Shameless Friend-Promotion

One of the excellent friends I made in Toronto is Kari Maaren.  A bunch of cool stuff has happened to her recently that I feel compelled to share.  (This is internal compulsion, not from her—she might be appalled/embarrassed that I’m doing this, if she notices.)

First of all, some of my few readers may be familiar with her because she has been writing the West of Bathurst webcomic (linked from my sidebar) for the last seven years or so.  In the midst of recent server troubles which eventually saw me helping her migrate the site hosting, she/the comic got nominated for an award!  Specificially, the Aurora Award, for “Best Graphic Novel – English”.

If you happened to click through on that link to the Aurora nominees, you might have noticed that her name appears a second time!  (Cue dramatic music.)

Yes, she was also nominated for “Best Fan Filk”.  (That’s a kind of music.)  Kari writes and performs geeky songs, and has finally actually recorded some and released some of her stuff on not one but TWO albums!  (Okay, so the first album, Pirate Elves in Space, is a collaboration, but it has 3 of her songs on it.)  Her album Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off even got a mention on SF Signal, a popular science fiction/fantasy/horror blog.

You can listen to her stuff at those Bandcamp links, or find her YouTube channel.  If you enjoy nerdy folk music—or think you might—you should definitely check out Kari’s work.

Anyway, that’s about it for my shameless friend-promotion.  I will endeavour to check in again soon with another movie update—we’ve started the summer season.

Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm: Another Triumph!

Last night, I saw Jonathan Coulton (with Paul and Storm) for the third time.  As expected, it was a great show.

In general, I prefer the music of Coulton to Paul and Storm (though I like both quite a lot), but in the live shows, Paul and Storm are absolutely hilarious in their between-song banter.  Most of the stuff they had played in their previous shows, but that included favourites like “Nun Fight”, “Live”, and “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament” so it was much appreciated.  They also played a couple of songs I hadn’t heard before, and I very much enjoyed “Frogger! The Frogger Musical”.  By the end of the opening act, my jaw was aching from laughing so much.

Coulton took the stage after a short break, and basically played all of my favourite songs of his.  He also did a few I was less familiar with, although “Sunny Blue Day”, which I first heard at his last show in Toronto, is rapidly becoming another favourite.  An excellent set indeed.

About the only thing I’m unsure of  was the venue.  Previous shows were at the Lula Lounge, which didn’t have assigned seating, but had a friendly and comfortable atmosphere, and felt like a more intimate space.  In contrast, the Enwave Theatre was a bit bigger and a proper theatre, with a stage, balconies, and the like, but it felt… stodgier.  The staff enforced no food/drink/photography rules, when a quick search of YouTube will demonstrate that Coulton is not shy about letting fans record his shows.  And while everyone had a good view thanks to how the seating was arranged, the openness of the theatre space made it feel sort of empty.

(However, that may be an issue unique to me.  My seat was on the balcony nearest the stage—great view, but no one in front of or behind us.  So I didn’t get that feeling of being in a crowd at concert.  During the chorus to “Re: Your Brains” when the audience joins in, I wasn’t surrounded by a horde of singing zombies as I was at the Lula Lounge.  But even down below, the crowd seemed tamer than previous year’s shows.)

Anyway, an excellent show all around.  If you ever get the chance to see either Coulton or Paul and Storm, take it.

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….