Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Very Important People at the Queen show

I’ve already written about how the stress of fast-moving Queen + Adam Lambert tickets led me to invest (sure, let’s call it that) in VIP tickets this time around. It was mainly for the better seats, but Jean wondered what else was included.

Not sure, I responded. Some kind of separate entry. Maybe a keychain or something.

Unofficial poster of the Toronto show. Design @nicole42.

We received an email a few days before explaining where to go for the VIP entry. There was still a line-up there, but a shorter one. They checked our name off a list, gave us tickets (the old-fashioned paper kind), and handed us each a Queen-logoed bag with something in it.

The something turned out to be this purple silk boxing robe with the Queen crest front and back. What could be more perfectly Queen? It was ridiculous, but also fantastic. Who needs a T-shirt if you have this? (It also allowed me to avoid the huge, huge line-up to buy merchandise!)

[To be inserted later: A photo of me wearing the robe. I can’t get a good selfie of this, and Jean’s not around to take the photo right now.]

We made our way to our seats in a very roundabout way (though we were trying to follow the instructions). We ended up 13 rows from the stage. Pretty good seats in a stadium regardless, but at a Queen show, it’s even better than that, because they use a catwalk that goes right down into the floor section. When they were on that, we were very close to them.

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This happened right by our row…

Talking to some other fans, I realized that the popularity of this show wasn’t only due to the movie, but also to the fact that this was one of only two Canadian shows this time out—they didn’t play Ottawa, Calgary, or even Montreal… Just Toronto and Vancouver. So we had a few travelers joining the new Bohemian Rhapsody fans (who skewed the age a bit younger than at past QAL shows, though they’ve all been multi-generational).

Unlike the last iteration, this concert began fairly punctually, counted down by the last, untitled track from Made in Heaven, which people cheered throughout its 22 minutes. Then a bit of “Innuendo” (by which I mean the song, I’m not insinuating anything), and they took the stage. Now they were here. Now they were there.

There wasn’t a ton of chatter during this 2.5 hour concert. They mostly let the music do the talking. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie was mentioned only once, when Brian asked if anyone had seen it, but it absolutely informed the set list. Every song from the soundtrack was included. Even “Doing All Right” (the song Smile performs). Even “Ay-Oh”—led by Freddie, of course. (Hey, first time I do “Ay-oh” with Freddie in a crowd, I think.) And including honorary soundtrack song, “I’m in Love with My Car.” So we can all judge for ourselves whether it’s “strong enough”. (It is.)

These three are so comfortable with each other by now…

This was great, because it meant hearing a lot of the early tracks that aren’t as often performed, to which they added “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Lap of the Gods”. To fit everything in, many of the songs were shortened and medley-ed, which also suited me fine.

He’s a Killer Queen (this picture was super popular on Twitter!)

There were changes from past shows. Adam again noted the obvious fact that he wasn’t Freddie, but fairly perfunctorily, and only after noting that he’s been Queen’s singer for 8 years now. He did not comment about trying to find somebody to love, now that he has fallen in love (and this time he knows it’s for real.) He did not run around slapping people’s hands during “Radio Ga Ga”. (Was that disappointing, given that I was closer? Nah. I still wasn’t within hand-slapping distance.) The tricycle was traded for a motorbike (for “Bicycle Races”). The sexy “Get Down, Make Love” was absent.

But the omissions were made up for by the additions, which were not all movie-inspired. Brian performed the wonderful “39” to images of the Apollo astronauts, in homage to the anniversary of the moon landing. They performed the truly obscure track, “Machines (or Back to Humans)” (from 1989’s The Game), probably because its lyrics seem so contemporary.

The very photogenic Brian May

And everything you wanted to be there still was.

Adam Lambert demonstrating that he’s one of the best singers alive throughout, but particularly on tracks like “Somebody to Love”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, and “I Want It All”.

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If you could hear this, you’d be very impressed

Brian managing to not bore everyone during a guitar solo, and only partly because of the very cool space effects.

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Not sure this is during the guitar solo, but a cool picture regardless

Brian singing “Love of My Life”, accompanied by the crowd, who also provided the lighting. And Freddie joining in at the very end, which somehow continues to bring me to tears.

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The best use of a cell phone, per Brian. (And this isn’t even peak lighting.)

The trio on the catwalk, performing “Under Pressure” (and a few other tunes).

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Costume changes (and not only by Adam).

This photo was even more popular on Twitter! I captioned it: I’m glad the fringes are back. And I was. Lambert meets Daltrey.

All the biggest hits–Another One Bites the Dust (with Adam dance), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You.

The magnificent laser show during “Who Wants to Live Forever”.

Confetti. We were drowning in it!

Pre-confetti. Post-confetti, it’s all you could see!

The crowd was fantastic, on its feet through the whole show (and not only in the floor section), and ably singing along. The next day on Instagram, Brian May said that Toronto was the loudest crowd so far! Both Brian and Adam made comments about putting phones down, and there were times I wish people had, as they do block the view. On the other hand, the wish is a bit hypocritical of me, as I have the luxury of being totally in the moment and not taking a single photo, secure in the knowledge that Jean was taking over a thousand of them (with a camera, and not a phone, but…).

Being so close, I had to remind myself to sometimes look at big screen to see what the projected effects were. Very cool, as always–like in “Radio Gaga”, the band was integrated into what looked like scenes from the past. But much more prominent overall was a theme of forward movement, and looking ahead. Queen, founded in 1970 (or so), is one of hottest bands of 2019. Who woulda thunk.

Toronto set list (courtesy @JamieBester)

More Jean photos (no, not a thousand–he picked out a few): https://www.jean-cathy.com/CathysPhotos/Queen-and-Adam-Lambert-2019/

And thanks to “Fiercealien” here, you can see video of the entire Toronto show, from seats on the opposite side and just a few rows closer than we were. (If you’re hooked, Firecelian also offers video of the New York, Vancouver, and Los Angeles shows. Expensive hobby!)

Playlist of videos of the entire Toronto show


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Cheap Trick

As I kept telling people, Cheap Trick was not a band I’d go out of my way to see in concert.

But Kitchener’s Centre in the Square is only a 15-minute drive away. So when I heard that Cheap Trick was playing there, on a night I didn’t have anything else booked, I figured, why not?

I was somewhat into Cheap Trick back in the day. I owned the At Budokan and Dream Police albums. I knew all the words to “The Flame”. I thought that Robin Zander and Tom Petersson were babes and hung their pictures on my wall.

But it wasn’t a band I’d particularly kept up with lo these many years. Still, when it’s easy, and I could score 4th row centre seats at a reasonable price, why not go?

Initially Jean thought that he couldn’t join me, but his work schedule changed such that he could. I was pleased to have company, and he ended up pleased to be at the show.

My goodness, they were entertaining! 30 seconds in, and Robin Zander made it clear that he had lost none of his vocal power.

He also still looks pretty good…

Guitarist Rick Neilsen, still the eccentric, had a never-ending parade of guitar changes, with many quirky designs. But what mad skills! These are guitar solos I quite enjoyed (for one, none were that long).

A not-so-quirky guitar (but I can’t say the same about the guitarist)

Tom Petersson (who also still looks pretty good) took vocals on one song. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos is no longer with the band, but their replacement is fantastic.

It was a fun, fast, efficient set, song, song, song, not too much chatter–though they did do a bit of reminiscing about past Canadian tours and having to eat seal flipper pie in Moncton. (“I had never even heard of Moncton.”)

Where some classic bands have amassed an audience with a wide age range, this Cheap Trick crowd was largely Generation X. And they were totally going back there, some even standing up to slow dance, high school style, during “The Flame”.

I stood up myself when they launched into “I Want You to Want Me”, until I started feeling vaguely rude and sat down again. Still, I like to think I started a trend, as the entire crowd leapt to their feet for the next song, “Dream Police”, and stayed there through the remaining hits, hits, hits which with they finished the show.

Photo restored…

I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately, and this night out was quite the tonic. So much fun. Even the songs I didn’t know had that distinct Cheap Trick sound, so I liked them, too. They are the quintessential rock band, but in a not very rock move, they started promptly at 8:00 and had us out shortly after 9:30 (in time to catch most of the Raptors game).

And I left with my very own Rick Neilsen guitar pick (as he tosses them into the crowd freely): “We’re all all right!” it says. And we were.

It would even have been worth going out of my way.


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Well, that worked out

Back in December, I wrote about going through one of life great stressors: buy tickets to a hot concert on TicketMaster. (And yes, I am mocking myself by calling that a great life stressor.) I said in that post that my experience of rather easily acquiring floor seats for Who concert was likely at once-in-lifetime thing.

Well, not so. Because apparently the key to having a less stressful ticket-buying experience is to get tickets to see The Who (vs Queen + Adam Lambert who, thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody, are one of the hottest touring acts this year).

I wasn’t even going to make an effort to get pre-sale tickets for The Who concert, but then I stumbled upon a code. I tried it, it worked, and there were only two (2) people in the “Waiting room” ahead of me (vs. 2000 for Queen + Adam Lambert). I found seats that were OK, not wonderful, but acceptable, so got those.

But then came the general sale and I thought, well, what the heck, let’s see what’s available. In the Waiting room, there were two (2) people ahead of me. Then when I got in, I was able to calmly peruse and see that there were far better seats available than I had already purchased. At not much more than I paid for those.

Then I did get slightly stressed, but soon figured, what the heck. Surely I can sell the first two?

And I ended up with floor seats again.

I fairly promptly put the first two seats on sale, not trying to make a profit, but just priced to get my money back. Ticketmaster adds their own charge, though, so they would have been more expensive than the originals.

Then I waited. The show was on June 1.

May 1 rolled around, and no interest. I decided to drop the price. Ticketmaster limits how much you can drop it by, but I went for that. But still no nibbles.

And then I got this message:

And you know what that meant? That meant I could get a full refund on the two tickets I didn’t need.

(Reason for the reschedule? Possible Raptors playoff game. Go Raptors! I guess.)

And this rather makes up for having to wait longer, and having the show be on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday, which is less convenient. But I also heard that the shows–The Who playing with a full symphony–are good, but do need some kinks worked out. They should be in fine form by September.


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Short bits

Trying to write a longer, coherent blog post on one topic was not working, so here’s a series of short takes, instead.

What I’m watching

All of the time I’ve not been spending writing has really opened up time to watch TV. Nothing is at the level of Travelers, but here are the current favorites, per source.

Warning:

Will not include Game of Thrones, because I have yet to see a single episode of that.

Network TV: The Orville

Seth McFarlane’s take on Star Trek. I’ve always liked this show more than I would have expected, and it’s become kind of serious this year, making me like it even more. Hope it gets renewed!

Netflix: Santa Clarita Diet

Back for season 3, and I’m still loving it. You have to admire Joel and Sheila’s ability to make a marriage work despite her being undead and thus having to eat people.

Crave: Orphan Black

I know, finally, right? I always thought I would like this show, but it wasn’t until my free 3-month trial of Crave that I finally put it to the test. Tatiana Manslany is just amazing in playing all these different clones (and clones pretending to be other clones). And the story has so much twisty goodness! We’re nearly done Season 2.

Amazon Prime: Catastrophe

The humour is a bit much for Jean, but I’m going to see it through! After all, it’s only six episodes per season, and I only have two left (episodes, not seasons). A very unsentimental look at marriage, but I think I love it for the sentimental reason that these two really love each other.

Also because they’re really funny.

How is Zoë doing?

Very well, thanks. She’s adapting to life as an only cat, and getting way more attention than she used to seems to suit her. She’ll never be cuddly, exactly, but she does like to be pet, tolerates being picked up, and will even lie down on us, as long as we put a blanket barrier between her and us. (Bit of an odd duck, Zoë.) She’s also been pretty chatty, and occasionally even purry.

She also likes her new cat tree

News, ugh

I’m rather missing the days when, as a Canadian, you could feel kind of smug while reading the news from elsewhere. But now we have Quebec passing blatantly racist laws, unashamed they violate Charter rights; an Ontario government denying help to kids with disabilities; the Trudeau Liberals deciding that Canada should not be so welcoming of refugees after all; and Alberta about to elect a party full of alarming candidates, including the leader.

Reading about Brexit has almost been a relief. Of course, that’s also a story about irresponsible leadership, from so many sides, causing harm—and you have to feel bad for those who voted to Remain. But the degrees and varieties of incompetency have just been so interesting! (Though with yet another extension, the drama might start to wear thin.)

And, if you haven’t already read the comparison of Brexit to building a submarine out of cheese (an oldie but a goodie), do yourself a favor and do that. Here’s the first tweet:

Then you can see the rest of the thread, and the responses, here: Guy Explains Brexit In 12 Hilarious Tweets And It Will Crack You Up.

We will still need a song

I’ve been listening to more George Michael lately, after watching the George Michael: Freedom documentary on Crave. It was so good! Assuming you have some fondness for George Michael, of course. It made me realize that I really needed to check out his oeuvre beyond the Faith album and the “Freedom ’90” song. He made good music long beyond that.

Heard some good live music, too. Like The Beatles One show last night, a good reminder that this band could really put together a tune, and that a shit-ton of them went to number one. We also enjoyed hearing a subset of the KW Symphony perform Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” (subset because that piece doesn’t require a whole orchestra), led by guest violinist Nikki Chooi. It was just riveting. The whole 40 minutes of it.

Also exceeding expectations was Drayton Theatre’s performance of the musical Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. A terrific cast, creative staging, enormously fun song list. And really something to see the usual Drayton crowd of grandparents, kids, parents all totally there for this celebration of gay pride.


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Ticketmonster

I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

Wifi returned, I tried again, and… So did my luck! I was still able to get front center floor seats at the normal price! And this time managed to complete the purchase. (The show was great.)

View from the floor was pretty good!

I have no idea how or why that happened or how I could possibly replicate it. I don’t recall who I got  this presale offer for, except that it wasn’t the fan club and it wasn’t American Express (I’ve never had an American Express). Was it just that the sale took place so far ahead? Did The Who just decide not to hold back that many seats as “VIP”?

We know the deal with Ticketmaster, that it’s exceedingly difficult for any human to beat out the resell bots—that, it turns out, Ticketmaster is in cahoots with). And that presales (and even the general sale) only have a subset of seats on offer, giving a constant impression that they are going fast.

I have had great, even front row, seats at other rock concerts, but that involved either not dealing with Ticketmaster (Bob Geldof in Ottawa, Roger Daltrey at Casinorama), or paying for VIP (Adam Lambert, who, as a solo artist, at least has moderate prices. If you don’t count the expense of getting to Berlin.).

Views from the front row

But for big shows in arenas, I think that Who concert was my once-in-a-lifetime good ticket-buying experience that won’t come around again. Especially since Ticketmaster keeps finding ways to make things worse.

Their latest ploy is to not tell you what the ticket prices are ahead of time. I don’t buy tickets often enough to know when this changed, but I’m certain that in the past you could look up ahead of time what ticket prices would be at different levels, so you could plan. They seem to not do that now.

I thought their main motivation must be that, in the frenzy, people might spend more than they otherwise would had they been able to plan ahead. But according to the CBC report on Ticketmaster, it’s also because they sometimes raise the prices a few hours after they initially go on sale.

They’re taking their queue from the airline industry.

Then there’s the new “Waiting room”. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal before, sitting on the ticket buying web page waiting for the on-sale time, then refreshing and hoping nothing crashed before you could get in there to roll your dice.

So now, about an hour before the on-sale time, you can click to go into a “waiting room”. At on-sale time, it refreshes and you are “randomly” assigned a place in line.

I had over 2000 people in line ahead of me. The only other person I know who’s tried this also started with over 2000 people in line ahead of her. Make of that what you will.

There’s a little animation of your place in line that moves along as the number of people in front of you drop. You daren’t go anywhere else, but it’s not the most compelling viewing. (I can’t find a screen cap of it. Everybody must be too stressed while waiting to take one.)

Finally, your turn comes up, you copy in your presale code, you see what seats come up! And how much they are!

My target this time was yet another Queen + Adam Lambert tour. It was awful. I switched between seeing what was available for general sale and what the “cheaper” VIP offered. You couldn’t seem to look at both options at once, and of course, every time I went back to one or the other, the available seating was less. (Also, the Best Available sorting? Really wasn’t in that order!)

I finally picked something. I winced at the total, but smiled at the seating chart.

I don’t have a solution to this. If you want to see a big rock concert at an arena, Ticketmaster and resellers are your only option. Queen + Adam Lambert are encouraging use of Twickets, where people aren’t allowed to sell the tickets at higher than the price they paid. So that’s nice, but they currently have 0 tickets on offer. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of time for people’s plans to change.)

In Europe, they seem to have many more places where you can still buy general floor seats, then end up with a good spot if you’re willing to wait in line for them. Not all that helpful for North Americans.

So, I’m just glad there aren’t that many artists for whom I’m willing to go through this.

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One of the few


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Discombobulated (or at least discomfited)

Been a bit quiet on my blogging front lately, but not for any major reason. Just that things have been a bit off—just off enough to prevent me from focusing on a blog post.

Canoe trip

Not mine, of course—Jean’s. He was away for two weeks in the northwest Ontario wilderness. No wifi. No cell service. Just a brief, one-way, satellite-delivered daily message giving location and brief status update.

Away from it all at Wabakimi Park

By a combination of organization and happenstance, I had enough activities booked at that time to keep me busy and stave off loneliness: barbecue with dance friends, dinner and lunch with other friends, an outing to Stratford with my sister and brother-in-law to see To Kill a Mockingbird, blood donation appointment, Canada Day fireworks, even an unusual number of meetings at work, including some over lunch and dinner.

But it was still all out of the ordinary: Jean being not only away but basically out of touch (I think “out of touch” is just harder to deal with in these days, when we expect everyone to always be in cell range), combined with so many other social activities.

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

— Alice, Alice in Wonderland

Renovation

Another activity during canoe trip time was cleaning out the main bathroom and master bedroom, in preparation for these rooms getting renovated. This involved going through piles of stuff and resulted, in a time, in these rooms looking cleaner than they had in years. A good thing, albeit with the side effect of making even my bedroom looking slightly strange, which was vaguely off-putting.

Buffy: But it seemed perfectly normal.
Xander: But disturbing, and not the natural order of things and do you think it’ll happen again?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More with Feeling

When Jean got back, we moved the big pieces out of the rooms. This proved somewhat easier than we’d feared (most items could be broken down into smaller, lighter pieces), and also put an end to parts of the house looking neater, as we had to find space for everything in the remaining rooms. We tried piling the mattress on top of the guest bed mattress, but that made the bed we had to sleep in comically tall, so instead we propped the mattress up against the wall, making the already cramped guest room considerably more cramped. Our second bathroom is, similarly, hopeless cluttered with items from the main bathroom.

The first day of renovation is what they call the “tear down,” when they take out all the old stuff to make way for the new. Here’s the before and after:

So if I thought the house felt a bit alien before…

Weekend away

Since we had tickets to Rocky Horror Show on a Thursday of that first renovation week (of a total four or five, they predict), I figured why not stay on and make a long weekend of it. Jean wasn’t able to get time off right after that long canoe trip, but that just meant a slightly commute for him back to work Friday while I explored Stratford.

Really, in the scheme of things, it was the most normal I’d felt in weeks.

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Me with my people

So now I’ll catch up on some recommendations that I might have have made had I been blogging more regularly…

Wining and dining

One of the dinners out in KW was at King Street Trio, which I hadn’t been to in years. It was a pleasant surprise. For one thing, it’s a nice quiet place, and those are increasingly hard to come by. For another, importantly, the food was quite good.

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King Street Trio always has oysters on offer

And while you might wonder a bit at the pricing, note that they offer 30% / 20% / 10% discounts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, respectively. We were there on a Tuesday, so that worked out well for us! Apart from our waitress being in a bit of a hurry for us to order drinks before the group had arrived, it was a good night out, and I’d go again.

Friday night, Jean and I decided to book a fancier dinner in Stratford for our pending anniversary next week, namely at The Prune dining room. It has to be said that the service on arrival was a bit chaotic. They initially forgot to give us menus… It took ages, and a few repeated requests, to get water… Our matching wines didn’t always make it out before the food it was to match… And while it’s true we arrived at the time they would have been trying to get a bunch of tables finished in time for the 8:00 theatre, that should be something any Stratford restaurant learns to get a handle on. And The Prune isn’t new.

Still, they did such a good job with the food, and the wine matching, that we just couldn’t stay mad. (We never really got that angry, to be clear.) Talented chefs, my friends! Particularly with vegetables. Never had such fresh and light pea and ham soup. The smoked tuna with tomatoes and olive was astonishing. The chicken overshadowed by the creamy mashed potatoes and intense morels. Cheese tortellini similar outdone by the spring vegetable ragout it came in.

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Jean with his cheese plate finale (and new beard)

After Stratford, on Saturday, we headed off Goderich way to spend some more time touring before heading home. On the way, Jean recalled that someone had recommended a winery in these parts, so near Seaforth, we visited Maelstrom Winery.

We looked super eager, because we were there right at the crack of 11:00, when they opened. That meant we got the full attention as the only patrons. We talked to the wine maker about his trials and tribulations in getting the winery going. Being new, they’re still in the experimental phase, but we did find some wines we quite liked: A smooth vidal, a refreshing frontenac blanc, and a really nice blend of cabernet franc and baco noir. They also have this wine called the abyss which is a blend of five varietals, resulting in a truly unique taste.

You heard it here first (maybe?): Ontario’s newest wine region—Lake Huron.

It’s not TV, it’s Netflix

While cleaning out rooms, I did watch the much-discussed Nanette Netflix special. (If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a New York Times round-up of its many positive reviews.) I  would recommend it, as long as you know not to expect a barrel of laughs here. (There are laughs, just not a barrel of them.)

But I was struck by how many people said they’d never heard of Hannah Gadsby, which means that they’ve never watched Please Like Me on Netflix. A series whose four (short) seasons I recently polished off.

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A scene from one of my favorite episodes of Please Like Me, in which Josh and his parents have a multi-course menu surprise at a fancy restaurant

I don’t know if that the show is everyone’s cup of tea? It’s basically an Australian comedy about a group of friends in their early 20s. It’s just that it also regularly, and honestly, deals with some heavy issues, notably mental illness (but also abortion, homophobia, STDs). So it too, definitely has laughs. Just not always a barrel of them. I grew quite fond of the characters, though.

Stratford culture

The two plays I’ve seen so far this season—To Kill a Mockingbird and Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show—have both been extended, so I clearly went with the popular picks. Both are indeed very good. To Kill a Mockingbird is framed by having the adult Scout look back on her childhood from the vantage point of the 60s civil rights movement, and that works well. The child actors are terrific and the story remains affecting (bring the kleenex!).

Rocky Horror, on the other hand, is presented as pure fun. This is actually the third live production of this I’ve seen, and of course—given that the other two were amateur productions—this had the best singers (incredible voices), the most inventive choreography (it’s the Time Warp—but updated!), and fantastic costumes: particularly flattering to fine male forms on display, I have to say.

But for all that, I don’t know that I enjoyed this more than those productions—I’d just say equally. This thing just really works live. So if you haven’t yet experienced it, Stratford is a good place to start.

My Friday afternoon matinee performance at Stratford was not a play, though, but a perform by Steven Page (formerly of The Barenaked Ladies) and the Art of Time, doing a series of songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Gord Downie, Jane Siberry, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, and yes, The Barenaked Ladies…

The Art of Time uses contemporary composers to arrange pop songs for piano, violin, saxophone, bass, guitar, and cello. I generally love the results. I was in the fifth row for this show, and the set list was right up my alley. Steven Page is interesting in how he can be so funny in his banter, and some of his performances, but also be “you can hear a pin drop” serious in conveying the angst of songs like Elvis Costello’s “I Want You”. The ensemble will be doing a number of shows in this, their tenth anniversary year, so you might to check that out.

They also did this one at Stratford: “Entourage” by Steven Page.


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The Mike and Micky Show (they were The Monkees)

smith: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.

depp: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It’s a great song. I don’t care what anyone says.

smith: “Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total happiness. It’s a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?

depp: I know, I know. It’s O.K. to like “Daydream Believer.” There’s nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It’s “Daydream Believer.” I’m justifying my own flag.

— Patti Smith and Johnny Depp (The Crowded Mind of Johnny Depp, Vanity Fair, 2010)

People were a bit bemused when we said we were going to The Monkees concert. “The ‘Hey, hey we’re The Monkees’ guys? They’re still around?”

They’re actually not all still around, Davy Jones having died in 2012. Peter Tork is still active in the music business—too active to go on this particular nostalgia tour. Leaving Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith to perform in what was dubbed “The Monkees Presents: The Mike and Micky Show”.

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and band: The Mike and Micky Show

The show was to feature the hits, along with some “deep album tracks.” Or from my perspective, songs I know along with songs I don’t know.

Because I’m not a deep, hardcore Monkees fan. Like most people my age, I suspect, I watched the show as a kid, and then again when it re-ran in the 1980s. I own The Monkees Greatest Hits album. So when I saw the show announced, it piqued my interest, but I wasn’t sure about attending. Then Centre in the Square sweetened the deal by offering Jean a photographer’s pass:

It turned out that said pass could only be exercised during the first three songs, which Jean reports is not a lot of time! But we stayed for the whole thing, and were suitably entertained.

A subset of the full band—there were more musicians to the right

The two original Monkees members were joined by nine other musicians covering guitar, keyboards, bass, drums (Micky did not play drums, but did joke about having taught the drummer all he knew), maracas, fiddle / banjo, and backup vocals. Mike and Micky took turns taking lead vocals, both proving that not everyone in their 70s loses their vocal abilities. They both sounded very good.

They did not do as much chit-chatting as I thought they might, perhaps weary of telling their history of being TV show cast-mates who became a real band—fascinating though I find that story. The songs I knew in the first half included “Last Train to Clarksville”; ”Mary,  Mary”; and (yay!) “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. The ones I didn’t offered more genre variety than I had been expecting (which was pure pop); in particular, a number had something of a country sound. But not in bad way.

(No idea, actually, if some Monkees songs always had a bit of country flair, or if they were reinterpreted the songs that way on this tour.)

Near the end of the first set, Micky did start talking a little more, asking if anyone had ever seen the movie Head and if so, did we have any idea what it was about?

Head was surrealistic, R-rated movie featuring The Monkees in the wake of their TV success. It was a huge flop. But at some point—probably in the 90s?—I got intrigued enough about to seek it out. I believe it required tracking down a rental copy from the alternative DVD store. (Now? Appears you can just watch the whole thing on YouTube.) It was so weird, but in such a fascinating way—they totally deconstructed themselves! And, it had a great soundtrack!

So I was very happy to hear a number of songs from the movie, including my favourite, “The Porpoise Song”. Those were followed by “Me and Magelena”.

Something else that surprised me during the first set was that one or the other of Mike and Micky would sometimes wander off-stage when the other was singing. (Mike started joking about that at one point: “Where are you going? Hey, come back!”) So it was nice that second set started with a focus on just the two of them. Then with each song, more and more band members rejoined them on stage.

Did they do “Daydream  Believer”, a song famously sung by Davy Jones? Of course, they did, with Micky starting it off, then handing it over to us, the crowd, to take over. On a week with so much disturbing news (“tender-age shelters”?!?), we needed that moment of pure happiness that comes from singing along to “Daydream Believer”. And we also got “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer”, for good measure. These guys earned their standing ovation.

Link to the full set list, with song link for each track