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.

Less a knowing nod and more a knowing wave.

As part of our Jewish Christmas yesterday, we saw Disney’s Moana. Fantastically done, it was a classic hero’s journey story with a Polynesian backdrop. Coupled with Zootopia from earlier in the year, it’s a solid sign that Disney’s really buckled down and focusing on the quality of their output. There’s been a recent push (likely from armchair internet commentators) towards diversity and three dimensional characters. From this standpoint, Moana excels. Of course it’s a film for a broad audience and it’s casting a wide net of pan-Pacific cultural influence, so it’s not gonna get everything right. I really can’t speak for the personally affected cultures, but as someone who grew up on the Maui legends of Maori origin, seeing that onscreen held a deep resonance for me.

The story of Maui, as far as I understand it, varies between Polynesian cultures. The Maui I was raised with was a cunning trickster and shapeshifter as depicted in the film. In lieu of a magic fish hook, he was armed with his grandmother’s magical jawbone. I remember fondly the tales of Maui calling together his friends to slow down the sun or fishing up the North Island. I guess they left out the part where he, in a quest to make mankind immortal shapeshifted into a worm and crawled up the sleeping goddess of death’s vagina. A hero being crushed by vagina dentata wouldn’t really belong in the Disney Vault.

Seeing Maui perform a brief haka before charging into battle and Moana embracing a character with a Hongi gave me chills. Having the ocean personified as such a central character was great and, much like Life of Pi, its unforgiving and beautiful nature shone through. The songs were catchy, with some slick writing from Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Moana’s literal/emotional journey were inspiring and her relationship with her grandmother was one of the film’s cornerstones. It was also nice to see some knowing winks at Disney clichés. The lack of a romantic subplot was an awesome touch in an industry where it’s so often shoehorned in. Romance is great when it fits, but not all stories have to be all things.

On a technical side, the film looked fantastic. Hair has always been such a benchmark of animation quality and they’ve nailed it here. I remember thinking back when Final Fantasy VIII was released that things couldn’t get better. The years have happily conspired to prove me wrong. The ocean being such a central character, is gorgeously rendered in a brilliant blue. The colour palette is lush and visually eye-catching, screens filled with background details. There’s a well cultivated sense of physics (even in a film about gods and demigods) that really comes to life in the action scenes. The film is simply a joy to watch.

Your viewing might be different than mine, but for me it felt very close to home. A home that’s only five days away! See you soon NZ.

Does anyone ever create future fiction where new technologies don’t make love look bleak?

This post is gonna be a ringing endorsement. It happens sometimes that you come across an experience so enveloping and stirring that it feels a disservice not to push others towards it. If it’s moved you so much, why not let anyone in earshot hear? I rarely regret gushing about the things that ignite my passions and as such, I better fucking get on with it, shouldn’t I?

My girlfriend and I today visited Outside The March’s production of Tomorrow Love.

An immersive theatre experience with randomised elements, merely hearing the concept was enough to immediately check it out. Set in a former funeral home, soon to be demolished to make way for apartments, Tomorrow Love is a series of two person scenes, 14 in all. Given its scheduled demolition, Outside The March were given free reign to redecorate/furnish as they saw fit. The walls were repainted, new lighting fixtures installed and rooms structured as the theatre company desired. In the main hall, lights hang above the audience, each with a removable trinket attached. All blue and minimalist, the trinkets are mysterious, giving no real clue to the scenes they symbolise. A scarf, briefcase or mask don’t immediately jump out thematically, but make sense as the pieces play out. I saw the book, the bowl, the spaceship and the lily. The play approaches the entanglement of hypothetical future technologies and relationships, drawing fascinating dark implications. The Facebook event was only too quick to name check Black Mirror, for obvious reasons.

Eight actors round out the cast. Each actor learns each part in each scene, all of which are devoid of specific genders. The opening scene has characters pairing up, flowing back and forward from one another in a manner that evokes a sense of musical chairs. The audience decides at which point the action should be stopped, which locks the actors in with their partner for their first scene. Already segmented into four due to seating, the audience is then instructed to follow a pair to watch the scene play out. They’re led along a variety of stairs and hallways into assorted rooms where each piece is set. It’s borderline eerie to be watching the actors interact and wondering did they embalm bodies in here? After watching a scene, the two actors give the audience the decision of whom they’d like to follow to the next scene, during which they’re paired with another actor. The flow to and from scenes really adds to the experience. There’s mystery around each corner, not knowing where you’ll end up or what you’re about to see. It’s also exciting to be walking around a building for the first time, knowing it’s been entirely repurposed. To pad for time, I’m sure, there were occasionally interstitial experiences between scenes. As a group of five, we were at one point led into a small closet as our guide brought us into a fun little experience. Sorry for keeping this vague as hell, I’m trying to use wide brush strokes so as not to spoil anything.

The scenes themselves were fantastically written, exploring the nuances of imaginary technologies and their impact on a personal level. Elements of humour interspersed with some concepts so deeply stirring they drove me to uncontrollable racking sobs. The acting was superb, especially considering that the actors had to learn all parts, adding their own flavours. It was exciting to decide who to follow, how they resonated with you, whether you’d see someone from an earlier scene or not. In the 90 minutes you have time to see four different 15 minute scenes (plus travel time, etc) and it goes by all too quickly. I’d love so much to return another few times, to see as many scenes as I could, what each trinket symbolised and how actors would adapt. I can’t help but hope that if you’re in Toronto and interested at all in theatre, you’d give it a chance.

You could even see it tomorrow, love.

Finally fulfilled my bucket list dream of writing that dumb (née) thing in a published work.

The usual story. After the review is published on the mothership, I’ll change the entry to a link.

If the recently renamed and renovated REBEL (née Sound Academy) wanted an effective litmus test, it’d be hard to find a better candidate than M83. The French electronic band isn’t known for half measures, with a sound that’s cinematic in scope and a zealous stage presence drowned in light. Sound Academy was always a much maligned venue, distant and cramped with lacklustre sound, whereas M83’s live shows are often spoke of in reverent tones. The outcome was anyone’s guess.

M83 bolted straight out of the gate with 2012’s “Reunion” and the crowd collectively lost its shit. An anthemic audience favourite, its scale was matched perfectly by the floodlights illuminating the room. Mounted beams of light were scattered throughout the stage, pulsing and rotating as the band let rip. Showmanship was in abundance, whether it was lead singer Anthony Gonzalez emphatically posing as massive beats hit, or multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor bounding around the stage, leaping from the drummer’s platform. Joe Berry earned an ovation every time he strutted out for a saxophone solo, while new addition Kaela Sinclair stepped away from her keys and showcased her stunning vocal range in “Oblivion”.

The setlist ranged across their discography, which raised a question of its own. Junk, M83’s most recent album, is a significant stylistic departure from their others. How they were gonna meld the laden, atmospheric shoegaze tracks with their new irreverent French electropop vibe? In all honesty, it wasn’t seamless, but it was altogether too much fun to care. If the tone wasn’t obvious enough, the visual distinction was marked. The headier songs were bathed in cohesively coloured solemn lighting. The newer tracks eschewed balance for flashy, saturated tints, with a general sense of ‘fuck it, just dance’. The addition of vocalist Mai Lan cavorting about the stage brought a renewed playful ambience. Hell, she kicked above her head at least once.

So that’s M83, how did REBEL do? For the most part, pretty damn well. The stage is expansive, showcased by sublime mid-set surprise “Sitting” from the M83’s self-titled debut. Purely instrumental, the song saw the band working the stage while Lawlor danced about, bashing away at a toy drum. The venue is no longer a sardined sweatbox, with at least breathing room in lieu of the old to shoulder-to-shoulder space. The sound is… better than it was. The peaks and troughs were all clear, but while M83 were giving it all they had, the presence of the sound was slightly lacking. You could hear it, but not 100% feel it. The lights, on the other hand, were where they brought their A-Game. Top to bottom splendour. Altogether, the renovations were much better than the cringeworthy name REBEL suggested.

M83 on the other hand were a spectacle to watch. Their joy in performance was effortlessly evident and lifted the crowd with it. The band bowed for a curtain call before walking off, glistening with sweat, waving and smiling. I can’t be the only one counting down the days till they return. But, y’know (maybe at some other venue?)…

I haven’t just been sitting on my arse for the past two weeks. I’ve been doing this, too.

For ten days in venues all across Toronto, JFL42 provided festival-goers with an all-you-can-eat array of comedy. In its fifth year, the festival expanded its roster of stand up, sketches, live podcast recordings and improv to include exclusive close-up Q&As with industry veterans. With more laughs on offer than it was possible to obtain (believe me, I tried), here are the Best Bits of JFL42 2016:

  1. Best Punchline – Mark Forward: “I miss my dad every day, but one day I’m gonna hit him.”
  2. Best Exit Clause – Dana Gould: “Til death do us part is god’s way of saying I can get you out of this, but it’s a little extreme.
  3. Best Response to Discovering Masturbation – Kumail Nanjiani on his cousin: “His lips moved but no sound came out. Then he picked up a bb gun and shot a crow.”
  4. Best Mourning Routine – Gary Gulman: “I don’t know when waking up and getting up became two separate negotiations.”
  5. Best Anti-Misogyny Check and Mate – Cameron Esposito: “It’s not weird to consider that women could save you. We made you. All of you.”
  6. Best Toronto Man Cave – Amanda Brooke Perrin: “I love Castle Frank station because it sounds like your dad’s renovated basement.”
  7. Best Defensive Remark – Neal Brennan: “My girlfriend’s dad asked me if I owned a gun. A gun? I don’t even own an umbrella. I couldn’t protect your daughter from a drizzle.
  8. Best Justification for an Ikea Trip – Danny Bhoy: “I hate church pews. 8 inches for your back, 2 inches for your arse. Who do they think is coming? Giraffes?”
  9. Best Layoff-er – Ronny Chieng: “Air lines keep cutting costs by cutting frills. People fly with risky airlines if the cost is low enough. They’re just seeing how low the cost can get before you no longer care about the possibility of dying.”
  10. Best Douche-dar – Hasan Minhaj: “I don’t want to talk about politics is the new I’m not racist, but…
  11. Best Resume Key Skill – Joe DeRosa: “What do all serial killers have in common? Success! They’re all really good at what they do.”
  12. Best Display of Dominance – Sabrina Jalees: “You’re gay? I thought you were sporty. What do you say to that? Do you just do a back handspring into a pussy?”
  13. Best New Quiz Show – Mark Little tested the crowd: “Is this a Justin Bieber lyric? Or something a demon says to a small boy he wants to consume?”
  14. Best Endorsement of Canadian Audiences – Dan Harmon: “Is the Adderall flowing freely here? Is that how you have so much energy? You socialise medicine and everyone has ADD.”
  15. Best Beauty Tip – DeAnne Smith: “If you want to look as young as I do, it’s very simple. Have unresolved childhood issues.”
  16. Best Call for Gender Equality – Jak Knight: “No matter who does it, Titty Fucking looks dumb as shit. And there’s no male analogue. No woman has ever been like Boy, get on your knees and shrug your shoulders repeatedly.
  17. Best Logical Phallus-sy – Sophie Buddle: “I ask him why he likes it when I’m choking during a blowjob. He says it makes him feel like it’s big. You know when a box says choking hazard? It’s not ‘cause the pieces are big. People choke on grapes, not eggplants.
  18. Best Silver Lining – Tim Meadows: “The bad economy was really good for Detroit, ‘cause people couldn’t buy guns and ammo.”
  19. Best Navel Gaza-ing – Neal Brennan: “The irony of the word Palestine is how much it sounds like a Jewish last name.”
  20. Best Sails Pitch – Demitri Martin: “Cruises seem like a difficult thing to market. Do you like hotels? What if they could sink?
  21. Best Living Well – Emo Phillips: “I hate being divorced. I’d rather be a widower.”
  22. Best Use of Braille – Moshe Kasher: “Abs don’t actually do anything useful. They just let blind women know which douchebags not to fuck.”
  23. Best 2 for 1 Groupon – Christophe Davidson: “A bed and breakfast is a good place to see the breakdown in a relationship and a small business at the same time.”
  24. Best Family Reunion – Before Kumail Nanjiani told a story, he asked the crowd if anyone there was related to him.
    “Yeah” said a voice. “Your cousin Nather, from Dallas.”
    Kumail got flustered and sighed before going onto his joke. “So this is the story of how I started wearing underwear…”
  25. Best Excuse for Legalization – Joe DeRosa: “Can you believe Phelps smokes weed? I can’t believe he only smokes weed. Drugs make you better at sport. It’s been proven time and time again.”
  26. Best Post Match Analysis – Danny Bhoy: “How did sportspeople describe their emotional journeys before the invention of roller coasters?”
  27. Best “Missing the Point” – Hasan Minhaj: “How many times do we just put our heads down and do what we should, not what we want?”
    An audience member cheers.
    “No, that’s not…”
  28. Best “It’s 2016” Moment – Cameron Esposito: “How can there be such a thing as a wrong bathroom when 2000 years ago there was no such thing as a bathroom?”
  29. Best Lesson Learned – Dana Gould: “Fun size chocolate is the first time kids get dicked over by advertising.”
  30. Best Backup Career – Is Sabrina Jalees psychic? She gestured to a guy in the front row and made a reference to “Michael’s” sperm.
    “But my name is” He replied and showed his ID. The room went nuts.
    “YOU NEED A PRIZE.” She shouted, before presenting him with a full beer.
  31. Best Life Goals – Jackie Kashian: “When I was four I didn’t want a baby. I wanted moccasins and the fuck out of Wisconsin.”
  32. Best “I love you too, Mom” Gary Gulman: “Must be nice is how Jews say congratulations.”
  33. Best Comeback – Kumail Nanjiani (on Harmontown): “The first time I masturbated, I blacked out and came to.”
    Jeff Davis: “So you blacked out? And came, too?”
  34. Best Call Out – DeAnne Smith: “Sinbad, do you realise that as you’re telling me you’re not a pedophile, you’re holding a bag of candy?”
  35. Best Culture Shock – Hasan Minhaj would periodically deliver punchlines in Urdu before repeating them in English. You’d hear tittering or gasps around the crowd before the rest of the crowd got the joke. It always seemed natural, never pandering.
  36. Best Paradox – Mark Forward: “There are two sides to every story. People say that, right? Which also means there isn’t.”
  37. Best Pakistani Marketing Department – Kumail Nanjiani: “We had a theme park called Fun Land. It sounds like a first draft. It’s around the corner from Work Building and Food Place.
  38. Best Downplay – Emo Phillips: “I like the south. Of course, I’m prejudiced.”
  39. Best Use of Sex Sells – Tim Meadows: “The Dyson Airblade feels like I’m fisting a robot.”
  40. Best Sketchy Business – Amanda Brooke Perrin: “I hate portrait tattoos. It’s always of some baby and the story is never It’s super alive and working at Reitmans.
  41. Best Revelation – Demitri Martin: “When they came up with the word invent, that must’ve been a weird moment.”
  42. Best Cut Down – Neal Brennan: “Skrillex looks like he got his hair cut by one of his own songs.”

Even though Carrot Top was absent, props go to all the organisers of this amazing annual event. The atmosphere around the festival engendered a sense of community, with fans eager to share their favourite acts or suggestions on who to see.  If you’re into a world-class comedy festival on a local stage, check out JFL42 next year. Or don’t, I’m not your dad or anything.

Do you know that the band Sugar Ray’s official website is markmcgrath.com? Is that the definition of vanity?

I started on the JFL42 wrap up article this afternoon, but it’s gonna take more futzing about than I can accomplish in 30 minutes. One hell of a festival. Having to truck all the way over to Second City for Andy Kindler’s Alt Show was a bit fucky, but outside of that, it ran like a dream.

4.15pm – Versus.

A trial filming of a comedy game show would’ve well fit the word “madcap”. A great cast of comedians local and international. It was nuts, while a bunch of jokes had obviously been pre-written, comedians let fly with a flurry of improvised material and antics obviously fuelled by the wine filled coffee mugs at their table. The format was really fun and with a bit of polish, it looks like the show could take off. Fingers crossed.

7pm- Tim Meadows.

To be honest, I didn’t know Tim Meadows. Turns out he’s an SNL alum and he’s done a few movies over the years (The Ladies Man, Mean Girls, etc). The crowd certainly knew who he was though. The set was fine, but not mindblowing. He had some fun visual gags and a few good lines. You ever go to a stand up gig where you find the performer really affable, but not crushingly funny? That’s how I felt about Tim Meadows. He was without a doubt talented, but after being spoiled rotten with talent for the past 9 days I was getting a little performance fatigue. He had a couple of great lines about Detroit, where he grew up. Towards the end of the set, however, he started to lose steam a little. I dunno, maybe the Ladies Man character bit he did would’ve hit harder if I’d been familiar with the character and that’s on me, not him. Enjoyable enough, is the best approximation.

9pm – Emo Phillips.

Emo Phillips on the other hand was mindblowing. Emo was another act I didn’t know, but knew that he’d been kicking around for a while. 60 years old, he’s still at the top of his game. Plus it’s because of him that I just learned the word “paraprosdokian” (which I’ll forget in 20 minutes). One liners. All clever one liners that played on the premise they introduced. There were a couple of rolling gags and pseudo clowning aspects, but goddamn did he ever have the crowd in stitches. Examples:

  • A religious person is like a Civil War re-enactor. They’re harmless until they start believing it’s real.
  • I like the South. Of course, I’m prejudiced.
  • The bellboy asked if there was anything I needed. I said “more pillows”, so he brought some. How much do you tip on sarcasm?
  • I hate being divorced. I’d rather be a widower.

Etc, etc, etc. He showed a film he made back in 1992 and provided musical accompaniment. Emo was a fucking legend.

11.59pm – Alt Show with Andy Kindler.

More like 12.30pm, it took a while to get everyone in. Once it started though, holy shit. A surprise appearance from Craig Robinson to give Kindler musical accompaniment. Sets from Moshe Kasher (who called me “young and fuckable”. I’m taking that one all the way to the bank), Mark Little, Dawn Whitwell and the always colossal Mark Forward (have I raved about him enough this festival?). Things got loose real fast. Hecklers were taken to task, particularly the mouthy dudebro at stage right. It was an insane show, the kind that leaves you sweaty from laughter. I couldn’t think of a single better way to close out JFL42 for another year.

Fuck, does this mean I need to be a contributing member of society again?