Thursday, December 12, 2002

Part 2 of Andrew's Big MONTREAL Concert Road Trip Weekend Extravaganza: On the Art of Upstaging, Living Like Royalty, and Cobblestone Streets

Jumping into the story now? Read this first!

Stacey and I had just barely made it in time for Ash’s set. We threw our jackets at the girl at the coat check and bulldozed our way into the club.

Ash and Saves The Day were playing at another gutted-out theatre, although it seemed clear to me that whereas the Opera House in Toronto was a reformed stage theatre, Club Soda in Montreal was a movie theatre in its former life. The main concert hall was long and narrow with a two-story space and a balcony running all the way around three sides of the room. The bars were at the back, where we first entered the space, on opposite sides of the room and the large stage space was at the front.

Stacey and I found a place to stand on the raised area at the back, next to one of the bars. We were far enough away from the front to avoid stupid moshing kids and their flying elbows and high enough up that we could see everything on stage clearly. Of course, that meant the band couldn’t see what kind of supa-fans we were when we sang every lyric to their songs, but life’s all about trade-offs, isn’t it?

Ash was amazing. There was only one description of the band that even remotely befitted their on-stage personas: they were rock stars.

There were true rock stars in every sense of the word. In a way, their live show was very similar to that of one of my favourite, although lesser-known, Canadian bands, The Flashing Lights: they were over-the top, confident, self-assured, and looking like they were having the times of their lives. And when the band’s that into the music, how could an audience resist them?

The frontman, Tim, showed his true showmanship at every available opportunity. From standing at the edge of the stage wailing on the guitar, cracking jokes with the audience and playing his heart out on every song, Tim had the full attention of the audience through the whole show.

Charlotte, the second guitar, is just about as bad ass as any rawk chick working in the biz. She exudes a coolness and savvy that goes far beyond looking sweet with a guitar strapped around her neck. Check out her personal web site here….she has this off-kilter sense of humour that I totally appreciate. And what self-respecting punk band goes without a Mohawk-ed drummer? Rick was in fine form. And Mark. Well, Mark plays bass. And a damn fine bass he plays, too.

Despite their short set (45 minutes? Criminal!), Ash played almost all of the songs we wanted them to. “Sometimes,” “There’s a Star,” and “Burn Baby Burn” from Free All Angels and “Girl From Mars” and “Kung Fu” from 1977, along with a few lesser-known songs that are just as brilliant.

Our only (minor) disappointment was in the reaction of the audience. I would have expected a lot more people to be dancing and carrying on at the front of the stage. I got the impression that many of the people there had never heard of the band or any of their songs. But you should have seen how many of their CDs were passing across the counter at the “merch” stand after the show, though.

Stacey and I were right there at the front of the line. In a rare showing of fanboy-ness, I bought a t-shirt (it had a rebel alliance logo from Star Wars on it as well as the Ash logo, so how could I possibly resist?), and Stacey bought their latest CD for pennies a song. We were stuck carrying the junk around for the rest of the night, but we didn’t care.

Stacey and I settled into our newly-found bar stools and waited for Saves The Day. Stacey wasn’t optimistic, but I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt. That is, until they got up on stage and started playing.

My first reaction: these guys don’t look like rock stars, they look like they should be hanging out in their parent’s rec room playing Nintendo.

As a group, they were the quintessential personifications of awkwardness and gangly-ness. With a shy, mumbled “bonjour” from their frontman, they started into their first crappy song and then proceeded to play an entire set filled with the rest of their boring crappy songs (that, in all fairness, sounded a whole lot less crappy on the CD than they did live).

I cracked a few jokes to Stacey. Like, “hey lookit how high they have their guitars strapped on! Hope he doesn’t scrape his chin on that thing!” and “Hey, I think the bassist just got out of bed. He has sleepy hair,” and “ohmigod, they suck, they suck, they SUCK!” Okay, maybe the last one wasn’t so much a joke as it was an expression of pain and agonizing misfortune.

Our esteemed frontman, Chris, couldn’t seem to put a complete sentence together when he wasn’t singing. Oh, except for one point in the show when some kids were crowd surfing and he said something along the lines of “Hey! You guys should really stop that…because, uh, someone might get hurt. Okay?” Sagely words to live by. I will never forget them, Chris.

I guess they weren’t all bad. They did a fairly nice rendition of their song “Firefly” and a passable version of “Nightingale” from their recent album, Stay What You Are, but their abysmal cover of a Pixies song was indescribably awful. It was so bad that my brain has blotted out the experience to the point that I can no longer remember which Pixies song they performed in particular. Yes, that bad.

Stacey and I could only ask ourselves over and over again, why oh why was a band like Ash opening for these pint-sized amateurs? We wondered whether or not Saves The Day knew that they were being upstaged so badly. We wondered how the two bands could possibly have anything in common. We wondered whether or not the bad-ass Irish punk rawkers beat the living snot out of pimply-faced Saves The Day on a nearly nightly basis. We still don’t have any good answers to our questions.

We really should have stuck around to ask Ash in person. They actually planned to meet with the fans and sign autographs after Saves The Day left the stage, but Stacey was so tired at that point that we decided to head over to the hotel. We both feel kind of sore about missing them, in retrospect.

We stayed at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in a $300 room. Yup, the hotel where John freakin' Lennon had his famous "Bed-In," way back in 1969. Not to mention the fact that the hotel was the very temporary residence of a pile of kings, queens, and other assorted royalty over the years.

Now before you think, “holy CRAP, Andrew’s LOADED!” I should say that we didn’t actually pay $300 for the room. In fact, it cost us a bit more than a third of that. See, it’s all about family connections.

This was just about the first time I’d ever stayed in a really nice hotel room, so to me, it was a bit of a big deal. The truth of the matter was, though, that it wasn’t really all that different than all of the other hotel rooms I’d been in. Same size and shape, bathroom was in the right place, there were two chairs a table and some un-used-looking dresser drawers.

I came to the realization that the upper crust, our modern “royalty,” if you will, don’t seem to live all that much better than the plebeians. The differences are in the details. Instead of a regular phone, there was a wireless. Instead of a hard cake of soap, there was a wide variety of shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, and other ablutions. Instead of normal light bulbs, there were long-lasting halogen ones. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.

Getting to the room late, we didn’t enjoy very many of the hotel’s amenities, but we were sure to put the bath robes that were provided to good use and filled the empty pockets on our suitcases with pretty much anything that wasn’t bolted to the furniture. And all the stuff that we wouldn’t have to pay for if and when it went missing. By the way, if anyone wants a shower cap with “The Queen Elizabeth” printed on it, let me know.

But seriously, $14.95 for a continental breakfast? You’ve gotta be kidding me. For a bit of milk, a travel pack of Kellogg’s cereal, and a piece of fruit? We didn’t stay for the petit dejeuner. Instead, Stacey got a McMuffin-type thing and I got a plate of teriyaki (mmmm, breakfast) at the food court in the mall downstairs.

We spent the rest of our day in Montreal, poking in and out of stores along Rue St. Catherine and making good use of the underground malls on a windy, overcast day. We finished up our shopping in the Vieux Port district of Montreal just as the sun was going down.

If you’ve never been to Vieux Montréal around Christmas, I couldn’t recommend it more. So many interesting little shops, with gift ideas you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. I bought Stacey her first Christmas present at a store called “Excalibur” which featured medieval costumes, jewelry, and artifacts. It was a gorgeous, intricate silver necklace, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Stacey will have to wait until Christmas to start wearing it, though.

The nicest feature of the area is that it’s achingly romantic, though: with narrow, cobblestone streets, archways, classic, almost gothic architecture, and the one of the prettiest displays of Christmas lights I’ve ever seen. It’s worth the trip just to walk around the district, even if you don’t spend a penny.

We walked back to the car with big, satisfied smiles on our faces, handfuls of brightly-coloured shopping bags, and a light, merry feeling in our hearts, like it was the first moment when it really started to feel like Christmas. We were tired yet reluctant to start on our way back to Ottawa. One more adventure down, and hopefully more to come soon!


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