If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.

James Mullinger has a very interesting story to say the least. A few years ago, he was living a celebrity-filled life in London, England as an editor for GQ. Now, he lives in New Brunswick and is building a name for himself on the standup comedy circuit.

FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with him before his Almost Canadian Tour arrives at Montreal’s Theatre Sainte-Catherine this Wednesday:

Win Tickets!

James Mullinger will perform Almost Canadian this Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30pm at Theatre Sainte-Catherine, 264 rue Ste-Catherine Est. To win a pair of tickets, simply comment on this post, or on FTB’s Facebook share with your favourite city or town in New Brunswick. You can also tweet your favourite city or town in New Brunswick to @forgetthebox

We’ll randomly draw the winner from the entries we receive and announce who gets the tickets Wednesday morning. If you don’t win, you can buy tickets through ThePointOfSale.com.

Anyone who grew up in Canada in the 70s and 80s grew up with the songs of Raffi. An Armenian born in Egypt whose family immigrated to Canada in 1958, he became a household name following the release of his first album in 1975.

He was in Montreal on Sunday to do a couple of performances at Theatre Maisonneuve and he did not disappoint. All proceeds went to the Raffi Foundation, a group that commits to helping the most vulnerable and recognizes that : “Every girl and boy is entitled to love, to dream and belong to a loving village and to pursue a life of purpose.”

The stage was set with an easy chair, a guitar stand, and a rug, giving audiences the impression that we were visiting him at home and not seeing a legend. He bounded on stage with a spring in his step, radiating more life at age 70 than most of us do at 30.

Though his beard and receding hair are now salt and pepper gray and he’s swapped his Hawaiian shirt for a long sleeved plaid one, his voice rings clear and true as it did 40 years ago and radiates the same level of warmth Gen Xers and Yers have grown to know and love.

His audience was comprised of parents who bought his albums in the decades ago and people who grew up with him, some with kids so small their feet barely reached the edge of their seats, some without kids who are there because they crave the kind of loving comfort he offers in an economy that won’t pay fair wages and is systemically trying to strip our rights away. I was of the latter group, and as he began to play I found myself singing and clapping along as I did at the age of five in my pajamas while my parents played his albums on vinyl.

Raffi announced that there would be singing, guitar, “and a lot of bad jokes.”

“It wouldn’t be Raffi without Dad jokes,” smiled fellow concert goer Sarah Anderson.

Raffi started with the classic tunes he’s known for, including Six Little Ducks, Tingalayo, and his version of the Jamaican folk song Day O. True to form, he always let the audience know when they should participate with strategically timed claps, call lines, or sound effects.

He played the annoyingly catchy Banana Phone song with a few ad-libbed lines, including, when singing about all the people he would call with said phone: “I’ll call the White House and have a chat!” It was a line that prompted cheers from the adults in the crowd but was undoubtedly lost on the children.

Though Raffi played tunes from his newest album, Dog on the Floor, he played up to what he affectionately refers to as the Baby Beluga Grads, people like myself who grew up with his music.

I was happy to see him play my favorite of his songs, Down by the Bay, a song that features a lot of silly animal rhymes and wordplay and leaves room for ad libs. When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s dabbling in poetry, I used to try and come up with my own lines for the song, and Raffi did not disappoint that inner child.

He jokingly attempted lines he knew wouldn’t work, causing older audience members to bust out laughing before he finally concluded with: “Did you ever have a time…When you couldn’t make a rhyme?!”

As he guided the audience, he chuckled, giving you the vibe of a favorite uncle or long lost grandfather. Though the concert was only about an hour long – a choice undoubtedly mindful of the limited attention spans of younger audience members – he packed as much as possible into that hour, playing two medleys of his classic tunes.

He often concluded a song by turning to the side, guitar handle out, back arched, in a nod to heavy metal and rock stars. Though most audience members were as well-behaved as could be given the young age of many, there were unfortunately at least two jerks who kept yelling demands for the song Baby Beluga, the Raffi concert equivalent of yelling “Do Stairway!” at a rock concert. Fortunately, Raffi remained unfazed and continued on with a smile, playing the requested song only when he was ready.

When the concert ended Raffi got a standing ovation that was well-deserved. Just as we thought it was over, he bounded back on stage to treat us all with an encore, including a new verse he wrote for Baby Beluga to address all his fans that have since grown up. In it was a call to action, telling us that we were the future, and to fight for social justice, equality, and against climate change. It was this final gesture that brought a tear to my eye and had me sniffling a bit as I left the concert hall.

After all, if Raffi believes in us, shouldn’t we?

Featured image via YouTube

The Mountains We Climb By Accident, the first novel by Montreal writer, poet and occasoional FTB contributor Dawn McSweeney, is a real treat of a book. It would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for someone who likes well-told stories and supporting local talent.

Full disclosure, I’m not just a reader, I was also the book’s editor. So while I may be a biased reviewer, I’m mainly biased because not only is it written by someone local, it’s also unabashedly set in Montreal.

This city serves as a backdrop for our protagonist Talia’s life story, or rather early to almost mid-life story. We jump back and forth with her, landing on key experiences and staying with them a bit, sometimes returning, sometimes not.

This non-chronological narrative approach has an internal logic based on how and when a person remembers certain events. McSweeney explained it to me when I interviewed her a few months ago.

It really works here. The writing is sharp and fast-moving, the characters are believable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I generally look for political intrigue or outright sci fi or fantasy when it comes to the fiction I consume and that’s not what this novel offers. The focus here is on Talia’s relationships with romantic partners, family and friends.

Thanks, though, to McSweeney’s storytelling, it kept me interested from start to finish. I can only imagine it will do the same for people who are fans of the genre already.

Dawn McSweeney’s The Mountains We Climb By Accident is solid Montreal-based storytelling and a great first novel-length offering by a local author.

You can buy it in paperback or as an e-Book through Amazon

In light of the recent #MeToo Movement, several radio stations removed the duet Baby It’s Cold Outside, a holiday classic, from rotation. Some, like the CBC, later added it back.

Critics consider it inappropriate and suggestive of date rape because of a line the woman has: “Say, what’s in this drink?” If you are familiar with the early 1940s, when the song was written, you will realize that was said as part of harmless banter.

Things were simpler, people were nicer, and conservative morals reinforcing the stereotype of the good (chaste) girl were ever-present. Most people who were courting did not end their nights in bed together unless they were married, to do otherwise broke a social taboo.

So, it is really sad that the song is being perceived in any way but innocent and sweet banter between two lovers. Banning it is ludicrous, especially considering what other songs we have playing on the radio today.

If this song is banned, then half of the playlist should be banned too. Eminem’s Guilty Conscience, Robbin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Eminem and Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie, Jay Z’s 99 Problems and many other songs that convey mistreatment of women in one way or another still play with no protest to ban them.

It’s truly sad that a beautiful song that was written in the 40s as romantic flirtatious banter can be put through such scrutiny and judged by today’s standards while songs written a few years ago aren’t.

It is true that violence against women is an issue that needs to be exposed and spoken about on a more regular basis, but removing a holiday classic from radio play is not the way to go about it. Especially since there are far worse songs out there than Baby its Cold Outside.

Usine 106U is not like other art galleries. It’s not immaculately clean or impeccably organized, and its outer mural is as colourful and eccentric as the art you’ll find within.

Located in the Plateau next to the iconic Else’s Pub, the gallery attracts everyone from painters to sculptors to dollmakers and photographers. The gallery’s openings on the first Thursday of every month feature works that range from the classic to the extreme and the atmosphere is one of an eccentric family reunion rather than a formal affair.

Inside Usine 106U

While most galleries in Montreal charge huge commissions and exhibiting fees, Usine 106U takes fifty dollars a month and ten percent commission on any sales. In exchange, every artist gets four by five feet of space to show their work to passersby and regular visitors. Artists who volunteer their time running the place get all fees and commissions waved.

A Concept that Grew Over a Decade

The official caretaker of the gallery is Eric Braün, a multidisciplinary artist known for his acrylic paintings of creatures. His style for me is reminiscent of Bosch and Dali, with a hit of Nightmare Before Christmas thrown in.

Usine 106U has been around for 12 years. In the beginning, it was just a show of the same name.


Eric Braün

A guy from Paul’s Boutique record store lent Eric and other artists a paddock with the goal of creating art on the spot, filling the walls as they went. The show lasted one week and was hugely successful, with the media and others coming in to wait, ready to buy the works in progress once they were finished. Almost everything was sold.

The show’s success led to an offer to continue it through to the end of the month, followed by an offer to rent the space on a monthly basis. From there came the idea of artists sharing the cost and management of the place and the rest is history.

When I asked Eric about the name, he explained that it was a French play on words.

“If you pronounce in French the number ‘cent six’ – one zero six – and the letter u it makes ‘sans issu’ and ‘sans issu’ sounds like ‘sans issue’ which means ‘no way out’ and that was the title of my anthology cause I used to do comics so it was always a collective. But back then it was international and silent so it could be distributed in many different countries without having to translate.”

In addition to Eric’s paintings, he also has copies of his comic books and sculptures for sale at the gallery. When I asked what kind of artists he feels the gallery attracts, Braün spoke of people who do very intense personal work, “outsider art” that doesn’t fit current fashion, and some old style abstract pieces.

Open But Selective

Eric is discriminating in his choice of artists who get to show there: “If someone does some really bad copies of some photos that you see on the internet I tell them they should work more on their stuff and come back later,” he said.

When looking for artists to admit to the gallery, he’s not looking for perfection but originality and honesty in the work. Currently there are 40 different artists showing their work with the common thread being that:

“Everything is figurative, there’s a narrative, there’s a story being told and everything is kind of explorative. People take chances, they develop their own language, they go into their own world, and they keep working at it to create something that is original and unique.”

If there is a word to describe the art at Usine 106U, unique is certainly it. Whether it’s the hyperdoodled paintings and guitars of artist John Lanthier, Jean Martin Raven’s sculptures, or the realistic yet wonderfully eerie paintings of Xavier Landry.

John Lanthier painting a guitar at Usine 106U

Much of the art is not for the faint of heart, with art depicting graphic nudity, sex and violence displayed alongside cutesy hand knitted dolls. That said, Usine 106U is more than a gallery.

Home Away From Home

For artist John Lanthier, it’s a home away from home. He’s been showing his work at Usine since 2015 and like many artists, he volunteers his time in exchange for showing there:

“I enjoy making art in the environment here and appreciate having a permanent gallery space where my psychedelic paintings, sculptures and custom guitars can feel at home amongst the many diverse local artworks that cover the walls. Thanks to Eric Braun I’ve also had my Hyperdoodling paintings and Guitart instruments featured in the last nine magazines…which is pretty cool.”

The magazine in question was created following Eric Braün’s failed attempts to get his work in a local art magazine which was poorly managed and written. So like any pioneer, Braün decided to publish his own, and Usine106Us quarterly free magazine features work from a variety of artists showing at the gallery.

As a working artist, Usine 106U saved me from a dark time in my life. Their collective welcomed me with open arms, a tale shared by many who come to the gallery hoping for an affordable space to show their work. In addition to the monthly vernissages, they also do free collage workshops (bring your own glue).

When I asked Eric Braun what advice he had for aspiring artists, he was very pragmatic:

“Get a job to pay your bills and then do art with your needs taken care of or you’ll go crazy.”

The gallery is located at 160 Roy East and is open every day from noon to 6pm. Check it out.

Photos by Samantha Gold

I have grown accustomed to a new Star Wars movie around the holidays. Since there isn’t one this year, what better time to post my really late spoiler-filled review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I finally got around to watching about a month ago:

This was the first time I had the chance to see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and didn’t. I even saw The Phantom Menace twice on the big screen. Not sure why I put off watching it, but I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed it and I think seeing it on a smaller screen first helped, even though the performances, effects, stunts and the production as a whole were all blockbuster caliber. Where Rogue One was a standalone story that drew from and tied directly into the saga films, Solo was more tied to the Star Wars TV shows, The Clone Wars in particular.

Yes, we get Han, Lando, and Chewie meeting for the first time, the Falcon doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs and a reference to the “big job” on Tatooine, plus there’s a pretty good explanation for Han’s standoffish approach to Leia in the Original Trilogy. In broad strokes, this film is tied to the most iconic movies in the franchise.

However, this movie lives in the universe of the TV shows. If you didn’t get and enjoy the references to the Pike Syndicate or Aurra Sing, you never saw The Clone Wars or at least not all of it. If you were confused by the hologram near the end and thought “Didn’t that guy die in The Phantom Menace?” instead of “Of course she works for Maul!”, your fandom is limited to the big screen.

That said, this movie certainly checks all the boxes for a flick that can be enjoyed on its own by someone who has never seen any Star Wars (such people exist, I’m told) as much as people who know the franchise inside out. It’s easy to see how the people who think they know Star Wars and should be getting all the references but aren’t may feel let down.

For hardcore fans like myself, the kind of people who like to rank the Star Wars films, don’t rank Solo. In general, I don’t think the anthology films should be in the same ranking system as the saga films, as they’re basically really good, extremely high-budget, live action Star Wars TV episodes. In the case of Solo, it’s the pilot for a series I am interested in seeing more from.

The problem is that the only other anthology film released to date is Rogue One, which is up there with the best of the saga. Better than Empire? Maybe. Better than the prequels? Sure. It’s basically Episode 3.5.

Solo is not Rogue One, nor should it try to be. It’s what I thought the anthology films would be like all along.

Solid storytelling. I felt sad when Han didn’t walk away with Qi’ra, though happy I had watched Emilia Clarke on screen for over two hours without once thinking of Daenerys. Plus we all know who Han ends up with.

I also loved the bits about droid self-determination and the reveal that the so-called marauders were actually the rebellion in its infancy. I honestly didn’t see the last one coming but I’m glad that it did.

I like the way Star Wars is going and can only hope that Disney realizes poor box office for Solo is primarily due to it being released in the summer, directly competing with Marvel (ie. Disney) and take that into account as they re-evaluate their rollout strategy. I also hope that fans learn to appreciate these anthology films for what they are and not expect every one to be Rogue One.

If you haven’t seen this one yet and you’re a Star Wars fan, I suggest that you do. If possible, around this time of year and in a way that Disney will register, so they remember that Star Wars features now work better in the winter.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.

I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.

Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.

Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.

“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”

Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:

“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”

The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.

“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”

As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.

With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.

For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.

* Featured image by Romantic Photographic

On a chilly night in November at Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, a band takes the stage. At a microphone on one side is a drag king, looking somber and sad as a solitary figure in a cloak covered in stars and stripes walks on stage to the tune of America The Beautiful.

Suddenly the figure, seemingly a blonde woman glamorously made up, turns, grabs the central mic and breaks into her number Tear Me Down. It’s the opening of In the Wings Promotions production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its title character, Hedwig, has just taken the stage.

This is not your typical play. Based on the so-called “off off off off-Broadway show” and film by John Cameron Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask who was present during opening night for a post-performance Q&A). It’s the tale of a “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who gets a sex change in order to marry an American soldier and cross over to the ally-controlled Western side of the city at a time when the Soviet Union restricted access.

It is not a play featuring many characters played by many actors, nor are there elaborate scene changes. The story is told almost entirely by Hedwig while she and her band, the Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak, perform across from a venue where her last spurned love, the star Tommy Gnosis, is playing to crowds of adoring fans. Her storytelling is interrupted by the show’s numerous songs, including the famous sing-along Wig in a Box.

Andrew Morrissey plays Hedwig. He does a fine job showing her struggles with her sexual identity, finding love, and peace with herself in America. His makeup, wigs, and costumes, done by Jess Beyer and Sig Moser, are faithful recreations of what people have come to expect of the character: black leather, denim, and studs that are staples of eighties and nineties rock outfits, Hedwig’s blonde curls with their signature center part, and the garish blue eye shadow, penciled eyebrows, and red lipstick.

Morrissey is unsteady in his high heels at times and his singing is occasionally pitchy, his German accent ranging from pronounced to non-existent. That said, he has the stage presence and the emotion the character requires. In the parts where Hedwig is coming unglued, you never doubt the sincerity of it.

It is not, however, Hedwig that steals the show in this production, but rather her second husband, Yitzhak, played by producer Noelle Hannibal. Clad in the beard and shapeless clothing of a drag king, her portrayal conveys the depression, fear, and passive aggressiveness of someone in an abusive relationship.

You feel it in every gesture, in every insult muttered under his breath, and in every passive reaction to Hedwig yanking the microphone from his hand when his powerful feminine voice breaks through hers. While Morrissey’s performance was very true to form, it is Hannibal’s portrayal that I remember the most clearly from that night.

The band, known as The Angry Inch never misses a beat (despite some issues with the sound system that night). Though they are clearly musicians first, they do have some acting talent and interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak throughout the show.

The show also featured animations by flash animation artist, StickdudeSeven. While they lacked colour and were less stylized than the animation in the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie, they did suit the material well. Unfortunately, the stage was not set up to truly do them or the projected lyrics for the sing-along justice. They were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage that was so low to the floor that Hedwig, standing in front of the stage, often obscured them. A set up that was higher or ever above the stage would have been easier to follow.

All that said, the play is a lot of fun. The story is sincere and relatable to anyone struggling with gender identity, domestic abuse, artistic expression, or just finding oneself. The music is catchy and uplifting with the occasional hint of guttural sex. Check it out.

* Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays Wednesday, November 21 and Thursday, November 22 at 8pm at Cabaret Mado, 1115 Ste-Catherine Est. Tickets available through In The Wings Promotions

** Featured image by Romantic Photographic

Yes, winter is coming, but this spring, Canadians will be able to legally stream Game of Thrones without a cable subscription. Crave (formerly Crave TV), Bell Media’s Netflix competitor, just added an extended package that includes all HBO and Showtime content, including new episodes and a feature called On Air that allows you to watch shows from those networks as they air on TV before they show up in the on demand menu.

You have to get the basic Crave subscription at $9.95 a month and then add the extended package for another monthly $9.95, so $20 a month plus tax for HBO and Showtime, plus a bunch of recent movies (including what looks like all of last year’s Best Picture nominees), shows like Star Trek Discovery, and original content like Letterkenny. There’s even a very interesting back catalog with classic sitcoms like Cheers, but no Night Court…like c’mon, someone pick up Night Court, please. 

It’s currently available on computers and mobile devices and will be available on Samsung Smnart TVs, Apple TV and other platforms as of November 15th. From the looks of it, it’s a better deal than Netflix.

While I’m clearly gleefully plugging this product, this article is not sponsored content, but rather rare editorial praise for Bell Media from a frequent critic. It looks like they have finally embraced the way a good chunk of the population consume TV and have stopped trying to push an old model on those who clearly don’t want it.

Even as HBO made all of their content available, with no strings attached, through their GO app in the US a few years ago, Bell, which owns the Canadian rights, refused to see the light. Sure, they made an app, too, called TMN GO, but you had to get a cable or satellite TV package first and then subscribe to HBO Canada on TV before you could pay the ten or so bucks for it.

So basically, in a lot of cases, the choice was pay over $100 a month on top of the cost of an internet connection to watch one show or risk getting an angry letter for illegally downloading it. Yes, HBO is much more than GOT, but that show’s the hook for people living in a post-cable world.

Bell was effectively ignoring a potentially huge market that they could easily get with no risk of losing the cable and satellite market they already have as a result. My friend’s parents who have been paying for a satellite package and HBO for years aren’t going to cut the cord just because the same content is now available in another format.

Meanwhile, people who don’t give Bell Media any money but still consume the content might be inclined to pay and go legit if presented with a reasonable offer and become customers Bell wouldn’t have any other way. Now, it looks like Bell Media has finally accepted and embraced that fact.

This will only help them promote original content, too, as it will now be running on the same platform as really popular shows. Come for Game of Thrones, stay for Letterkenny.

The future is an internet subscription and two to four streaming services. With the Crave expansion, Bell Media clearly wants a part of that future. Now if only they could add Night Court.

Halloween is upon us and in Montreal that means just one thing: fastening your garter belts and doing the Time Warp at the city’s Rocky Horror festivities!

As always there are two events in Montreal to partake in: the Halloween Ball at Cinema Imperial and the live musical play put on at the MainLine Theatre. The Imperial ball involves a costume contest and a screening of the film accompanied by actors miming the show on stage. Audience members are invited to yell out call lines, dance, and throw stuff during strategic points in the show.

With scores of drunken attendees and the risk of being hit with a toilet paper roll, the Halloween Ball is not for everyone. If you want something a little tamer but still very much in the spirit of Rocky Horror and Halloween, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show at the MainLine Theatre is a sure bet.

This is the original musical play the 1975 film is based on. The actors on stage are all actually singing and dancing and the MainLine’s production contains a few artistic changes that may throw off die-hard fans of the movie and former attendees of the Halloween Ball. Though you are not allowed to throw anything during the play, audience members are invited to do call lines and even heckle as many of the actors give as good as they get.

Elyann Quessy reprises her role as Janet from previous years and it’s a role she does well, maintaining the girlish squeak and feigning unease as she becomes more and more comfortable with her sexuality. Though her singing is pitchy at times, it fits the character perfectly.

Adrian MacDonald also reprises his role as Brad this year and he is a talented singer and performer. Though his portrayal of Brad is never hammy enough for my tastes, MacDonald does an excellent job of portraying the stereotypical cis straight male forced to face alternative forms of sexual and gender expression. In the current political climate here and abroad, perhaps this is the Brad we need.

Cassandra Bluethner is once again Columbia and her portrayal this year is a massive improvement. Unlike last year, she offers a lot more of the squeak and cuteness one would expect from the character. Instead of a teenager in the “I hate everyone” phase, we have a more authentic groupie, in love with Eddie but enamored with Frank N’ Furter and addicted to the drugs the latter offers (shown in the play as sprinklings of glitter).

Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz reprises her role of Magenta. This year, though, she doesn’t sing on Science Fiction Double Feature, leaving vocal duties on the opener to Lindsay Miller as the Usherette, complete with skimpy costume and a box slung around her neck. Though her part was a bit smaller, Kulaga-Yoskovitz provided one of the biggest laughs I had during the performance.

Kenny Streule resumes his role as the Narrator – the character fans of the film will know as the Criminologist. It’s a role Streule does well, keeping a straight face in even the harshest heckles.

The true star of the MainLine production is Stephanie McKenna, who reprises her role as Frank/Dr. Frank N’ Furter. Though she’s dropped the English accent of previous years, her snark and strut are on point and her physicality is a sight to behold.

She is the first actor I’ve seen in the role to slip seamlessly from lying down, to a headstand before jumping into a standing position. She is also the first Frank I’ve seen with the physical strength to simulate sex positions most people find difficult.

This year’s production features a few newcomers.

This year the role of Riff Raff was cast gender bent, with Meghan Vera Starling in the part. Her portrayal was good; she had the right amount of creepiness and the BDSM vibe they gave her character explains why Frank beats her during the play.

Unfortunately her singing suffered due to her excessive use of the vibrato in which, on a particular note the singing voice sounds like it is vibrating or pulsing. It’s a vocal style that doesn’t suit the character, making much of Starling’s singing sound more like an American Idol audition than part of a musical number in Rocky Horror.

While in previous years the roles of Eddie and Dr. Scott were played by one actor (Kenny Stein for the past two editions), this year they were split. Eddie was played by Mathieu Samson and Dr. Scott by Nicolas Mancuso. Both were good in their respective roles, but nothing outstanding.

David Hudon is also new to MainLine’s production, taking the role of the beautiful creature Rocky, and he was perfect for it. Of all the past Rockys, he is the first one to come close to the physical type the part calls for and Hudon actually does a few push-ups and takes a few poses. Though Rocky has few lines in the play, Hudon manages to portray the character’s just-been-born naiveté with empty smiles and body language.

One of the stars of the production that deserves mention is the band, led by Katharine Paradis on saxophone. The music was always on point and helped further the play’s jokes along through their strategic use of sound effects.

There were a few changes that threw me off. Though all the songs were included, some scenes were changed that put some of said songs out of context. For example (spoiler alert) in the dinner scene, Rocky comforts Janet, causing Frank to get jealous, thus triggering the song Wise Up Janet Weiss. This version does not feature Janet’s interaction with Rocky, giving no context to Frank’s sudden rage against her.

Despite the difficulties, the MainLine show is worth checking out. It’s sexy, it’s catchy, it’s fun, and you’ll laugh yourself silly, if not from the play itself, then from the audience’s brutal heckling.

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show runs October 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31 (all shows 8pm) at MainLine Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent. Tickets available at MainLineTheatre.ca

It’s been three years since my last POP experience, so I headed down to the Rialto Theatre last night without knowing what to expect. As soon as I entered the POP Montreal opening party, I immediately felt at ease. The vibe was inviting, intimate, and full of that specific kind of excitement that fills the air at the beginning of any festival: you can’t wait to discover the next great thing.

After looking through our press swag bags, dancing to the DJ, and absorbing the atmosphere, Joe and I left the opening party. We headed down Parc, making a stop at the Crying-Laughing show at Espace Pop. In the old days I never used to see anything but music shows, so this year I’m trying to expand my horizons and see more of what the festival has to offer.

Joe and I eventually made our way to Sala Rossa, where our first music show of the night was Dany Laj & The Looks. While not groundbreaking by any means, they are a very fun rock n’ roll band that got our show watching off to a great start.

Then we were meeting a friend for a drink across the street at Casa Del Popolo, so Joe and I decided to check out the music there. Honestly I wish we hadn’t. Raf Wilcot seemed to try a little too hard to come off as the brilliant tortured artist, when in fact his music was tame and uninspired.

What changed my mood was heading to La Vitrola to catch their last two shows of the night. I was immediately charmed by Moscow Apartment, a teenage girl band from Toronto. They were just so sweet and had such great stage banter you couldn’t help but fall a little bit in love with them. They reminded me a bit of First Aid Kit, and I wish them all the success!

We ended off the night by going from one extreme to the other. After the sweet folk-pop of Moscow Apartment, Laura Sauvage came swagerring onto the stage, demanding that we get the hell off our seats and come rock out. They played a shorter set then scheduled because their drummer had to run off to another show, but what they did play was full of punk rock energy that got everyone at the small venue dancing. It definitely inspired me for all the rocking that’s still to come!

* Featured image of Laura Sauvage by Stephanie Laughlin

** POP Montreal 2018 runs until Sunday. Full schedule at POPMontreal.com

Rejoice indie music fans for today marks the beginning of this year’s installment of Pop Montreal! For those of you who suffer from option paralysis I give you my deepest sympathies because, as usual, there’s just so many shows to choose from.

Even just looking at their schedule can send shivers down the spine of someone who wants to see and do it all. Last week Stephanie Laughlin gave you her picks for what to see and this week it’s my turn.

In order to streamline my choices and prevent my head from exploding, I’ve narrowed it down to these four categories: The Hidden Gem, The Top Venue, The Top Headliner, Best Overall Show.

Keep in mind that this list is far from extensive, completely biased to my musical tastes and prepared without any thought for the logistics of how someone would attend shows that overlap with each other time-wise. This is just a jumping off point for five days of hipster heaven.

POSTDATA

One of the many (many, many) hidden gems of Pop is POSTDATA, the solo project of East Coast indie rocker Paul Murphy more commonly known for his work in Wintersleep. They’ll be at O’ Patro Vys on Thursday to headline a show featuring Caveboy, Art D’Ecco and Strangerfamiliar.

This part-time project might not get big time attention but after listening to a few tracks I’m baffled as to why. The songs are well crafted, the lyrics are interesting and there’s an accessibility to the music that should interest people with different musical tastes.

POSTDATA perform with Art d’Ecco and Strangerfamiliar Thursday, September 27, 8:30pm at O Patro Vys, 356 Mont-Royal Est. Tickets are $13

Barfly

With so many bands to choose from I knew I had to cheat and pick a whole venue. One of my highlights every year is heading over to my favorite dive Barfly to check out a bunch of bands that you probably don’t know and normally wouldn’t find there outside of POP.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday night they’ll be running shows there with packed lineups for only ten bucks. It’s a sma… urrr I mean “intimate” venue that always has a rock and roll vibe. I once saw a guy on stage there playing the cello and it still felt rock and roll for some reason.

To go with the low ticket price, it’s also got the most affordable drink prices of any of the venues in the fest. Add all that up and there’s a good chance it will be packed on all three nights so get there early if you can.

Usually the bands aren’t as well known but if you’re feeling adventurous and want to explore some new music this is the best place to be. This year I’m looking forward to getting to know Toronto based indie rockers Goodbye Honolulu who are headlining on Thursday.

Barfly is at 4062A St-Laurent

Wolf Parade

While this is a highly unoriginal choice, I’ve decided to put Montreal indie rock royalty Wolf Parade on this list as the top act because of the sheer volume of shows they have in this year’s fest. They’ve taken up residence at Sala Rosa from Thursday to Sunday, so whichever night you plan on heading out, they’ll be waiting for you.

Sometimes picking between a bunch of bands you’re not super familiar with can be a bit tedious, if you just want to go out and be assured of a good time, this is the best option. They’re even hosting an after-party on Sunday the 30th at La Sottorenea for those of you who just don’t want the fest to end!

Wolf Parade perform with various opening acts September 27-30, 9pm at Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent. Tickets are $30 (or $10 for the Basement After-Party)

Blitzen Trapper

Another of the more established acts in this year’s fest is Blitzen Trapper who have been combining indie rock with country and folk influences since 2000, often to critical acclaim. The Portland-based quintet will be supported by three great local acts John Jacob Magistery, El Coyote and Corey Gulkin on Saturday night at Le Ministère: Salle St-Ambroise.

This is my vote for the show with the most solid lineup top to bottom. Event hopping at POP can be fun, especially on a Saturday night, but if you’re not in the mood for that, give this show some serious consideration.

Blitzen Trapper, John Jacob Magistery, El Coyote and Corey Gulkin perform Saturday, September 29, 9pm at Le Ministère – Salle St-Ambroise, 4521 St-Laurent. Tickets are $15

* Featured image from Goodbye Honolulu’s Typical video, via YouTube

** POP Montreal runs September 26-30, full schedule at POPMontreal.com

On September 26th, Pop Montreal returns with another five days of music, film, panels, and visual arts. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended this very Plateau/Mile End festival, but I already know I’m going to have a good time. Because unlike other bigger festivals where you’re drawn to check out what you know, at Pop you’re guaranteed to discover a whole slew of new exciting artists you’ve never heard of before.

Here’s my list of what I’m most looking forward to checking out at Pop Montreal 2018:

Bad Reputation

Ever since I first heard the song I Love Rock n’ Roll as a teenager, I was drawn to the badass that is Joan Jett. This year as part of Film Pop, the festival will be screening a documentary by director Kevin Kerslake about the legendary feminist punk rocker. I’m also looking forward to attending the screening at the newly opened indie/art house movie theater Cinema Moderne on St-Laurent.

Wednesday, September 26, 8pm, Cinema Moderne, 5150 St-Laurent. Tickets $12

Kilo Kish

While rap music isn’t usually my thing, I was so drawn by the music video for Elegance by New York artist Kilo Kish that I officially have added her show to my must-see list. While researching Kish I discovered that Pitchfork recently dubbed Elegance one of the best songs of 2018, declaring “Building from the stream-of-consciousness style that characterizes most of her catalog, Kilo Kish turns her racing thoughts into crackling electricity.”

Wednesday, September 26, 11pm, Piccolo Rialto, 5723 Ave du Parc. Tickets $20

Puces POP

My favourite part of POP. The festival has these fairs year-round now (if you’re friends with a Plateau gal, you’ve undoubtedly been dragged to one of these events), but the biggest of them all is always during the main festival in September. For three glorious days, you can shop for prints, jewelry, food, makeup and clothing. So come watch hipsters gather in their natural habitat, and leave with a cute new print to hang on your wall!

September 28-30, Eglise St-Denis, 454 Laurier Est. Schedule

Molly Nilsson

Molly Nilson is a Swedish pop singer that, according to Pitchfork “does ennui like no one else.” That combined with her 80s music sound has me excited to see what she does onstage. I would love to tell you more about her but she doesn’t have much of a social media presence… which kind of only makes me want to get to know this artist more.

Thursday, September 27, 8:30pm, Bar “le Ritz” P.D.B., 179 Jean-Talon Ouest. Tickets $16.50

Art POP

In between film screenings and shows, I plan on checking out the many art shows that are also happening during Pop. Here’s just a sampling of the ones I’m most excited for:

Où sommes-nous

OBORO and White Frame co-present Où sommes-nous, an exhibition by Judith Albert, Katrin Freisager, Dana Claxton, and Nik Forrest. These four established artists open and disrupt our knowledge of space and time, bringing into question the line between reality and illusion through poetry and resistance. (info)

Pop Pavillion

Art POP is collaborating for the very first time with the Association of Visual and Media Arts Masters students (AEMAVM) of the Université du Québec à Montréal to co-present POP Pavillon, AEMAVM’s annual group exhibition showcasing the work of 11 exciting, emerging artists. (info)

Whispering Pines

Centre Clark presents a new exhibition by Shana Moulton, an artist who creates evocatively oblique narratives in her video and performance works. In Whispering Pines, the artist presents art pieces combining an unsettling, wry humor with a low-tech, pop sensibility.(info)

* POP Montreal 2018 runs September 26-30. Full schedule available at POPMontreal.com

** Featured Image: Screengrab from Kilo Kish’s Elegance video

Montreal’s The Holds are a band inspired by the greats and their local contemporaries. Frontman Ryan Setton cites classic R&B artists like Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, classic rock acts such as The Animals and Led Zeppelin and  local acts like John Jacob Magistry and The Damn Truth among the band’s influences.

“When we approach what we do,” Setton said in a telephone interview, “we’re influenced by the past but we’re not thinking about it. We’re definitely in the moment of what’s going on now (on the Montreal scene). The result is The Holds.”

Setton feels that the scene that influences them is also one that gives back.

“Montreal’s always been a very supportive scene, a lot of people are supporting the bands,” he said, adding that “it can be tough, though, at the same time because there are a lot of bands. So it can be intimidating sometimes as an artist to find out just where you fit in.”

The Holds is Setton on vocals and guitar, Justin Wiley on drums and percussion, Eric Hein playing lead guitar and André Galamba on bass. That was the same lineup I caught at their EP launch two years ago, shortly after the band’s formation.

“We are lucky enough to have the same lineup for years,” Setton observed, “building chemistry and having a good band chemistry and interaction between the musicians is super important. With the first EP it was more like ‘Hey, let’s do this!’ We didn’t really know where it was going to go. But doing this second record it was clear we’re all on the same page…There’s no confusion as to what direction we’re headed in as a band.”

While The Holds are a band that sticks together, they also tried living together for four days in the country. This was in order to record their first full-length album Juke, featuring songs they had already written over the course of a year and a half.

“We had recorded many times in the city,” Setton remembered, “and at the end day everyone would go home and we’d have to come back in the morning and get back into the flow. That’s why I thought if I get everyone together, we’re in one place, we’re stuck there…and it was totally worth it because it all worked out for the best.”

You can hear for yourself this Saturday when The Holds play live and release Juke. In the meantime, enjoy this video from their first EP:

* The Holds Juke Album Launch with special guests Celina Wolfe and Lea Keeley is Satuday, August 25 at 9pm (doors 8pm) at le Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur Est. $10 (includes a dropcard with a download code for the album)

Dawn McSweeney has been writing for years: short stories, poetry, even some journalistic pieces for this very site. Now, she has finished and published her first novel, The Mountains We Climb By Accident.

“The story lent itself to the length of a novel,” McSweeney said in a phone interview, “I started writing it with the hopes that it would be a book, but I’ve done that before and they don’t always get there. This one did.”

McSweeney did try self-publishing once before, back in the early 2000s, which meant actually paying for paper and doing it yourself. She finds that now there is much more opportunity for authors to get their work our there, but, of course, there are limitations.

“There’s no support, there’s no net, there’s no person who is the expert who is guiding this whole ship, it’s kind of like ‘here are some words, I hope they stick’,” she observed, while also noting that her daughter’s friend got her book as an Amazon recommendation, so “maybe there is a fair shot to be had.”

Location may have played a part in that recommendation as McSweeney’s book is set in Montreal, which, as she puts it “not enough” are. This choice was, in part, because it’s what she knows, but also due to some of the unique aspects of life in our city.

“People tell me that in other places they don’t use parks the way that we do.  We treat a park like a beach and  lay out in a way that in other cities maybe they don’t,” the Montreal born and raised author observed, noting  that “the things we take for granted and just process every day are actually flavourful experiences that are site-specific.”

McSweeney grew up thinking that if you set your story in Canada, it will be considered just a Canadian story, without the prospect of getting traction internationally. However, she now feels that a Montreal story is different.

“We’re OG hipster in that way,” she observes, “we have that caché of a very small space that we have injected so much personality into.”

Family relations also play a big part in her story, too. And one planned plot point was unexpectedly mirrored in McSweeney’s own life as she was completing the book.

“I didn’t plan for that to happen,” McSweeney observed, “and it was strange to be writing about that concurrently.”

The Mountains We Climb By Accident follows its central character Talia from the present day, to a few years prior, to her childhood, then back to a few years ago, then back to the present, then to her teenage years and so on. It reads like several short stories woven together thematically rather than chronologically.

McSweeney says she chose this structure to better emulate how a person actually thinks:

“We are just a collection of our disjointed experiences,” she explained, “they are all each a chapter and are all each a separate narrative. You can remember something from your childhood so poignantly and then completely forget a conversation you had last week. One becomes the afterthought and one becomes the centerpiece memory. Sometimes I struggle to write something in a straight line because that’s not how it feels when I experience it.”

You can experience this unique narrative structure and a story based in Montreal right now.

The Mountains We Climb By Accident by Dawn McSweeney is available now in paperback and can be pre-ordered as an e-Book