so that I bought their CD after.  They stage a good show, play off each other well, and their music was quite catchy.  Also, I have something of a weakness for female vocalists for rock/punk bands.  The audience responded really well to them, throughout their 45 minute set, before they cleared out to set the stage for the main event.

Now, before I get to the Smashers themselves, let me set the stage a bit.  The Opera House is set up in a sort of tiered arrangement.  As you enter from the back, you pass a bar and the merchandise setup, and then step down to a level with a few tables and the soundboard in the middle, and then you can go a couple of steps further and down to the main floor, which takes up maybe half the venue and runs right up to the stage.

For a crotchety old fellow like me, staying in that second level, behind the sound board, was all I was willing to do.  All those (literally) punk kids crowded the main floor, and there was “moshing” or whatever they call it these days.  There were a few stage climbers/divers and crowd surfers throughout the first two acts, but clearly everyone was waiting for the main event.

In anticipation of the Smashers taking the stage, the main floor became even more crowded than before.  This was something of a boon to those of us who were on the middle level, as things eased up around us.

The Planet Smashers took the stage around 11:00 PM, and they were great!  Some bands don’t sound quite so good live as they do on their albums, but the Smashers aren’t one of them.  Right from their first song, the lower level — jam-packed as it was with people — turned into a roiling mass of people: moshing, skanking, crowd surfing, stage diving, bouncing, crashing off each other.  People got hot and sweaty; shirts came off, and not just of the guys.  The venue staff — who had largely been keeping stage divers under control for the opening acts — never quite gave up, but they were definitely losing the battle.

I’m something of a latecomer to The Planet Smashers, so I don’t really know which are their most popular songs, just which ones I like best.  I was quite happy to hear many of my favourites, including “Life of the Party” (which I first heard in an episode of Undergrads), “Missionary’s Downfall”, “Bullets to the Ground”, “I Like Your Girl”, and “Surfin’ in Tofino”.

While happily bopping along as I was, in the second tier, I still had a few crotchety old man moments during their set.  For example, some of the stage divers who got on stage would actually run behind the band as they were playing, and I just thought to myself, “That seems awfully inconsiderate, getting in the way like that.”  See?  Crotchety old man am I.

Anyway, they played a solid hour-long set, or a bit more, and then were lured back out for an encore, where they graced us with three extra songs.  I don’t remember the first of the three, but the second was another of my favourites — and apparently a favourite of everyone else — the delightfully-titled “Super Orgy Porno Party”.  They even called off the stage-minders, and so soon the stage itself was full of skanking fans in an orgy of dance.  They closed the evening out with “Sk8 or die”, leaving us happy and exhausted and still wishing there was more.

I snagged myself a T-shirt, as well as their two CDs I hadn’t been able to find in stores (since they were so cheap), and so I was pretty happy with my haul.  I rode home on the streetcar with a bunch of other concert-goers, many of whom were drunk, or high, or just elated by the concert, but it was one of the more amusing streetcar rides I’ve had as a spectator.

I think I was home before 1:00 AM.  It felt late, even though it was earlier than my normal bedtime, but I’d been on my feet for a while.  Despite all my grumbles here, this was the most enjoyable show at one of these concert halls that I’ve ever been to.  (I’ve always enjoyed the main act, but this was by far the best overall show.)  I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to see The Planet Smashers again, and might even seek out another show by The Creepshow.

Not a bad way to spend a solitary Valentine’s Day, if I do say so myself….

Thoughts on Coraline

I’ve seen Henry Selick’s stop-motion-animated Coraline twice now, once in a regular showing, and once in 3D.  (The fact that I went to see it twice should, perhaps, be considered an early indicator that I liked the movie.)

Selick is the little-known director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is usually solely attributed to Tim Burton.  This movie is based on the children’s novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman — an author whose own fame seems to burn brighter every year, as more of his work (Stardust, Beowulf) makes it to the big screen and his books sell like gangbusters and win awards.  Despite Gaiman’s pedigree — and the well-regarded source — it becomes clear within a couple of minutes that this movie is really Selick’s masterpiece.

Coraline features, bar none, the best stop-motion animation I’ve ever seen.  It’s clean, and fluid, and weird, and beautiful, and they do shots that I wouldn’t believe could be done with stop-motion.  (Some of the techniques behind this are shown at the end of the closing credits.)  Selick’s adaptation of Gaiman’s novel is also very well-done, pulling together a lovely story that develops Coraline’s character quite nicely.

The basic premise is that the titular character, one Coraline Jones, finds herself moved to a new town, with parents who are too busy to spend any time with her.  She resigns herself to a boring, dreary life until one day she finds a small door hidden behind the wallpaper in their apartment.  And while that door opens into a world of wonder and excitement, everything is not as it seems.

As I said before, the animation is far better than any other stop-motion outing I’ve seen, and the art direction is just spectacular, with sets that colourful and fantastic in every sense of the word.  The 3D version of this movie has also been heavily praised, but for my part, I didn’t really find much difference between them.  I didn’t feel nauseous or dizzy or get a headache, which is an improvement over other 3D films I’ve seen, and I mostly found the use of 3D to be subtle and unobtrusive.  Perhaps that’s the point, however.

I really enjoyed Coraline, and can’t recommend it enough to fans of animation or good movies in general.  It’s a delightful, mildly creepy fantasy journey that, overall, works really, really well.

An Evening With Kevin Smith

No, no, not the DVD, the reality.  On Friday, 07 February 2009, I had the good fortune of seeing Kevin Smith live doing his now-famous Q&A sessions at the first of two sold-out shows at the Roy Thomson Hall here in Toronto.  I am happy to report that the pricey tickets were well worth the expense, for Smith provided three solid hours of uproarious and profanity-laced entertainment, and my face was hurting from laughing so much by the time we left.

Smith was introduced by Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (among other things), who was in Toronto working on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  Wright was entertaining in his own right (oooh, that’s a bad sentence), but Smith quickly stole the show once he came on stage.

Smith started with a monologue, rather scattered, but quite hilarious, especially the bathroom story he trotted out to illustrate why he needed to lose some weight.  (It involved a poker game, a massive crap, a wall-hung toilet in a rather less-than-sturdy wall, and the fact that he’s a front-wiper.)

Ultimately, he moved on to why he loves Canada and his most recent Canadian obsession, in the form of Hockey: A People’s History, and — more specifically — Wayne Gretzky.  (Actually, he was rather enamoured of The Great One’s father, too — who my mother met, and inexplicably got me an autograph from.)

Actually, all of the Canadian content may have come out once the actual Q&A session started, as he tended to take quite a while and go on a stream of consciousness-style journey in response to each question.  In the 2.5 hours he actually spent doing questions, he only really got through about 10 or 12, as each question would start him on a long and meandering — but hilarious — spiel, often only tangentially related to the actual question.

One of the early questions congratulated Jason Mewes on his recent marriage, and so Smith brough him out on stage then, too.  Needless to say, this was rather well-received by the audience.  Much of their hilarious interplay was based around Smith’s recent infatuation with using weed, whereas Mewes had cleaned himself up in recent years.

The show ranged all over the place, with Smith and Mewes having iPhone lightsaber duels, inviting the audience in the seats behind the stage to come and sit on the stage (only a actually made it past the staff), bringing out their wives (Jennifer Schwalbach and Jordan Monsanto), Mewes taking over while Smith went to “adjust his pants”, Smith’s views on parenting, and more.

Unfortunately, they were kept to a strict timeline (apparently due to the cost of using Roy Thomson Hall as a venue), and so the show ended what felt like far too soon, but everyone left quite satisfied.  (Well, except possible those people who were at the front of their respective question lines, but never got their questions answered.)  The show was well worth the price of the tickets — if you like Smith’s movies, and don’t mind a continual stream of profanity and dick and fart jokes, you won’t be disappointed in his live show.