The knight time is the right time.

I guess the big question is, how was Medieval Times?

I almost wish it was terrible so I could’ve called it a knightmare, but that would’ve been a massive disservice to an absurdly fun and wholesome experience. My usual M.O. is to pump the gas on cynicism, but I figured with something like Medieval Times there was no point. I was actively looking to have a great time at nobody’s expense. I headed there with such an expectation of excitement that if it’d somehow literally rained on us in the venue, our parade would continue unabated.

Speaking of expectations, let’s lay out what I expected.

I thought there’d maybe be 50-100 people sort of thing. A couple of knights doing choreographed battles and there’d be some kind of goofy storyline. Maybe some flagons of ale, a couple of chicken wings/drumsticks and some dinky little merch. This probably would’ve been enough to leave me pretty stoked.

I vastly underestimated the scale.

My girlfriend and I had taken the chance to dress up. She had a flowing purple skirt and a corset/bustier type thing. I had some stage squire costume I’d bought from a theatre store (because why wouldn’t you need that lying around?). We walked into the entrance hall and were assigned a table/colour. Our knight was the blue knight and we received blue cardboard crowns. We took a photo with the falconer (!) and walked into a large hall. Holy sensory overload, Batman. People everywhere. Hundreds of them. There was a deis with a throne where some form of lord was making announcements and bringing up people for paid photo ops. There was a large bar in the centre of the room and several smaller alcohol kiosks spread throughout the room. Wall to wall merch, whether kid’s toys, cups and jugs, replica swords, those creepy fairy/dragon/crystal ball statues. There were horse stables and a holding area for the falcons. It was all bright, colourful and fancy lookin’. I’m sure there’s a minimum number of beers one has to drink before walking home with a huge replica Game of Thrones sword. We’d gotten a little buzz on beforehand, but it wasn’t the purchasing a 1.5m letter opener level of buzz. The VIP customers with lanyards around their necks got to be seated first and the rest of us peasants followed behind once we were invited.

The arena was like a casino. Tiered seating organised by bright fluorescent colourful lights. We were led to our section, right at the back, with a view straight toward the king’s throne. Once everyone was seated (they packed everyone in pretty damn efficiently), the show began. Some waffly preamble about the mystical link between horse and rider. The writing could’ve used some punch up, but there was a FUCKING HORSE DANCING. I’ll let it slide. They did a bunch of tricks (as waiters began serving tomato bisque and drinks) and left the arena. Then we were introduced to our champions: The knights.

One piece of advice I’d been given going in was to raise hell for our team and shit all over our opponents. There were two factions, with three colours in each. The Western team: Red, Black/White and Yellow, vs the Eastern team: Green, Yellow/Red and Blue. Children were everywhere, so I couldn’t be as abusive as I’d intended. In short, I needed to be creative with my insults. The blue knight had our undying love and affection and we whooped for him as loudly as possible. At one point I swear he tried to throw me a rose, but it landed in the row before me. We let the little girl who caught it think it was meant for her, but really I knew I was the prettiest lord in all the land.

The knights played a bunch of games in order to get more roses. Spearing hanging rings on their lances, trying not to drop staves hurled between riders, relay races. The better they did on their rounds, the more roses they had to throw to the crowd. At some stage a falcon flew all around the arena, it was awesome. Servers dropped off half a chicken, some corn, garlic bread and potatoes. We got to eat them all with our bare hands. Then came the duels. The choreography, though obviously staged, was great. Literal sparks flew when swords clashed. A variety of weapons surfaced, from swords and axes to halberds and flails. There was jousting and acrobatics, and we got to yell shit at people dressed in armour. What’s not to love?

Turns out our blue knight was kind of chumply, but we loved him all the same. The green knight (the one I’d hoped to be rallied behind) was a certifiable badass and emerged victorious, defeating the invading barbarian and everything. The plot was flimsy, but a shitton of fun to play along with. Little kids were having the time of their lives, swinging around coloured flags and flashing light up wands. The food was tasty and abundant. All the staff played into their roles, ren faire style. The rare moments not spent in utter bliss had me wishing I’d gotten a job at Medieval Times when I first came to the city. How cool would that be? I could’ve maybe been a squire, learning how to ride a horse, swinging weapons around, that kind of thing. Instead I taught children gymnastics. If I could turn back time…

Well, if I could turn back time, maybe I would’ve just gone back to actual medieval times. Failing that, shelling out $40 to watch other people do it was pretty damn sweet.

If I was a contender, I’d go by the name MeLeeon.

When I was around seven or eight years old, I thought medieval stuff was the coolest. I still loved super heroes and transformers, dinosaurs were right up there, but medieval anything was a newfound obsession. It started exactly where you’d expect: Reading King Arthur. Here was a person who came to rule through exceptional circumstance. He started with nothing and ended up a king. If that wasn’t enough, he surrounded himself with a bunch of badass knights who all had their unique skills and attributes. To an eight year old, Arthur was pretty rad, but Lancelot was where it was at. The greatest swordsman in the land, but not an infallible hero. Even at that age I was drawn to characters with flaws, anti-heroes or those whose moral compass veered slightly off due north. I thought the whole affair with Guinevere thing was a bit shit, but created an interesting conflict. Then along came Galahad, who seemed too righteous to be any fun.

Finishing the book caused me to dive deep into fantasy novels. Courageous heroes wielding swords, shields and axes. Grizzly monsters and fire-breathing dragons. Magic and back-stabbery galore. I fucking ate it up. I fell hard for Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series and its diverse skillsets of magika and mental abilities. I loved Diablo and Warcraft, tried Dungeons and Dragons. I devoured Song of Ice and Fire, which went on to become the biggest fucking thing in the world. To this day I still play Magic the Gathering heavily. As it stands though, there’s still one thing I have yet to do to really harness my love of fantasy. In three hours, there won’t be.

I’ve never visited Medieval Times.

I first saw it on the 1996 Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy. It looked amazing, but also didn’t seem real. I was convinced that it was just invented for the film. Keep in mind that this was pre-internet and I lived across the other side of the world where it certainly didn’t exist. A friend and I took a trip to Chicago once and found out they had one. Without a car though, it would’ve been way too far out of the way. Disappointed. We then did a road trip across America, but still didn’t come close enough to one. Then I moved to Toronto and discovered that not only was there a Medieval Times, but they did birthday discounts. HOLY SHIT.

Three years have passed since then and I still have yet to go. Tonight however, tonight is the knight. I get a 45% discount through work, which makes it pretty damn reasonable for a night out. I’m pumped. It’s not logical how stoked I am right now. Friends are coming over, we’re gonna have drinks then go out to see the fantasy world of my childhood come to life. You know those moments where you’re reduced to that state of youthful wonder? I feel like that already and I’m not even dressed yet. Thing is, I don’t even know what I’m in for. It sounds dumb, but I’m not actually sure what the show contains. I assume jousting and sword fights. People have said you get a crown. I know that one of my co-workers used to play the executioner as a part time job back in college. We’re gonna get a big meal and drink beer. I may go hoarse from cheering on our very own Lancelot. I’ll likely be amped up from a little pre-drink before we go.

Goddamn I’m excited and the more I talk about it, the more excited I’m getting. Is this how normal people feel about watching sports? Why don’t we go out to watch athletes joust and melee any more?

Who cares? I WILL TONIGHT!

Is today the day I’ll finally get to see Greene Daeye perform? They’re somewhere out there.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, if that’s a thing that makes you happy. It’s been years since I went out to celebrate. I used to love it back in university, but most of my post uni celebrations have fizzled. I’ve got no connection to any Irish heritage. I like the colour green and enjoy celebrating things, but that’s about it. St Paddy’s in my head has kind of become synonymous with a certain brand of douchedom, long lines, aggressive loudness and bizarre acculturation. U2, The Cranberries and oddly enough in some cases, The Proclaimers, on repeat all day. Conversely, I enjoy an excuse for a few pints of Guinness and rarely make them outside of the holiday. I’m sure it’d be painful after having had legit delicious Guinness in Belfast (people telling you it’s better closer to the source are 100% correct), but sometimes it’s nice to have your beer more closely resemble a thickshake.

I’m going out with co-workers today. Our team at the moment is actually a pretty decent group. They’re outgoing and friendly and there’s some value in spending together outside work hours for a more cohesive work atmosphere. It happens that a day where drinking is celebrated is a good way to get them enthused with the idea. Given my team, douchedom should be thankfully absent and it could be a fun outing.

Back in my early 20s, I felt like drinking was a part of my identity. That’s a terrifying concept to me now, but I was a lot younger back then. If not only physically, then definitely emotionally. It’s a thing that I do, but by no means does that consumption define me now. Gross. At that age, it represented a kind of community. Fellow BCS students would come out together and get to know one another. The openness it encouraged helped solidify friendships. It was an essential part of my time as a student (no doubt buoyed by New Zealand’s rampant binge drinking culture. Definitely not something to celebrate).

I can remember the first time I went out for St Paddy’s being a nigh magical experience. A couple of us had finished lectures by 11am, so we went out for a jug. Everyone we met was uncommonly friendly, so we got another. Then strangers told us about a couple of other bars that were hosting festivities, so we went along. The Fiddler had Irish tunes going strong and a bunch of middle aged folks getting ripped. It was a blast. Then out of nowhere, a little person dressed as a leprechaun descended on a platform from the floor above. It was a major WTF moment for us that seemed to be taking advantage of this dude. We chatted with him afterwards, said he loved it. That the owner was a nice dude and he was getting paid pretty handsomely for the gig. He was training to be a vet, so any extra cash was well appreciated. He was working the whole night, so he couldn’t come out with us, but we picked up other strangers to join our motley crew.

It was crazy, processions of people roaming the streets dressed in green. It may have been the boozy haze glossing over things, but I remember everyone being in great spirits. Friendly randoms giving out free drinks (SO welcome to our poor student budgets) and smiling faces wherever we went. It felt like people made time and space to get to know us (for the night at least, I’m sure the next morning would’ve felt like Memento). Good natured partying all around.

I think every year since then has failed to live up to that first time, which is why I laid the idea to rest a couple of years back. It seemed unnecessary, gratuitous. Who knows though? Maybe it’s a matter of attitude, choosing the right things to celebrate. If we can sidestep the less desirable acculturation elements, could we have a good time just celebrating camaraderie?

Well folk me.

I’m sure the audience left Wilco’s incredible Massey Hall set with very few questions. Screw that, I’ve got one. Just how many guitars does this band have? After every song- hell, sometimes in the middle of one- stage hands would rush out with an electric, electro-acoustic or steel guitar for a quick change-over. A constant procession of guitartillery. I’d question why they needed that many if they didn’t prove their skill so thoroughly. An expertly concerted effort to put together an undeniably amazing concert.

Easy as it would’ve been to coast on their legacy, musicianship stood at the forefront of their performance. Opener “Normal American Kids” began softly with a solo performance from lead singer Jeff Tweedy, eyes cast in shadow beneath the brim of his hat. The band gradually took the stage one by one, adding more depth to the track. If the first few songs sought to lull the audience into a gentle reverie, it wasn’t for long. “Muzzle of Bees” awoke a fury in lead guitarist Nels Cline, unleashing a blistering solo that brought the crowd to its feet cheering. If anything, it was a mere precursor to a whole new level.

“Art of Almost”, lead single from 2011’s The Whole Love, was an experience. Bright lights flooding the stage in time with thunderous drum beats, an array of discordant colours swirling as the track built. A stage hand hurriedly scurried onstage with a guitar in hand for Cline. Then things got wild: Four guitars shredding simultaneously, solos coming from every direction. Drummer Glenn Kotch frenzied, arms all-a-blur. The crowd howling, baying for more. After seven minutes of magic, the band finally relented, to almost deafening ovation. A moment fit for a conclusion, all of six songs in.

The band would go on to deliver a performance of over two hours, with a setlist stretching as far back as their 1995 debut album A.M. As a casual fan, I found myself utterly enthralled. I can only imagine the bliss of a hardcore devotee.

As always, Massey Hall was an outstanding venue, with unbeatable sound and lighting. For a band with such dynamic range, they couldn’t have chosen better. The stage was beautifully set. Framed by a copse of pigmentally painted trees, they’d be lit in summery tones one minute, before fading to autumnal browns. The effect was captivating, words doing the sight little justice.

When a band is still touring in some capacity twenty years after their conception, it’s usually a matter of love or money. Wilco proved beyond a doubt that there’s a passion still driving the band on the road. Even if it’s just to play with a ludicrous number of guitars.

It’s Magic how time vanishes like that.

It sure is great that I’ve got some downtime for the next couple of weeks, because I’m about to have no time for the next year. I just rediscovered an old Magic the Gathering video game that’s been modded and upgraded. The 1997 game affectionately known as Shandalar, stands as the best Magic game to date. Not only because of its spectacular graphics, but because it’s a genuinely amazing game. I’m not being sarcastic, not even close. I have no idea how many hours I’ve sunk into this game over the years, but it’s in the hundreds. Probably not quite a thousand. Maybe.

Wizards have made efforts to replicate its splendour over the years, and while I’m sure they’ve been exponentially more fiscally successful, they don’t hold up to the quality of gameplay. Magic Battlemage and Battlegrounds were bizarre arcade style mash ups that never quite got there. Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers and Magic Duels were newer shells with better graphics, but no real form of storyline or progression. Magic Online seems to be the flagship product where you pump money in for digital cards. I surprisingly have never played it, but I hear nothing but complaints online. I’m sure it’s fine, but it’s just the game without added aspects. It doesn’t shine as a standalone narrative like Shandalar does.

So why is Shandalar excellent? Because it feels like an adventure. A lot of the game is played in an isometric world map view. You’re a mage aiming to free the land from oppressive rulers from each colour of magic. They all have a series of minions, from grunts to lieutenants, all with successively more powerful decks. You roam the world, doing missions for small towns. Along the way you’re challenged by these minions, some of whom have surprisingly powerful decks. They all play for ante, meaning winning or losing a match could mean you forfeit or gain powerful cards. You start with a pile of junk cards that eventually you can build up to impressive decks. You also begin with a hideously low life total that grows over time. That’s one of the defining aspects of the game, progress and growth. Sometimes you’ll narrowly win a match and win a card that makes your deck hum. It’s rewarding and feels like you’ve worked towards something.

There are also untold treasures to find. The kinds of cards you’d never be able to own in real life (unless you felt like sinking thousands into your collection. Black Lotus, all the Moxen, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, etc. They’re found in hidden dungeons across the map. There’s a hell of an allure to use and abuse these combinations, cobbling together what you can and working towards becoming a dominant force. Get the Power Nine, free the land, ????, profit.

With all the upgrades, the game has only gotten better. There are so many bloody cards and finding the ones you want got even more difficult. It’s challenging, especially because the AI seems to have been given a major bump. Your opponents’ decks are far more powerful than they ever were, with clever interactions and themes. When you start with ten life and your opponent has a 2/3, a 3/3 and a 4/4 by turn four, it’s not an easy run. The more you play though, the more likely you are to be able to do degenerate things right back. A little dungeon crawling and BAM! You’ve put together a brutal suicide black deck complete with powerful modern creatures. Or some insane pile like this. So fucking great.

I don’t know if I’ve sold it well enough, but if you’re into Magic and losing the next couple of weeks of your life, be my guest.

I bare no military rank though. Neither do I have a deep fried empire.

Last night I experienced a unique sensation. The skin on my nose, cheeks and temples felt chaffed and raw. Weird, certainly. There was an element of exhilaration too. Why? Had my skin began to peel off like some Mission Impossible reveal? Did I accidentally stand too close to the flame of a hot air balloon? A disagreement with a belt sander? An anti-ageing exfoliate gone wrong?

Surprisingly not. I saw Japandroids live in concert.

Japandroids have been one of my bucket list bands for some time. I guess on a technicality I saw them already, but it was a short (albeit blistering) set at the sunny (also blistering) 2013 Laneways concert back in Auckland. Derailed by technical difficulties, it was a bit of a shitshow. They may be a two piece who can output a Capital Fuckton of noise, but they were hardpressed to do so with their sound continually cutting out. I took a mulligan on that and decided I still hadn’t really experienced the band in all its glory. So when tickets came up for their Danforth Music Hall gig came up, I pounced on ’em (still only managing one of the last few balcony seats).

One of the first times in ages I’d been at a gig without a dorky reviewer’s notebook, I was keen to get sweaty in the mosh pit. Being saddled with a balcony seat, I was a little bummed. I arrived ten minutes before they were to go on and took my chances with a security guard. He asked about my accent and jokingly asked whether I’d come all the way to see them. He let me through on the condition that I didn’t cause any trouble. “Scout’s honour!” I replied jauntily. I strolled into the hall, through the crowds, directly to the front. Canadian audiences being what they were, I didn’t even need to push. I flashed back to meeting a Canadian gal at a gig circa 2007. She’d mentioned how Canadian audiences had this unspoken rule to be excellent to everyone around them, like Bill & Ted. She said people didn’t intentionally push and there was an effort to make room if possible. Being idealistic, my eyes lit up and I stored the notion straight in my heart. As I weaved through the crowd without pushing at all, I smiled through time at her astute observation.

They kicked off with “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”, a single I’m as unenthused about as I am of the identically named album. Look, it’s fine. It’s rock music, but lacking Japandroids’ usual grit and bite. The album feels too clean. Fewer grunty howls in favour of doo-wop choruses. The lyrics sound trite and bordering on cliché. It’s not terrible by any means, but aggressively mediocre from a band who’re usually awesomely aggressive. Still, live it was a ton of fun. I’ve long found it difficult to truly feel the same way about mediocre tracks when they’re played live. Being in the presence of such raw energy breaks down those barriers nicely. Of course, they won’t be transcendent like those songs you fucking love, but they’re not awful, is all I’m saying. Even in these new tracks, I had a blast. 360 degrees of people singing, we were all being whipped around in a sweaty frenzy of joy. Whenever riffs from Celebration Rock or Post Nothing launched, I lost my shit. So, continually. The band were giving their all and having a riot of a time. The crowd repeatedly climbed onstage to crowd surf and the band didn’t make a move to stop them. Being front and centre, by the end of the concert my shoulders ached from all the overhead lifting.

In times of low energy, it’s always amazing how invigorating live music can be. I’ve been so disinterested in going out lately, but after finally seeing Japandroids do a solid set, I’m all too keen to get out and see as much as I can.

Oh, and the raw face thing? I’d sweat so much and so often that wiping it off was rubbing against the skin underneath. So in effect I’d become my own sander.