Monday, June 25, 2007

Vacation Destination?

So, I was trying to decide where to go for my next vacation, and someone suggested Maho Beach, Sint Maarten. Fantastic, I thought: beautiful beaches great weather, crystal blue water... Only problem is, I usually like to be a little closer to the airport, if at all possible.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Broken Radio

This song has officially broken the record for number of days being stuck in my head. I'm pretty sure I've listened to it everyday I've been in Cleveland, so I thought I'd pass it on to you. Jesse Malin, Bruce Springsteen, some great shots of NYC, girls movin' to the motor city soul... what's not to love?

Stay tuned for an update on whether or not Cleveland really does rock.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The NBA Finals

When the Larry O'Brien trophy is all shined up and in the house, and you just happen to be within the arena's city limits, you make a point of being there. End of story. Even if you know well in advance what the outcome will be, and that the game will invariably be unwatchable.

After having my request for press credentials unceremoniously denied by the good people at NOW Magazine (their exact words were: "we rarely...well, actually never write about sports"), I found myself seeking entry into the big dance the old fashioned way: by attempting to procure tickets via the quasi-legal free-market system of supply and demand which is at the very heart of the American Dream. Scalping, to the lay person.

I showed up in Downtown Cleveland about 20 minutes before the game with $140 USD, thinking that I had a slim chance of scoring a single nosebleed. When I asked the parking lot attendant what my chances were, he said: "None to none". Didn't look good. Worst case scenario, I thought, would be that I end up walking around the arena for awhile, and then heading into the Thirsty Parrot for a few frosty beverages while watching the game on the big screen. I guy could do worse. I ended up walking around the arena once, taking a few snaps of the gigantic blow-up Larry O'Brien trophy out front, and noticed that I didn't see a single person selling a ticket. I had resigned myself to watching from a barstool, and when I heard Taylor Hicks belting out the American Anthem, I figured that it was just as well. But when I eventually turned the corner on my way to the bar, I happened upon a sidewalk full of people hawking the desired contraband, meaning that I was in luck. The first guy I asked wanted $350 for lower bowl, and when I told him I just wanted in the door, he offered me bleeders for $150. So I kept walking. Next dude could do it for $120. You know the story. I walked up and down the block and then found someone with 4 singles. We both knew there was no way in hell he was getting rid of all four, so I offered him $80 as the ball was tipped, and he begrudgingly went along for the ride. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in Section 217, Row 14, sipping on a Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland's version of a Delgado) between two other dudes who had very obviously scalped singles. Life was grand.

What can I say about the game other than it bordered on excruciation. Guys were missing wide open jumpers all night, Lebron was giving the rock away like a venereal disease, the refs were like ninth graders with self-esteem issues (blowing everything), and the Big Fundamental appeared entirely secondary (the opposite of "fundamental", for those of you without access to your thesaurus). I mean, it took until there were 32 seconds left in the third quarter for the Cavs to break the half-century mark. And then the Spurs did their best to give the game away in the fourth, going 6 1/2 minutes without scoring... It was just hideous.

Making matters worse was the fact that this was just about the lamest crowd I'd ever had the misfortune of sitting in. It felt more like a Monday nighter in May between the Jays and D-Rays than it did an elimination game in the NBA finals. Maybe it was because everybody in the building knew that the Lebrons didn't have a hope in hell of winning this game, let alone the series (believe me, the Cavs were never in this game. Even when they were tied with 4:40 to go, they weren't in the game. This was a no doubter from the time Mr. Longoria slashed through the entire D for a ridiculous layup with 2:30 to go in the half, and you could feel it in the crowd from that moment on. Everybody knew there was no stopping these guys). Some drunk guys were walking around at recess, trying to get a "Go Cavs Go!" chant going, and when nobody joined them (in an ELIMINATION GAME!!! How are you not making noise in an ELIMINATION GAME???), they started chanting "This Crowd SUCKS!" I couldn't help but laugh.

The problem with the Q, as it is lovingly referred to, is that the people sitting there are waaaaaaaay too dependent on the jumbotron for direction. By no means is the Air Canada Centre an Indiana Assembly Hall equivalent, but at least there's a semblance of atmosphere in the building. The playoff games this year were pretty damn wild, and you can bet that if the Dinos ever made the finals, the place would be an absolute madhouse. But the Q? Not exactly Baron's House.

It is a major pet peeve of mine when the loudest a crowd gets all night is when the jumbotron tells them to. And it's even worse when it's for one of those races where the loudest section gets the free pizza or whatever the hell it is they're giving away as a promotion. If the game itself doesn't get you excited enough to make noise, then you shouldn't be there. Seriously. Give your ticket to someone who cares. The irony of it all is that the jumbotron kept showing these montages of the players saying that Cleveland had the best fans in the world and that they owed so much of their success to those same fans. Word to the wise: if you're constantly being reminded of how you're the best fans in the world, chances are, you're not. In fact, you might even be the opposite. It's like when a somebody is constantly telling you how nice a guy they are. In all likelihood, the guy's an asshole.

Nothing highlights the crowd's dependence on the jumbotron quite like the freethrow sequence that took place Aat some point in the second half when Tim Duncan stepped up to the line. There was almost no noise in the place as he took his first shot, and it wasn't until they put up a Pittsburgh Steelers logo (and then in the second half, a Buckeyes logo) on the big screen that people began booing with any kind of emotion. To me, that tells you everything you need to know about what kind of a crowd it was. Translation: not a basketball one. There was some serious irony later on when the jumbotron announced: "IT'S TOO QUIET IN HERE", completely oblivious to the fact that it was entirely responsible for the unwanted serenity. It was like something out of L.A. Story.

In any event, I was in the strange position of half-rooting for both teams. I was cheering for Cleveland because I wanted to see them win a game and because I wanted the city of Cleveland to have at least one good thing happen to it in its bleak and dejected sports history. But at the same time, and for reasons entirely self-centered, I wanted to see San Antonio pull off the sweep, simply because I wanted to be there to see them hoist the Larry. So I was going crazy when Lebron threw it down, but I was secretly relishing every run the Spurs went on as they slowly pulled away. I'm sure I'll be karmicly punished for this sports infidelity at some point in the future.

In the end, to no one's surprise, Eva Longoria's fiance and the pride of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, were too much for Boobie and the guy with Rasheed Wallace's patch of hair on the back of his neck. Because really, that's what this series came down to: when Tim Duncan struggled, his teammates were there to pick him up; but when Lebron struggled... well, I'm not even sure that Lebron has any teammates. They are absolutely brutal, and Lebron is making things worse by getting them to the finals and allowing his GM to think: a) that he has anything more than a WNBA supporting cast, and b) that Mike Brown is capable of coaching even a highschool team. Honestly, When he didn't go 2-for-1 in the last 35 seconds of the first half, I wanted to scream (something that absolutely no one picked up on was the fact that, when he failed to do so, the official scorer actucally stopped the clock to allow the Cavs to get last shot. It's true. Look at this clip. Go to the 1:18 mark and see for yourself. The clock is stopped at 26.7 seconds for the entire sequence. This is what happened on the game clock in the arena, and as soon as Lebron put it home, they started it back up again. Everyone is trying to make Mike Brown look good, and it will do nothing but cripple this team in the future). The only way this team ever wins anything is if Lebron can average 48-12-0 a game, and that ain't ever happenin' against a team like San Antonio. They're too damn good, and they're too damn well coached. Mike Brown is not beating Pop in a four game series. Ever.

Because as Rosco, the resident basketball expert has so often and eloquently pointed out, coaching in the NBA is everything. Do you know how many coaches have won an NBA title in the past 21 years?

Six. Six guys have won the past 21 championships. Riley, Daly, Jackson, Rudy T, Pop, and Larry Brown. That's it. Do you know how many NHL coaches have won in that same time frame? Sixteen. SIXTEEN! Sixteen different coaches, and there have only been TWELVE different teams that have won in that time frame. The coaches are practically inconsequential, with the only ones to repeat in that time frame being Glenn Sather (with the help of some guy named Wayne) and the great Scotty Bowman. Those numbers are staggering. I'm getting way off topic.

At the end of the game, the Spurs celebrated like they'd been there before (which they have) and as though they expect to be there again (which they surely will). The presentation of the Larry O'Brien pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup, and it lacks the midfield pile-on of the World Series, but we did get a few candid shots of Eva wiping away some tears of joy (the only worthwhile thing shown on the jumbotron all night) as her husband-to-be was accepting his well deserved MVP award, as well as some history that I'll keep with me for the rest of my life.

All in all, seeing a dynasty team being crowned isn't a bad way to spend a night when you'd otherwise be stuck out in the 'burbs of Cleveland.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Best of NxNE

For years, I have been saying that my favourite 3 days in Toronto are the weekend on which NxNE falls. There really is something amazing about strapping on that wristband and going from gig to gig all over the city, riding the streetcar with all of the music scenesters, staying out all night and drinking in massive excess, all of which constitue the ritual involved in seeing some of the finest bands on the planet gathered in our fair city. I love going out for breakfast in Kennsington Market on Saturday and seeing a group of 4 or 5 dudes and dudettes wearing the same wristband as I am, looking every bit as hungover as me, and then exchanging knowing nods with these total strangers because we know and understand that there's a kind of fraternity amongst all of us who put in the time and gruelling, liver-destroying, Herculean effort it takes to truly experience the festival (450 bands at 40 bars over 3 nights). It really is one of the coolest things about the weekend, that quasi-kinship that hip young music lovers feel for one another.

In talking to my buddy Browner (the only person who made it out for all 3 nights with me), he pointed out that the Canadian Music scene is the only place where you can bump into these amazing artists and musicians and have actual conversations with them. There's no pretension. There's no attitude. And everybody's out to have the same kind of rockin' good time. I think he put it best when he said: "I was just upstairs taking a piss and Ron Sexsmith stepped up to the urinal beside me... and this isn't even the first time that's happened." This only happens in Toronto at North by North East. You just bump into these people in the most random places; in the crowd waiting to see other bands, in front of the bar having a cigarette, sitting in the car next to them in traffic; and it always feels like you're bumping into an old friend.

And then there's the ridiculously great music...

Best Pat Boone Reference in a Hip Hop Performance: Shad K (Kathedral, Friday, 11pm)

Any hip hop artist who strums an acoustic guitar and has the sack to list Pat Boone as an influence gets the nod from me. Shad K is from London, ON, and was just recently signed to Black Box Records, and he absolutely rocked the joint on Friday night. Spitting beautifully articulated and at time hilarious lyrics ("I’m always jamming like Peter Tosh’s rastas / Getting the thoughtless tossed quicker / Than The Moffats in a mosh pit"), this guy, along with his ridiculously talented DJ on the wheels of steel, absolutely blew me away. Like a young Maestro Fresh Wes (chalked full of Canadian references), I absolutely loved the fact that he wasn't afraid to get a positive message across, particularly in the track "Out of Love" where he explains how, unlike most other hip hop artists, he isn't looking for any kind of a ho, but instead wants to get himself a "Clare Huxtable". Some of his self-deprecating lines are amongst the funniest I've ever heard. A totally refreshing spin on hip hop, and a guy you should definitely be on the look out for.

Best Performance by a Band I'd Never Heard of Prior to This Weekend (aka: The Krister Axel Award): $outhpaw (The Dakota Tavern, Saturday, 10pm)

We met Gav and Lou from $outhpaw on Thursday night at Lee's Palace for the Bob Harris showcase (that night is ineligible for these awards because they would have swept almost every category... and because I've already written about it here), and after many, many beverages, they informed us that they were playing on Saturday night at the Dakota Tavern (which Gav insisted on calling the Dakota "Lounge"). They were such great people that we had to hit up their gig. And you know what? They were absolutely fantastic. They played that brand of Alt-Country that I find myself falling more and more in love with with every show I see, and their songs had every damn person in the bar stomping their feet and whooping it up. On a night in which we saw both Soundtrack of Our Lives and Urge Overkill, I can say with all honesty that I had the most fun and most enjoyed the music at the Southpaw show.

Gav, the lead singer, undoubtedly provided the best between-song-banter, keeping the crowd in stiches as he went on at length in his Glaswegian accent about how the Dakota (Lounge) was the perfect place for their band to play because it was the exact kind of place they liked to get drunk in on a Saturday night. He also dedicated a song to the Scottish minister who outlawed smoking in bars (Gav smokes about a pack a day, and said that this particular 45-minute set was way too long for him to go without a cigarette, so if anyone stepped outside for a smoke, he asked that they please kindly come up to the stage afterwards so he could smell them...), and another one, a Graham Parsons tune, to his lovely lady Lou. But I think my favourite part of the set was when he said that the next song they were playing was usually reserved for hecklers (the song is called "Shut Your Mouth"), so if anyone felt the urge to heckle, now was the time... And then some dude at the back of the crowd yells "YOU GUYS SUCK!" That shit kills me.

If $outhpaw is ever back in town, or if you're ever over in Scotland, do yourself a favour and check out their show. I almost wish they were the house band at the Dakota, because I'd make it my Saturday night watering hole if they were.

Best Disembowelment of a Midway Plush Toy Prize: White Cowbell Oklahoma (The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, Friday, 1am)

There really are no words to describe this show. I think Gav from $outhpaw put it best when he said: "I was talking to the lead singer about his band and asked them what their lineup was. They guy told me, 'we have four lead guitars, a chainsaw, and a stripper'. I said I'd only stay for a song, but then I couldn't leave." There was a ridiculous lineup outside of the 'shoe when we got there just before 1am, so we knew there must be something to these guys. We managed to pull a Wayne and Garth with our wristbands and snuck into the front of the line just as it began moving, and before we knew what was happening, we were in a crowd of about a thousand people chanting a chorus that went: "PUT THE SOUTH IN YOUR MOUTH, PRETTY BABY!!!" Up on stage, it looked like a white-trash intrepretation of a Jay-Z concert, because there were about 20 band members standing around doing various things, some of which even included playing their instruments.

But really, the show didn't swing into full gear until they brought out the chainsaw. I'm pretty sure this broke just about every safety regulation in the book. The guy fired this thing up, and the place went absolutely nuts. As the lead singer announced, "Behold the Spinning Wheel of Death", the guy with the murder weapon went at about a dozen rolls of toilet paper, sending it flying in every direction like a high school kegger gone terribly wrong. But it wasn't until they took out the gigantic stuffed animal; you know, the kind you might win after knocking down all of the bowling pins with a baseball at the carnival; that things got out completely out of control. They absolutetly butchered this thing on stage, sending its styrofoam innards all over the first four rows. I'm telling you, I saw these people come walking out of the crowd later on in the show, and they looked like the images of the people who had been near the world trade centers when they came down. They were absolutely covered in dust and foam, and they had a stunned and confused look in their eyes, like they couldn't believe what they'd seen. Really, if you're ever at a show, standing in the first few rows, and you hear the lead singer begin to chant: "CH-CH-CH-CHAINSAW!!! CH-CH-CH-CHAINSAW!!!", you might want to think about taking a few steps back. After they'd finished gutting the plush toy, they threw the lifeless shell into the crowd, and it somehow ended up on the wing of the ceiling fan, spinning around and around all night long like a reminder of what might happen to you if you fuck with the WCO, the same way they used to put the bodies of traitors on display in medeival empires. I honestly couldn't stop laughing. Even days later, I would think about that thing spinning around above the crowd and have a good chuckle about it. And then they brought the stripper out on stage.

After the set finished, we stood around for awhile with our ears still violently ringing, completely stunned, looking for the appropriate words to describe it. Browner put it best when he said: "That show had everything except good music." I never thought the term "Gong Show" would be a fitting description of a band's set, but in this instance, it really is the only thing that works. I don't even know what else to say. White Cowbell Oklahoma. You have to see it for yourself to believe it.

Just as a side note, the entire band showed up at the Dakota Tavern halfway through the $outhpaw set, and you'll be happy to hear that they were dressed exactly the same way they were the night before up on stage. These guys walk the fuckin walk. They had all of their wives/girlfriends in tow, and the vast majority of them were with child. They also had the stripper with them. I'm telling you, if I had the choice to go on the road with any band in the world, I think I'd choose White Cowbell Oklahoma. They're like Tom Kenny and his friends except times a thousand. They are the real deal.

And the big guy who plays the double neck guitar? He doesn't make a sound. He shows his appreciation for a band by simply raising his glass of beer after every song. It's totally creepy, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he ends up going on a killing spree one day. He's kind of like WWE superstar Kane that way.

Performer You're Least Likely to See in a Club the Size of The Reverb Ever Again: Jesse Malin (The Reverb, Friday, 12am)

I'm telling you, this guy is on the verge of blowing up. This was one of the slickest shows I've seen in a long time, and they absolutely rocked the Reverb room in a way that it hasn't been rocked since Los Locos was in its prime. And just let me say that if both George Strombolopoulis and Sammy from the Cadillac Lounge are in attendance, its a pretty good indication that you're on your way to bigger and better things. It's funny because most of the stuff I've heard from Jesse Malin has been of the slower, acoustic variety, so when Foley asked me what this guy was like just before the show, I told him that he was a kind of troubador, singer-songwriter guy... and then they come out and almost blow the amps out. Shows you what I know.

"Don't Let Them Take You Down" is a great track that they played note-perfect, and you know the guy has some serious stuff when he has a single out that features Bruce Springsteen on vocals ("Broken Radio"), and he doesn't even bust it out at NxNE. But hands down, my favourite part of the show was near the end of the set. They played "Modern World", and towards the end they got into this totally thrashing finale, and I swear to God, Malin was about half a Dexedrine away from going Kurt Cobain a la SNL circa 1992 on the stage, and just when we thought he was about to club his bassist with the micorphone stand, he walks over to his roaddie and grabs an acoustic guitar, the band stops playing and gets the fuck off the stage, Malin brings his heart-rate down from 749bpm to something approaching normalcy, and then serenades the crowd with a beautiful, acoustic version of "Aftermath". It was one of the most unbelievable things I've ever seen. Browner and I both saw the roaddie holding the acoustic, and I honestly thought it was going to be a prop for Malin to smash into the speakers...and then he's strumming it and singing a sweet melody. It was absolutely amazing. We were laughing about it all night.

This was easily one of the best sets of the weekend, but my one complaint with Jesse Malin is that he didn't introduce his band. And really, that's what NxNE is all about. You have an emerging band, they're making practically no money as they're making you look good: you have to introduce them. Even if you're a solo artist and they're just your backing guys, you have to make a point of saying their names. Get them laid for Christ's sake. Not doing so goes against the spirit of the festival. The only other guy who didn't introduce his band was Ebbot Lundberg from "The Soundtrack of Our Lives", whom most people believe is suffering from a minor God complex anyway. But you know what? No matter how big you get, you have to give the guys in the band their due. The Boss does it. Tom Waits does it. If it's not below them, it's certainly not below you.

The Versace Award for Best Dressed Band: Urge Overkill (Lee's Palace, Saturday, 1am) and Fuck'em Bucky (Silver Dollar, Saturday, 3am)

The guys in Urge Overkill were wearing matching purple velour tuxedos with green shirts underneath. The guys in Fuck'em Bucky were wearing softball shirts with their team name (Fuck'em Bucky) across the front, and the bass player had no shirt on but had written "Fuck'em Bucky" across his chest in black marker. High comedy on both fronts.

Worst Emerging Fashion Trend: The Scarf

Both Ebbot Lundberg from T.S.O.O.L. and the guitar player in Jesse Malin's band were wearing scarfs. I get the scarf thing. It's very sophisticated. I even have a scarf of my own that my girlfriend knit for me. It's quite lovely. It keeps me warm in the winter. But when it's June and you're up on stage in a ram-packed, hot and stuffy club, under the heat of the bright lights, it just looks ridiculous. And it makes you sweat more than necessary. A toque is one thing. A toque is cool. But a scarf? Only if you're hiding a hickey courtesy of an underaged groupie from the night before.

Best Random Encounter: Melissa McClelland (The Drake Hotel, Friday)

I was walking down to Queen Street to grab the street car to head over to Kathedral for the Shad K show, and when the damn thing took so long to show up, I decided to pop into the Drake for a quick Amsterdam Blonde. And wouldn't you know it, as I sidled up to the bar, standing right there was Melissa McClelland, the girl with the red dress who was part of the Bob Harris Showcase at Lee's Palace the night before. Great girl, indulged me for a few minutes despite the fact that I felt like Jerry after moving into Kramer's apartment (NO sleep). After talking to her about the Nelson/White Oaks dichotomy (ie, she went to one, I went to the other... and that's the extent of the dichotomy), I asked her what she was doing at The Drake. She gave me a strange look and then said: "Um... I'm playing here in an hour?" Riiiiiiiight. Guess I should have checked that schedule on my way in. I am an idiot.

Band I Wish I'd Seen Based On Their Name Alone: Lesbians on Ecstacy (The Drake Hotel, Saturday, 1am)

Fairly self-explanatory.

Number of Shots of Jagermeister Consumed over the Course of the NxNE Weekend: 73 (approximately)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

NxNE - Thursday

You say that you're leaving
Well that comes as no surprise
Still I kinda like this feeling
Of being left behind

Yeah this ain't nothing new to me
Well it's just like going home
It's kinda like those sunsets
That leave you feeling so stoned

Hey hey I guess it hasn't hit me yet
I fell through this crack
And I kinda lost my head
I stand transfixed
Before this street light
Watching the snow fall
On this cold December night

And with those opening lines, with the entire crowd singing along on a Thursday night at 3:20 in the morning inside a past-capacity Lee's Palace with people still lined up outside in the hopes of getting in the door, Blue Rodeo officially supplanted The Tragically Hip as Canada's pre-eminent rock band.

In a night of ridiculously amazing talent on the stage at Lee's to open the North by North East Music Festival, the closing act somehow managed to top them all. With Jim Cuddy looking like a cross between my Unkle Mike and Jim Carey when he goes to look for Ray Finkle at Shady Acres (or as Sandra puts it: "the sexiest 50 year old on the planet"), and Greg Keelor somewhat less sexy but with an equally pitch perfect voice, the boys ran through a tour de force set list for fifty minutes as the crowd sang along to every glorious song.

Blue Rodeo is a lot like The Band in that you don't even know how many of their songs you know until you actually sit and listen to them bang out hit after beautiful hit, and this night was no exception. What Am I Doing Here, Til I Am Myself Again, Bad Timing... When they came out for their encore and played Lost Together, I honestly felt like they could have played for another two hours and not a soul would have gone home, even though half the people in the building had to be awake for work in less than 4 hours (Cuddy had the line of the night when he said, after two or three songs: You know, we don't usually get up this early...). When Sandra, Sully and I got back to my place somewhere near 4:30 in the morning, it was just like in a movie because the birds were out in full force and we were still singing It Hasn't Hit Me Yet as we drunkenly bounded up the stairs (the girl who lives below us loved it). I can't remember that ever happening to me before. It was just that kind of a show.

But believe me, there was so much more to this night than just Blue Rodeo, although they were definitely a gigantic mother-f*ckin cherry on top of the Tony-Soprano-sized chocolate fudge sundae. Sandra and I showed up to Lee's Palace just before 10 o'clock on the recommendation of Matt Brown, Foley's buddy who has become my buddy and who works for Sony Music. Browner had some inside information on who the "Special Guests" were going to be in the 1am and 3am slots (Ron Sexsmith and Blue Rodeo), so we were sold on those two alone, but I know that the man has an impeccable ear for music and our tastes are pretty similar, so when he said he was showing up at Lee's at 7:30 and planting himself there for seven hours, we knew we had our plan for the night.

Walking into the bar, I quickly realized that calling Lee's establishment a "palace" is the architectual equivalent to calling the act that Gilbert Gottfried describes at Hugh Hefner's Roast "The Aristocrats" - really, it couldn't be any further from palatial, but a fantastic venue nonetheless.

The first act was Kathleen Edwards and she set the bar at a ridiculous height. She is an amazing songwriter and has fantastic stage presence, not to mention some beautiful lyrics, including the only known musical reference to Marty McSorley in the track "I Make the Dough but You Get the Glory". Her song "Back to Me" blew me away, and it was about the most rockin' song you could ever hope to have without the assistance of a drummer, and it instantly turned me into a fan for life. I missed a couple of songs because Sully showed up and I had to meet him out front because I somehow ended up with his wallet earlier in the day (long story), but the two of us made it back in time to hear her play Good Things, a slow song which left just about everyone with tears in their eyes as she implored us "don't get down/good things come when you stop waiting around... you just gotta stop looking". An absolutely beautiful performance.

It should also be mentioned that TSN's own Dave Hodge is a big Kathleen Edwards fan, and aside from being a champion of Canadian independent music, he's one of the nicest guys around. I spoke to him for a couple of minutes, congratulating him on being able to stay out so late. His response? "Some things are more important than work". Hence the famous CBC pencil flip. But I couldn't agree more. Sleep when you're dead.

Next up was Jim Bryson, a poor man's Wilco, but he had a couple of tracks that get better the more I've listened to them, primarily Feel Much Better and Somewhere Else. Jim was also the artist who gave the best description of exactly what Bob Harris from BBC 2 had done for the likes of him and everyone else on the bill on this night. It turns out that Bob is a huge fan of Canadian music, and has been playing these guys over in England for years. Jim tells the story of going to check his email at work one day (he didn't have internet access at home) and finding that he had about 15 emails from people in England saying that they'd just heard his song on the Bob Harris show and wondering where they could get his music... Fantastic story. Anyway, this night was a showcase of all of Bob's favourite Canadian bands and Bob was obviously supposed to be there to see it all go down, but he was diagnosed with prostate cancer just last month and wasn't able to make it over because of it. I don't know Bob, but he seems like a hell of a guy, so I'll definitely be pulling for him. Anyway, most of the Bob Harris showcase from Lee's Palace was broadcast on BBC Radio 2, and you can check it out here.

I think it was in the time between the Kathleen Edwards and Jim Bryson sets that Sully and Sandra decided that they were going to do a shot of Jagermeister after every band... I chose to politely decline this offer because I had to work the charity putting contest at a golf tournament the next morning with my two bosses, so I kept on with my steady diet of 1 Steam Whistle and 1 bottle of water; a revelation, really, because I didn't feel like a truck hit me the next morning and am actually able to recall some of what happened that night as I sit here writing about it. I'm not sure, but I think I might actually be on to something with this rehydration thing.

It was at about the same time as the Jager shots that we got talking to Gav and Lou, a fantastic couple from Glasgow whom Sully decided to go round for round with. It turns out they're in the band $outhpaw, and they were in town for NxNe and were playing at the Dakota Tavern on Saturday night. Sully and I would go outside with them for a smoke after every set, and they were the greatest people you could ever meet. Gav was loving my Stone Pony T-shirt, and the two of us kicked into an impromptu version of Springsteen's "Red Headed Woman" for his girlfriend Lou right there on Bloor Street. By the way, I had about 12 people comment on my Asbury Park T, which, in my mind, means that you're in a place where people know their music. I'm telling you, Lee's Palace on Thursday night was a who's-who of the Canadian music scene, and one of the best parts of standing outside between sets was watching cabs drop off band after band, all of whom had finished their sets and were coming to catch the end of the Bob Harris showcase. Of course Gav, the good Scotsman, knew just about everyone, so we just stood around outside drinking beers and waiting for the bouncers to take them away from us (which they kindly did).

Taking the stage at midnight was Justin Rutledge, a guy I was totally stoked to see. He's really just a kid (26 years old), but sings country songs like he's felt the pain of a thousand depression era boxcar riders. His band looks like a ragtag bunch of misfits (I'm pretty sure his drummer was Balki Bartokomous with a beard), but they play country the way its supposed to be played. His voice reminds me of Steve Earle's, which is never a bad thing, and the line of his that goes "Too sober to sleep / I'm too drunk to cry" tells you just about everything you need to know about what kind of a songwriter he is. God bless garage bands in the basement. And God bless garage bands on the stage.

The 1 o'clock slot was reserved for Ron Sexsmith, the first special guest of the night. What more can you say about Sexsmith than the fact that he's Canadian music royalty? He opened with the only song ever written about Lebanon, Tennessee, and followed it up with songs showcasing that amazing voice of his. I still think Secret Heart is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. By the end of the set, Sandra and I were doing the "Ahh-RONNNNNNIE" thing that is usually reserved for my brother. Good times all around.

At two o'clock, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland climbed onto the stage. The two of them are usually billed as solo artists (and they're married to one another, I would later learn, despite Sully's insistence that Melissa was consistently eye-F'ing him throughout the duration of her set), but decided to share the stage on this special night. The two things that stood out the most about their gig was Luke's guitar, and Melissa's dress. It looked like Luke had a 63 Cadillac strapped across his chest, and Melissa's dress was enough to have Sully fall in love with her on the spot. Doucet's track Broken One was pretty stellar ("you gotta have a heart to have a broken one), and McClelland's Passenger 24 was solid, but to be totally honest, I was pretty drunk by that point, and I could only think of the guitar and the dress.

And then it was the aforementioned Blue Rodeo gig. Taken as a totallity, this was one of the best shows I've ever been to. Just a magical night all around. And perhaps the best part of it was that there were two more nights to go.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Greatest Moment in Sports

Really, there is nothing better than watching a team win the Stanley Cup. And when the Commissioner of your Fantasy Football League ("The Natty Light Football League", or NLFL) happens to be one of the guys hoisting the the most glorious trophy in all of sports, it takes on an even greater meaning.

Because of some copyright regulations, I wasn't able to put the actual video footage from CBC on this site, so you will have to do some work here on your own. But believe me, it is more than worth it. Particularly for those of you in the U.S. who weren't able to get the CBC feed.

Go to the following link:

Click on the "Archived" tab, and then go to "Ottawa vs. Anaheim, Game 5"

Do yourself a favour and fast-forward to:

57:20 - and see Don Cherry compare the pride of Almonte, ON to the great Bobby Orr

2:47:25 - to see George Parros rub his moustache all over Lord Stanley's Mug before passing it on to Huskerdu

3:17:25 - to see Kent Huskins give what might one day go down as the greatest interview in live television history. This is truly what it's all about.

I have placed a request in to the man himself to give a recap of exactly what goes down tonight because, let's face it, the party in the hours after winning the Stanley Cup has to be right up there among the greatest parties one could ever dream of being a part of. I'd do anything to just be one of the reporters getting drenched in champagne. If he ever takes time out of his signing-pucks-in-order-to-be-sold-for-profit-on-Ebay gig, I'll be sure to pass it along.

Congratulations to Kent Huskins and The Anaheim Ducks. We couldn't be any happier for you.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Bud Light Swear Jar

Maybe the funniest f#cking commercial of all time.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Lebron James

In case you missed it last night. When Marv Albert says that "this goes down as one of the all-time performances in NBA history", you know you've witnessed something special. My girlfriend almost broke up with me because we were supposed to watch a movie, but when the King throws down his team's final 25, and 29 of their last 30, there is no way in hell we're trading it for "Super Troopers".

Chris Sheridan opened his Daily Dime by writing: "If you missed this one Thursday night, you did yourself an epic disservice. Go find someone who TiVo'd or videotaped it, fast-forward to midpoint of the fourth quarter, then sit back and prepare to be awestruck.This performance was one that'll be talked about for ages, a testament to greatness that'll rank right up there with Reggie Miller's 8 points in 8.9 seconds, Michael Jordan's 63-point coming-out party in the Boston..."

The dunk with 32 seconds left over a cowering Tayshaun was absolutely vicious, and every other play impresses more and more, with Marv continuously echoing with nothing short of complete exasperated disbelief "...AND THE GAME IS TIED!!!"

It was easily one of the most rivetting games I've ever seen. Everytime Lebron came down the floor and drilled another shot, I was like "what the fuck?!?" I can't remember ever seeing anything like it. And it made me realize two things: 1) Lebron is the best player in the league right now, and 2) he has the worst supporting cast in sports. Honestly. That may have been the greatest individual performance of all time simply because it came out of complete necessity. Nobody else on that team can score, so it is literally left entirely up to Lebron. MJ had Scottie and Horace, Bird had McHale and DJ, Magic had Kareem etc, etc... What are they gonna say about Lebron? That he had Zydrunas? They need to get this guy a team.

My buddy Rosco is the in-house NBA expert, and this is how he broke it all down:

Please tell me you watched that game last night. That was the first great game of the playoffs since the GS series. LeBron was just unbelievable, if you didn't see it I have the second half saved at home and you definitely need to see what he did. Yes I believe that I got Chucky's line of the night at the halftime show, when he starts checking his cell phone, and Reggie and Kenny both ask him what he's doing, and Charles just says "Its Kobe, he changed his mind again". The round mound of rebound is the greatest studio analyst of all time. By the way you just don't see clutch DUNKS like that ever. I have had my doubts about LeBron just because he looks like he doesn't care that much, but if he hits jump shots like that he is absolutely impossible to guard. It is games like that which make you just want to watch them over and over. LeBron could definitely be the greatest of all time after watching that. He won't be MJ, Bird or Magic he will be LeBron. ( I never saw the other greats actually play, so I am sticking with the best 3 I ever watched).

There is something that seems to take a back seat to all of the teams, maybe the two most important people in the organization don't fall under the salary cap and yet teams try to skimp on them. GM and Coach are critical to teams doing well. Yes luck plays a huge role, with players like LeBron, MJ, Duncan etc... But lets be honest Colangelo is getting paid 3MM per year, and yet Phoenix let him go, and that was a big raise for him. I don't get it at all, but teams will buy out shit players, pay them off. Did you know that Nate Huffman was still part of the Raps payroll last year. If there is a good GM out there he should be making 10MM a year to keep the team in the playoffs, RC Buford, Joe Dumars!!!!

For the record I thought Detroit would win at the opening of the series, and changed my mind after Cleveland went down 2-0. Its not often that a home team gets lucky twice at home to open a series and that is what happened. They got real lucky while everyone kept calling them great. Which brings me to my next point about how critical coaching is. Mike Brown is one of the worst coaches out there. Flip Saunders may be worse. There is a reason that Flip got out of the first round once with KG. He is just brutal, why the hell didn't you double / triple team LeBron when he was just going nuts. Pay attention nobody on Cleveland has hit anything clutch at all. Neither coach controls the game at all or seems to affect it. If you ever want to see coaches who really know how to control the game from the bench there are only a few in the league, D'Antoni, Popovich, Jackson, Riley, Sloan, Larry Brown, (although I hate Brown). I may have missed one but those are about the only coaches that really know what they are doing. If you watch them you will see what coach should be doing. Everyone else just doesn't have that it factor. Great players win championships I get that, but you can't win without a great coach. If you get one keep him at all costs because they are just like superstar players, and they should get paid, they don't count against your cap at all, and make all the difference. Stop giving coach of the year awards to Mitchell and Doc Rivers, and give it to one of those 5 guys above every year. Neither team deserves to win based on the coaching, its a tie they both fucking suck. But LeBron was unbelievable! Detroit got lucky for two and I think this ends in Cleveland. As for the finals, Popovich absolutely dummies Brown, with Brown throwing a tantrum at the end of virtually every game. Totally bewildered by how his team got blown out all the time. 5 games, because San An always gets bored in at least one game.

Can't wait for game 6

You said it, my man. Can't wait for Game 6.

My Irish Heritage

In honour of the annual McCallum Family Camp-Out that goes down tonight in the wilds of East Oakville, here's a little clip that fairly accurately illustrates the history of my dad's culture.

The McCallum Family Camp-out began as my Grandfather, my dad, and his brothers doing the male bonding routine at Rock Point Provincial Park, where it can be assumed that the last part of this clip generally took place. After a few years, my brother and I were invited along for a one night stand of imbibing and cigar smoking with the boys at Elora Gorge in what remains one of the great nights of my young life. Eventually, the women and younger children joined in the fun, but it's hard to tell whether or not these experiments could be considered a success because the weekend invariably fell on the same night as game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, and we spent much of those evenings either watching the Stars beat the Sabres in overtime on some poor family's TV set up outside their motorhome, or listening to Jason Arnott bury the OT winner in the 2000 finals on my Uncle Kevin's van radio at Long Point... I'm not sure whether or not that was the same year the park was infested with millions of swarming insects that looked like miniature cyclones of larvae that you could hear buzzing at dusk like the oncoming of an Old Testament plague... And as my grandmother has repeatedly insisted, she "loathes" camping. Good times.

So after a two year hiatus, the McCallum Family Camp-Out was reinvented in my Unkle Mike's backyard. They have a killer pool as a substitute for Lake Erie, and some more-than-adequate accomodations for those who don't exactly relish the opportunity of roughing it under the stars. They also have a fire pit and a killer sound system to accompany the unmatched vinyl collection. Throw in the customary beverages and genealogical good-will, and you have a recipe for some serious family fun.