Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Happy St-Jean Baptiste Day!

It was going to be a paid Holiday like most others: spending three hours finishing the work I hadn't done last night, taking it slow, alone, in my shitty apartment, then heading out to see friends in a band performing, this time Orchestre Afrobeat Jeunesse Cosmique outdoors, at Parc Hibernia, in Pointe St-Charles.

But it rained, so all we got were the openers, Le Trio Poitras, for 75 minutes, then the rest of the festivities were cancelled.

But the Jeunesse Cosmique folks decided to turn the botched outdoors Québec National Holiday into a house party of sorts, and invited me over since I had friends in the band and was already there.

By the middle of the first song, i was the third percussionist, and by 10 PM we had recorded a live album. And I'm pretty proud of my playing on two tracks, particularly the last one.

And when I got home, I made myself the second-most Quebecest meal (because I wasn't going to make myself a maple syrup poutine this late at night), a bowl of spaghetti covered in Schwartz' smoked meat:

It was one of my best days in a very long time.

Video Of The Week: Aut'Chose

A lot of times, when I feature Montréal acts, or Québec acts for St-Jean Baptiste, I feature the best. Or at least my favourites. I provide my readership with the illusion that my peoples are talented, original, great.

I usually always feature English-language songs on this English-language blog.

Not today.

We're a cultivated, open, religion-free (mostly) democratic (presumably) people, sure, but we're also trashy beyond what Americans may know. There's White Trash residue in many of us, myself included.

For 400 years we have kind of refused to join the British Empire (and for 150, we're iffy about Canada as well, which belongs to the Queen anyway), and because of that, Americans falsely identify us with the French, from France.

Let me clear this up right now: we are nothing like them, apart from the smoking and over-the-top sex. They let us rot and abandoned us 400 years ago, so we did what every stepchild does and rebelled, and carved our own path. They're snobs who drink wine and eat snails, so we went with beer and fucking fried potatoes with gravy and cheese curds on top. They like buttoned down shirts, so we went with t-shirts. They covet everyone else's wife, so we... well, so do we.

Oh, they have books, we have movies. They have poets who become singer-songwriters, and apart from Leonard Cohen, we have dirty fucking rock songs that you either cannot decipher what the singer's talking about (Malajube), or speaks a street dialect (''joual'') that would make a Frenchie shit his pants if he encountered us in an alleyway (Offenbach).

Our top-earning star male musicians look like they stink, not because they don't shower like the croissant-eaters, but because they've just played a three-hour show, fucked three girls and maybe a guy, then played another show in another town (Jean Leloup), or are playing shows in-between week-long cocaine binges and use beer both as meal-replacements and perfume (Éric Lapointe).

We're a cross between New York City (all of Manhattan and Brooklyn) and Texas, minus the racism - for a while anyway. It's starting to seep in, but historically, it wasn't there. And it's still mostly based on language (the English-speaking crowd still owns half of buildings and commerces some 75 years after French speakers were allowed to start being masters of their own domains).

But we have dirt, is what I'm saying, and we're proud of it. I like having an edge, but I do get embarrassed at how low we can go. I mean, shit, sometimes I think Kid Rock might be one of my relatives.

And this is how low we go: Aut'Chose. Originally a band in the 1970s, fronted by ''poet'' Lucien Francoeur, they incorporated spoken-word into blues-rock, which in itself doesn't sound so bad. But they copied American bands' riffs without adding anything new, and the ''words'' were, uh, observational ''bar scene'' types of situations. Things that wouldn't be put to record nowadays because they can be said more eloquently by five-year-olds.

What's messed up is they went largely forgotten for most of the 1980s and 1990s, but for some reason there was a demand for a revival in the 2000s, and because a lot of the band wasn't available, was dead, or just didn't want to join in on the fun, only Francoeur and Jacques Racine remain as original members, and the rest of the musicians are an all-star line-up of the best Montréal indie (mostly francophone) scene: Vincent Peake (Groovy Aardvark, GrimSkunk, Floating Widget) on bass, Michel ''Away'' Langevin (drums) and Denis ''Piggy'' D'Amour (guitar) from Voïvod, Joe Evil (from GrimSkunk) on keyboards and guitar, and Alex Crow (Tricky Woo, Kosmos, Caféine) on guitar - the kind of line-up you could record anything from Beethoven pieces to technical metal to hard punk with.

But no, they re-did this ''classic'' instead, which I share because it makes as much/little sense in English as it does in French... They won't let me embed it, but please, click on this link and watch it. It features such ''stars'' as Rick Hughes (of 80s band Sword), Denis ''Snake'' Bélanger of Voïvod, Martin Deschamps, and two female guest stars, Francoeur's daughter and Racine's girlfriend. It's unclear which one Francoeur's hitting on in the video, by the way, as both kind of look alike to me - and no one finds that creepy in the least. Who the fuck knows what a Bar-B-Q Lady is, but I sure as fuck hope ''Bubblegum Baby'' isn't some euphemism for incest.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

National Women's Hockey League

I envision a clash in the next two to five years between the newly-formed National Women's Hockey League (with the Original Four being New York RivetersBoston Pride, Buffalo Beauts and Connecticut Whale) and the already-existing Canadian Women's Hockey League (consisting of the Montréal Stars, Brampton Thunder, Calgary Inferno, Toronto Furies and perhaps still the Boston Blades), which already owns the Clarkson Cup, emblem of team supremacy.

Most Olympians already played in the CWHL, but I'm guessing members of Team USA will prefer playing closer to home while the ladies who play for Team Canada will mostly choose to remain in the CWHL. There are exceptions, mostly coming from one's life partner working in another country.

Hopefully they end up merging into one eight-team league, and they can start earning actual salaries (which is not yet the case).

In any event, the NWHL had its inaugural draft this weekend, and released a tear-inducing introductory video:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Donald Trump

Jesus Christ, Donald (notice the comma, Donald)...

Donald Trump opened his mouth again, once more to announce a run for President. Of the United States of America. And words came out of there. Words like these:
They built a hotel. When I build a hotel, I have to pay interest. They don’t have to pay interest because they took the oil when we left Iraq, I said we should have taken. So now ISIS has the oil.
Now I've tested pretty strong in IQ tests and SATs and am well educated and all, but even I wasn't smart enough to figure out what the hell The Donald was talking about with this one, but that's ok.

That quote and nine others were compiled by The Daily Banter in a single page that will make you want to knock your head against a brick wall, until you realize he's only just beginning and we may actually have another year of him spewing this shit all over the media. Which will make the brick wall attack you to destroy itself.

I love me a good role reversal, but not enough to want to witness President Trump - unless we're talking Ivanka, in which case I'm more open to the idea.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hockey Doesn't Work In Glendale, Arizona - Take 6005

So, uh, hockey in the desert. A bad idea unless you're in Las Vegas, right? A worse idea in a suburb that doesn't care about it, right?

You'd think.

First things first, here's a recap of the story so far:

The Winnipeg Jets left Canada in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes. It didn't work out so great because the arena the team shared with the NBA's Phoenix Suns wasn't adapted to hockey, so they looked at other options, including another downtown Phoenix location, and some suburbs, including Scottsdale, which has more expats from the East and North who are familiar with hockey.

Through backroom deals and the pipe dream of building ''another Las Vegas'' in the desert complete with facilities for all four major team sports, golf courses, upscale malls and hyper-expensive condo towers, the owners decided to settle on Glendale, a not-so-rich suburb full of college football fans. It didn't exactly pan out, and the neighbourhood-building never really occurred.

The team went through tough times on the ice, people stopped coming to games, one ownership group declared bankruptcy, many people tried to buy the team but were rejected by the league (including Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie who wanted to move it to Hamilton, Ontario), and the team was operated and self-owned by the NHL for a few years, until four guys came in (Anthony Leblanc being the most vocal) a couple of years ago and bought it for $150M. Last summer, they sold 51% of their share of the team to Andrew Barroway for... $150M, meaning the original bunch kept half the team without paying a penny for it. There are now talks of Barroway selling some of his shares.

The team was said to lose $25M per year and complained they weren't making enough money from arena revenue, so they forced the city of  Glendale, which technically owns the arena, to hand them a contract to ''manage'' the building, in exchange for $15M per year and basically a free lease; in return, they were to fill it on non-hockey nights with concerts, sporting events, trade shows and the like to ring in enough tax revenue for Glendale to recoup most of the money they gave the team.

Which they didn't. There were only 15 non-Coyotes events at the arena last year, raking in less than $6M in revenue (taxes and concession stands included). Ironically, that alone IS NOT grounds for termination of contract. Indeed, Glendale is instead insisting on one anti-corruption clause of the lease contract which forbids a City employee who worked on the deal to start working for the team. And one of them, an attorney who supported the deal, no less, was indeed getting paid on both sides of the fence at one moment in 2013.

This, of course, was to be expected. I could have booked that arena 100 times and would have done it for less than $5M myself, including cab expenses (I don't drive). Anything more is a scam and a sham - and not being able to achieve it in a year where  both Madonna and the Rolling Stones were touring, let alone circuses, mid-level rock acts and current-day chart toppers touring almost non-stop.

Then again, I could also probably manage the Coyotes to better than 29th place with a coach like Dave Tippett behind the bench. Don Maloney at least got some kind of return for the likes of Keith Yandle (Anthony Duclair!) and Antoine Vermette (a first-rounder and defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck), but he got rid of his best goalie (Devan Dubnyk) because he was hindering starter Mike Smith's confidence, and has done nothing in any off-season to make players feel welcome, buying out veterans after throwing them under the bus (Mike Ribeiro) and letting his best players walk as free agents (Radim Vrbata).

But I digress.

I know fans are passionate, and that's cool. But the harsh economic reality is this: basing the reason to exist of an entire franchise which is below average in attendance and revenue and therefore receiving help from the richer franchises just to meet payroll over one local-boy-getting-drafted success story or even 20,000 season-ticket owning fans (which there aren’t) is not a good reason enough to keep a team in a place where it will cost the other owners some of their own profits to operate.

People need to look past their own passion and look at the raw numbers and facts, in their proper context. It sucked when the Québec Nordiques and Jets moved, and it was sad to see the Atlanta Thrashers get sold when you think that it involved a family of owners who lost a lot of money in trying to make it work. There are human dramas there. but the math didn’t work.

Even if the arena was filled every night, you'd still need more. You need millions of passionate fans to keep a franchise afloat, buying products (directly team-related or advertiser-related, and player-sponsor-related) and watching games and traveling with the team and creating a secondary market and building homes near the arena and attending concerts at one arena instead of another to support the ownership group.

The Florida Panthers have the excuse that their side ventures are doing great – among the best in hockey. There’s always something happening at their arena. The Coyotes are just sucking up public funds.

Or were.

The Glendale city council voted to terminate the team's lease last night, and the team threatened to sue for $200M. But first: an injunction (court order to temporarily put the termination on hold while awaiting further proceedings), of course.

At the council session, Mayor Jerry Weiers got blasted by season-ticket holder Ronda Pearson, which she - and the internet - seems to think she demolished, except as I pointed out below, sure, she's forking over $4K per season towards the team, but that's far from their $70M payroll and there aren't 20,000 folks like her. No matter how passionate she is, she is part of too small a minority for hockey to work in Glendale. Maybe Tempe, maybe Scottsdale, maybe Phoenix itself - but it just doesn't work in Glendale. Here's her passionate speech:

In a predictable-yet-odd turn of events, the mayor agreed to get tasered for charity just a few days later, and she was the one holding the gun. Notice her still-angry face:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Video Of The Week: The White Stripes

I featured The White Stripes for the first time last month, and it's probably time to properly play catch-up. So here's one from their sixth (and final) studio album, Icky Thump. It's unclear if at this point, Jack White (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Meg White (drums) had already had their falling out or if it was about to happen, but this video, directed by Emmett Malloy and shot in front of the historical Hudson's Bay Company (the first company in North America) buildings in Iqualuit, Nunavut (Canada) shows the former couple's usual possibly-fake-angry faces and complicit smiles that, in retrospect, seem to have been part of a romantic prolonged breakup.

Jack, of course, is often quoted as saying Meg won't return his calls when inquired about a White Stripes reunion, and it's probably a shame for music as a whole, because while Jack's solo band is the best collection of musicians he's ever played with by far (no offense to The Raconteurs and Dead Weather, which I both love) and gives him a broader range of styles to explore, the confines of a two-piece really seemed to stimulate his creative juices. The third WS album (White Blood Cells) was already one of the finest creative pieces in rock history, but his songwriting just kept improving every time.

I have written songs myself that could have used someone with her touch on the drums, her unique metronomic pounding. In the 00s, there were as many mean jokes about Meg's ''lack of talent'' on the drums as there'd been about Ringo Starr in decades previous - and perhaps that's part of the reason why she won't come back - but you could always tell it was her playing that beat. Some have tried to sound like her, but they just can't cut it. It's probably partly due to Jack's obsession with vintage gear both in the studio and to play with, but a Meg beat remains a Meg beat. There are no substitutes, and right now, her absence has created a void - in my musical life, at least.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Video Of The Week: Alabama Shakes

A month and a half since it was released, Alabama Shakes' second record, Sound & Color, is having a similar effect on me as last year's Transgendered Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! in the sense that I've been listening to it non--stop, on repeat, in order or randomly, ever since.

Leader Brittany Howard penned most of the tracks herself, and because I'm still waiting for official videos for some of the standout tracks, I decided to feature the title song this week, in a video directed by James Frost (Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, Radiohead's House Of Cards, OK Go's This Too Shall Pass), featuring a gripping performance by actor Kenneth Morgan:

I'm not the ideal target audience for anything that remotely seems like it could become 2001: A Space Odyssey, because I do not have another 3 hours of my life to waste on feeling 5 years older by the time I'm done with it, but this wasn't half bad.

2014-15 NHL Stanley Cup Final Preview

And so we've here, in June, getting ready to cap off a tremendous NHL postseason with a Stanley Cup Final pitting the Tampa Bay Lightning - the most potent offense in the league - against the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of two of the previous five Cups; the hungry kids against the established veterans; my third favourite goalie (Ben Bishop) against my second (Corey Crawford).

Back before the season started, I'd predicted a Final between the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings - so I was dead wrong, seeing as the Isles lost in the first round and the Kings - the reigning champions, no less - didn't even make it to the playoffs.

I predicted Bishop would win the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league (he won't, but he's had spells this postseason that shows he eventually might), and his three shutouts so far have come at important times - two of them in decisive Game Sevens. Crawford's been no slouch, the best and most valuable player on his team not named Duncan Keith in perhaps 8 of their 12 wins thus far, but he was more than shaky in the first round, even losing his starting role for a couple of games.

So the secondary story will definitely be how the goalies fare in this one, and perhaps one of them will raise the elusive Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, but the two heavy favourites remain Keith - who has played in more than half of available minutes for the Hawks, seemingly getting stronger with each passing game instead of growing tired, shutting down the opposition's top lines - versus Tyler Johnson, the tiny dynamo who centers the Bolts' ''second line'' better than anyone centered a top line since the end of the regular season. He leads the league in goals, he's been a part of half his team's goals, he's been the dominant force in the East on his own.

Tampa holds home-ice advantage, but they're 5-5 at home compared to 7-3 on the road in these playoffs, and the Hawks have a tendency to win games in the third period, so I'd advise folks who aren't into watching the whole games to tune in around 9:30 (Eastern) and see where it leads. But anyone else will get to see some of the most exciting hockey played by some of the most dedicated and unstoppable players, with the Hawks' Jonathan Toews (''Captain Serious'') and Patrick Kane (''Showtime'') at the forefront, and the entire Chicago team knowing it's their last chance at winning together as part of this quasi-dynasty team before off-season contract restructurings force GM Stan Bowman to make some painful changes (i.e. get rid of roughly $15M in salary to fit under a cap that hasn't increased enough to his liking). And on the other side, captain Steven Stamkos (the second-best shooter in the world) and Victor Hedman (perhaps a Norris Trophy winner some day) both looking for their first taste of the Silver Chalice.

Quality hockey to lead into a potentially hot summer - nothing would suit me more.

Hawks in 6.