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My Victoria Trip + Rock The Shores

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Thanks to the lovely people at Matchstick and my favourite brand of whisky, Canadian Club, I was flown out to BC in July to shoot a video at Rock The Shores (see it below!). Yes, the wish I wrote on the contact section of my About page, half jokingly stating my dream of being sent around the world to cover music festivals, actually (briefly) came true.

They approached me a month earlier, with an option of going to either BC or PEI for the music festivals happening in these locations, and while I’d never been to either province (most of my travel time has been spent in the States) the lineup at Rock The Shores was stronger, and it’s much easier for me to get to PEI than to BC – so it was a fairly obvious choice.

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It had literally been over 5 years since I’d last been on a plane, and that last time was my first flight ever, so I was nervous but excited to finally be flying again. If I wasn’t saddled with student loans, I would travel constantly. All I remembered about flying was how much I enjoyed being able to see the world from that height – to see the real life version of the map take shape right before my eyes, and see the clouds up close. And that, surprisingly enough, I didn’t find it scary at all. This time around, the view was even better because flying into BC is incredibly beautiful – the mountains and the ocean make for a scenic landing.

Unfortunately, it seems my sinuses have become an issue since that last time, because I endured something horribly hellish, called aerosinusitis, when the plane landed. Look it up. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Luckily it was only so painful that it brought me to tears on the way BACK to Toronto, so my stay in Victoria wasn’t ruined. I am slightly terrified of flying again because the pain was so crushing it hurt to even BLINK for a day after landing.

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When I arrived in Victoria, we went straight to the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Hotel. As you can imagine, it was the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to in my life. Canadian Club also had a package full of the mixed and ready drinks and beach necessities waiting for us. FYI, you can win one of these Canadian Club beach kits through their Facebook page. Upon arriving we also met fellow blogger Randa, of The Unprecedented. Hanging out with her, along with her friend Jordan, was a true highlight of the entire trip.

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To get the chance to stay right on the ocean, and wake up to this sight every morning, is something I’ll never forget. I am a water person by nature (water signs ftw) so this is my paradise. I have to thank Tourism Victoria for upgrading me to one of the rooms with a view, and for providing me with attraction passes to experience the city. As we were only there for under 3 days we didn’t get to do too much, but the Zipline experience through the mountains and forest was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. I almost backed out after the test line, but there was an 8 year old boy doing it fearlessly, so the shame factor was too high. Now I want to try every ‘extreme’ activity I can. Just like with tattoos, the adrenaline rush is addicting.

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Victoria itself feels like a rather small city, but it remains charming and interesting – something small-town Ontario just is not. It is so gorgeous there that you would be foolish to stay inside any more than necessary. It’s also the most walkable city I’ve ever been to. Walking around the harbor is quick and incredibly beautiful – but if you want to take a boat taxi to get somewhere super quick (or just to enjoy a boat for a few minutes) you can do that too for 5$.

The buildings are beautifully designed and carry the charm that comes from being one of the oldest cities in Canada. When comparing to other cities I’ve been to, it reminded me most of New Orleans in terms of architecture, size, and friendliness of the locals (they are quite different cities in most other ways, though, heh).

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I will be quick to note that I think Ontario is a beautiful province. We have all kinds of natural beauty here, including one of the wonders of the world, but BC wins overall, because – look at that park. It was like a mini paradise within the city. Add in the ocean, mountains, and the insane variety of trees – and our lakes and maples just don’t quite reach this level.

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Now for the reason I was sent there in the first place, to attend their big music festival, Rock The Shores, and finally, FINALLY, see Weezer live.

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As someone who’s been to festivals in Toronto, Tennessee and Montreal, I was curious to see how they treat media out there. The nice thing about this festival was that they treated media (almost) the same as anyone working the festival + the performers. We got to hang out backstage and drink – which is unlike ANY media experience I’ve had at any other festival. HUGE points, to say the least. And it wasn’t even just shitty beers – they had my beloved Canadian Club Rye & Coke/Gingers, as well as a variety of cider, wine and beers! Um, as someone who’s been paying up to ELEVEN dollars to have a drink at a festival (looking at you, Edgefest……) this was joyous.

Sadly though, they didn’t treat media so great when it came time to see the actual bands. Having just come from TURF where media were given VIP access and could therefore stay in the pit the entire day to really experience the show, it was fucking shitty to only be allowed in the pit for 3 songs. I know this is industry standard – fair enough – but their rules were very, very unclear and it made the festival look incredibly unprofessional.

Randa had attended the first day (we skipped out to spend a day seeing the city) and she was allowed to sit in the pit divide for the whole show – so we went there expecting that again, but instead when we tried to come back in they sent us out of the entire backstage/pit area and made us walk all the way around the ENTIRE over-packed RTS grounds in order to get backstage again. Sometimes security guards are just bullies. One, upon looking at my Ontario ID, even said “Onterrible.” I know Ontario and BC have a NYC/LA style rivalry, but I wasn’t expecting that.

So basically we caught the first 3 songs of each band and then had to sit backstage and listen, unable to see anything, if we wanted to keep drinking without waiting in line for hours and paying 11$.

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We got there just in time for Awolnation, a band I had been curious about because “Sail” is such a fantastic song, but didn’t know what to expect beyond that. It’s fair to say I was shocked when a long haired skinny blonde California surfer dude type came out onstage. I was definitely expecting someone more like Cee Lo Green. It’s also fair to say “Sail” itself is a misleading song, definitely not representative of the rest of their work. After seeing this show and listening to the album, it stands alone as the only song I care to listen to.

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This was also my first time seeing Mother Mother, and while the lead singer’s goofy look was enough to turn me off at first, the sheer talent they possess as a group, and the insane love the crowd had for them, easily pulled me in. This is a local band that has had national success, so they go crazy for them out there. Seeing them here in Toronto at Edgefest was disappointing by comparison, not because they weren’t giving it their all, but because the crowd was so different/boring.

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I’ve seen Sam Roberts a handful of times now, and he always gives a great, high energy, entertaining show. There’s really not much more I can say about him. I think he is a definitive CanRock artist, and it was interesting to see an Aussie we were hanging with watch him perform, because it gave me such a reminder about how specific this sound is to Canadians. It’s rare a sound like Sam’s will ever break out of Canada, because it is so authentically Canadian.

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Last but not least, was the main reason I was excited for this trip. Like probably all of you, I’ve been a Weezer fan since I was a little kid hearing my friends older brothers obsessively play the Blue Album. Along with Green Day’s Dookie, it was my first favourite album. This helps wipe away the shame that, just years later, I became a preteen, and therefore became obsessed with the Backstreet Boys and every other boy band except N’sync. At least I started with relatively good taste, right?

Anyhow, the ongoing joke that Weezer shit the bed after Pinkerton is one I embraced fully, because, give or take an album’s worth of songs, it’s kinda true. That meant I stopped paying attention to them in high school, and have never made the effort to see them live, for fear of hearing a full set of songs from Raditude or Hurley.  So, when I got this chance to see them, I was happy to embrace the childhood nostalgia and finally see how they are live, headlining a festival. Especially when I heard that they would be playing the Blue Album in full in Toronto the night before. They had to be doing it in Victoria too, right?!

Well, not quite. But, they certainly did play a ton of Blue songs, and surprisingly, Rivers was in a great mood, and it was the perfect way to end the night. At this point we were happy to give up our free drink access to be able to see the entire set.

Finally, the real reason I was there, was to shoot a video of my experience, so check it out!

Lisa

Five Reasons To See Avenue Q at The LOT

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Lower Ossington Theatre recently took on the heavy task of re-staging the award winning  Broadway musical Avenue Q here in Toronto. When a company takes on such a beloved treasure outside of Broadway, it’s hard to know if they will be able to maintain the level of talent required to pull off such a show. Lucky (and rare) for Toronto, they most certainly did.

With that, I give you five solid reasons why you need to see Avenue Q before it ends on October 6th:

  •  Puppets having sex. Yup. Puppet boobs and everything. It’s weird, hilarious, and awesome.
  •  Two incredible lead performers doing double duty, with two roles each. Graham Scott Fleming and Jacqueline Martin absolutely blew me away with their sheer talent and skills. It’s incredible to think this was Graham’s first time handling puppets. They both have unbelievable, powerful voices, and carry their two big parts each with so much grace that you can barely notice them switching between roles. They are seamless, talented performers with big careers ahead of them. Casting agents, take note. And to the actors – hold out for a good agency – you will be in demand soon enough, don’t settle.
  • A song called “The Internet Is For Porn” sung by a masturbating monster.
  • Lots of relevant childhood (and Toronto) references. My generation is always happy to hear the Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow theme songs. So much glorious nostalgia. I wasn’t sure how they were going to  make it less New York and more Toronto, but they definitely pulled it off with ease.
  • You will leave feeling so happy you will want to go again. I do. It’s easily the most I’ve laughed at a show in ages, and probably my favourite theatre production I’ve seen in Toronto – even stronger than any of the Mirvish musicals I’ve been to. Every character will remind you of someone in your real life. It’s incredibly funny while maintaining relatablity – like a dirty puppet version of Girls. The best way to get over that crushing sense of post-college purposelessness is to commiserate about it with a bunch of puppets.

 Lisa

CocoRosie – Tales of a GrassWidow

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Another album review written by my helpful intern Sebastian L’Arrivée.

CocoRosie’s latest release, Tales of a GrassWidow, is somewhat different from the bands past efforts, in that there is a strong, if dark, story flowing throughout. The songs follow an overt structure and there’s significantly less reliance upon shocking the audience in the way that they have on previous albums.

The album draws influence from an impressive variety of genres, from hip hop to pop and electronica. The tenth track on the album, “Villain,” even seems to incorporate elements of lounge music. This diversity of genre is coupled with a variety of instrumentation to create a sound that is entirely unique.

Tales of a GrassWidow combines synthesizers, beat-boxing samples, and CocoRosie’s distinctive vocal stylings with pianos, accordions and a number of traditional instruments. A few songs, such as “Broken Chariot” and “Roots of My Hair” for example, even feature a native flute and a string instrument – possibly a sitar.

It’s a very interesting album that undoubtedly displays CocoRosie’s growing musical ability – unfortunately, it may have been somewhat overambitious. All these different sonic elements, combined with an ethereal, ambient production style, make for the kind of record that you zone out to, rather than actively engage with.

The album only really picks up around the sixth track, “Gravedigress,” at which point it becomes captivating and doesn’t let up until the final track.

A big highlight of the record is the secret hidden track, “Poison.” The song blends a noisy, fast beat and dissonant synth lines with bells and atmospheric vocals. The combination of the dissonant and consonant really represents the album as whole, and ties its overarching themes together perfectly.

While not perfect, Tales of a GrassWidow represents a new direction for CocoRosie – a direction that could turn out quite positively as they continue to develop this sound. It is an album worth picking up if you get the chance.

 Lisa

West Side Story With The Toronto Symphony Orchestra

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Last week I had the extreme pleasure of attending a screening of West Side Story at Roy Thomson Hall, where the TSO was playing the soundtrack live in sync with a hi-def remastered version of the film, original vocals and dialogue intact.

I was absolutely obsessed with West Side Story and wanted to be Natalie Wood (minus the horrible dying via your worst fear part) when I was in high school. It ignited my obsession with NYC and big cities early into my teen years, so it’s no surprise that this was a memorable night for me.

I have attended the TSO once before, but it didn’t captivate me in the same way this performance did. At a normal TSO night everything is very quiet, the definition of a “grown up” show (aka a situation that makes my brain likely to tune out because I’m not a huge classical music fan, and I feel slightly uncomfortable in musical situations that forbid interaction and participation).

This time around there was popcorn and we were allowed to bring booze into the Hall, which immediately made it more relaxed.  There were still a few TSO regulars in the audience who were horrified by the crumpling of popcorn bags and general feelgoodery and fun of the night, but they weren’t able to rain on anyone’s parade.

The charm of watching the Symphony play along with a film you love, is that you get to actively experience the true magic and brilliance of the music, and witness just how much work goes into creating a truly powerful soundtrack. This goes even moreso for a musical like West Side Story - which relies so heavily on Leonard Bernstein’s incredible score.

It was fascinating to watch this massive collection of musicians come in perfectly, right at the exact moment they all needed to, so that it matched up with Maria and Tony’s vocals.

Normally I am one of those clueless fools who doesn’t really understand the true power and necessity of a great conductor, but this show completely changed that for me. It is 100 percent on the conductor to make sure the entire orchestra is coming in at the exact time they need to, or everything is thrown off and you have a horrified audience. That kind of pressure seems unbearably overwhelming, but Steven Reineke did a flawless job. I noticed he had a screen in front of him playing a special version of the film that had blocked colour bars scrolling across, which must have helped with the timing. I am still curious about what each colour meant!

The performance ended with a huge, much deserved standing ovation, and the audience clapped for each person listed in the credits as though it were TIFF, which always fills me with joy.

Overall, this show turned on a light bulb for me when thinking about classical music. I highly suggest that, even if you’re not particularly a Symphony kind of person, if you ever get a chance to see a film with a full orchestra playing the score live, you jump on it.

This is exactly how the TSO can bring in a newer, younger audience.

It was a perfect evening. I am praying they will continue this series and play live to Singin’ In The Rain, Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Taxi Driver (highly unlikely, but it is my most favourite score and film) next.

 Lisa

Hot Docs Reviews – Anita, The Punk Singer, Pussy Riot

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Anita is a look back at what the exact moment where sexual harassment became a valid work problem that is taken seriously. Prior to Anita Hill infamously speaking out against the sexual harassment she endured working for Clarence Thomas, this kind of treatment was tolerated by women (and men) because they didn’t know they had any other option. She gave us all a voice and right to speak up without the risk of losing our jobs.

I was so young when she did this for feminism that I didn’t even realize she is the one to thank for the times where I’ve felt uncomfortable at work – and been able to do something about it. The beauty of this film is that it is educating my generation and those women younger than me on what she did for us, and how different the world was just 20 years ago - how acceptable that kind of workplace abuse was. I feel so incredibly lucky to have been born in the time of history that I was.

It was startling to watch her give her testimony facing a large panel of old white men, as they interrogated her and accused her of man hating, revenge, bitterness and lying. They tried to tear her apart because she was honest, and yet she remained calm and poised throughout the entire process. I have no idea how she did it. She deserves a medal from every woman. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she suffered through his harassment the first time, they put her up there and did everything they could to humiliate her in front of the entire world, making her relive every minute detail.

And of course, in the end, they didn’t even care about her testimony. Thomas made it into a racial issue (which is crap considering she shares his race), the politicians got scared, and nothing ever happened to him. He took his seat on the Supreme Court, while she had to move to another state to avoid all the death threats and harassment she endured after it was over. That in itself is depressing – but the film makes it very clear that what she did is an act of heroism that will be remembered for generations to come.

Thank you Anita.

 

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Kathleen Hanna is another fascinating, inspiring woman to my generation. As much as I could never really get into the whole riot grrrl scene because of my aversion to vocals that involve screaming, I have incredible respect for its place in the third wave of feminism that sparked because of the injustices faced by women like Anita Hill at the time.

While I never really enjoyed Bikini Kill’s sound, I did like Le Tigre to some degree, but I was never quite interested enough to dig into their story. This film definitely made me realize what I was missing out on, and how incredible Kathleen was (and still is).

She is exactly the kind of person I aspire to be – and I have been living by her manifesto, despite not being particularly aware of it, all along. Her “ALL GIRLS TO THE FRONT” mentality at shows is literally the best concept in music history, ever. EVERY BAND SHOULD DO THIS. The way they explained it in the film made me so happy, because men don’t seem to realize that they make such a hostile environment for women at shows – or they do realize and they just don’t care. The last thing I want to deal with is getting head butted by moshers (this has happened to me) because I’m at the front trying to actually see the band. If the male population were kind enough to do that shit in the back, and stand back so that women who are generally at least 5 inches shorter, could actually see the stage – the concert going experience would be oh so wonderful for everyone.

I wish I could have went to a Bikini Kill show just to be a part of a concert where there was a priority put on women actually being comfortable/having a stage sight-line.

The look into her health issues and the decision to end Le Tigre was also insightful. Lyme disease is something most people (myself included) certainly don’t understand, and it went a long way to explaining how dreadful the disease can be – especially when it makes a singer lose control of her most precious asset – her voice. I also loved when she talked about meeting Adam Horovitz and feeling conflicted about dating someone who sang such sexist songs in those early Beastie Boys days, and how you don’t choose who you fall in love with.

If you are at all interested in 90s music culture, feminism, riot grrrls or just want to see a doc about a groundbreaking artist, make it a point to see The Punk Singer.

 

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I’ll admit I was fairly uninterested in the whole Pussy Riot thing. I heard about it non stop to the point where I just decided to tune it out. Again, not being all that into the riot grrrl scene, I just didn’t pay much attention. When I hear Peaches is involved in something I kind of lose interest, as it always tends to feel like a spectacle.

Of course, seeing Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer made me feel foolish for not paying attention. It is scary to me that this kind of church meets state environment still exists in what looks like a modern part of the world. They were doing nothing more than what Kathleen Hanna and the riot bands did 20 years ago, but they are in jail for it!

The best part of Hot Docs is that it shocks me into remembering just how lucky I am to be living where I do, in the age that I do. After watching the injustice these girls are going through, I am thanking my lucky stars that I do not live in Russia. It literally boggles my mind that things could still be so backwards in a developed country – but religion makes people act in very strange (ungodly) ways.

Can you imagine being sent to jail for 2 YEARS for just barely starting to sing a ‘punk rock’ song in a church? It’s absurd. I agree that it was crossing a line since so many people were offended by it, and they could have maybe banned them from the church for life or something – but putting them in jail away from their babies for years because they created art in public? Insane.

The film gives these women faces, families, and history – which is something you don’t get through our exploitative news. Watching their parents talk about how they were as kids, and how they grew into feminist artists trying to move their part of the world forward in the same way that Kathleen Hanna did, makes it a must see. It’s also inspiring to hear them talk during sentencing – the fearlessness these women have for the message they are trying to spread of equality for all women is so powerful. I know that when they get out they will continue to create positive change and hopefully help move Russia into the current decade.

 Lisa