Monday, December 02, 2002

Why haven't I gotten to this sooner? Is anyone still interested? Why are my pants on backwards? With no further ado, here's....

Part 2 of Andrew's Big Concert Road Trip Weekend Extravaganza: On Older Crowds, Dance Caves, and Hobbits

Toronto, in many ways, is a mecca for people seeking their individuality, their own private niche. It seems like many of the denizens of Canada's largest and most diverse city pride themselves on being their own person, and many make a special point of wearing their likes and dislikes on the sleeves of their shirts like some kind of fashion-badge.

It's something that Stacey and I have noticed in the past, and something that remains true today. Many Torontonians seem to evaluate their worth and the worth of others based on the number and variety swanky, unique, fashionable places that they know and frequent. Everyone has their favourites when it comes to bars, restaurants, record stores, laundromats, you name it. And many of these places are as different from each other as are the members their clientele.

It's all about fit. In a big, culturally-diverse city, you have the opportunity to sample a number of very different, very specific things, and then decide what fits your personality the best. This kind of thing is true about smaller cities like Ottawa, too, but not to the same extent. Sure, when you're talking bars, we have the jock bars, and the pubs, the alternative night clubs, gay bars, and the odd rave club, and everyone has a preference of which ones they like to go to. But when there’s a smaller base of people to draw into these establishments, they have to generalize their music and atmosphere to appeal to a larger cross-section of the population.

Not so in Toronto. In Toronto, it seems, the sky's the limit. You can have a club that plays only brit-pop. Another that prides itself on its latin music dance floor. Yet another, that features only drum-and-bass music all night. And one more that features Russian polka on Tuesdays and Thursdays and harmonica and accordion open mike nights the rest of the week. What's more, these bars actually make enough money to stay in business and pay their staff.

And that's only the BARS. I'm truly impressed by all of it.

An aside: has anyone noticed how many people wear red shoes in Toronto? Anyone? It's frightening. More red shoes than I've ever seen anywhere else. It's like an infectious plague of red shoes.

Our host, Matt, takes advantage of the city as much as he can. In a very endearing way, he was proud to show us some of his favourite places in the city while we were there. And by no means did he let us down.

On Saturday morning, we had breakfast at a little place on Bloor near Bathurst called Mel's with Matt and my friend Christy. Nice little family-owned place, with a fantastic breakfast....what's more, they serve Montreal bagels.

Some of you might not know about this, but there's been a rivalry going on for some time now between those who prefer Montreal-style bagels and those who prefer Toronto-style. They're two very different things. Of course, living in Ottawa, we get the benefit of being able to choose between the bagel offerings of our two behemoth neighbours. But anyway, go to Mel's, the food's tasty.

On a total, only-in-Toronto kind of fluke, one of our mutual friends from high school (who we hadn't seen in years) waltzed through the doors of the restaurant just as we were finishing our meals. We kind of had to do a double and triple take in the process: in some weird twist of fate, we had watched him walk past the restaurant twice before settling on Mel's. " Is that...? No, it couldn't be..." "Wait, there he is again!" Phone numbers were exchanged and he and his girlfriend got a separate table. Go figure.

After breakfast, we spent an hour lost in Honest Ed's. It's a un-healthily BIG dollar store, really. Not for the faint of heart...I'd rather not talk about it.

One of the things Stacey and I were excited about doing (okay, well, maybe I was a little more excited than Stacey, but still) was the Lord of the Rings exclusive Two Towers exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. This thing is huge. Props, costumes and sets reproduced from the movie, and of all the places in the world, it ended up in Toronto.

In Canada! Canada never gets anything cool! Well, obviously not never, because we got this, and probably a number of other things that I'm not thinking of off the top of my head, but for the sake of argument, okay? And this was sooooo cooooool. And for a while there, I thought I wasn't even going to get the chance to see it before the exhibit ended.

So, I figure, no problem, now that we can go, we're going to go see it three whole weeks after it opened...surely everyone who wanted to see it has already seen it, right? Sure! So we split from Matt for a bit and decide to go in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. I was so very, very wrong. Embarrassingly so.

Obviously, this exhibit is bigger than I had imagined. When we got to the museum at about 2:30 in the afternoon, there was a line of people stretching down a whole city block, towards Bloor. I think I turned three shades paler when I came out of the subway staircase and saw the line for the first time. I started to panic: "Holy CRAP, I'm not going to be able to see it. I'm in bloody Toronto, in FRONT of the museum, and I can't see it? Forget THAT action."

Just as I'm starting into the really filthy swearing (hey, it's not like the kids standing in line hadn't ever heard it before, right? Big-city kids? They're all raised like truckers, I'm sure of it), we maneuver our way to the front of the line to another, much shorter line for people who need to buy tickets. Stacey and I make a difficult decision. We decide to rob ourselves of sleep.

After asking the ticket clerk when would be the best time to see the exhibit, we bought tickets for the ungodly hour of 10:00 am on Sunday morning. In the pit of my stomach, I knew that I was going to feel like I’d been hit by a steamroller the next day--no sleep after a night of concert-going and drinking. Sign me up.

After a few hours of shopping along Bloor, we hooked up with Matt and my friend Mike before the concert. After a short subway and streetcar ride, we ended up at a small sushi restaurant on Queen Street West that had excellent (read: cheap) sushi and sashimi. Full of raw fish and rice, we made our way to the concert hall.

The Opera House is on Queen Street East, and it's one helluva good place to see a show. Just like the name says, it's a converted Opera House, much to our blindly naive surprise. Instead of rows of seats, though, there's a big open area with absolutely nowhere to sit. I recommend bringing lawn chairs to the show if you're going any time soon. It's like the owners of the club are allergic to sitting. But the acoustics were wonderful.

The bands were also excellent. The first opener, which was a surprise to all of us, was a band from Montreal called The Stars. Matt and Mike had seen them before, and I have to say, I was very impressed. They held their own against some pretty stiff competition. What can I say about the second opener, Dot Allison? She's beautiful, she has a to-die-for gorgeous voice....but the acoustic set didn't work for me. She usually has a techno/electronica sound to her music, and I kind of missed it. Of course, what a treat it would have been if I had been more familiar with her music and could appreciate it as a rare, all-acoustic set.

At this point, Stacey and I looked around at the crowd of people in the club and agreed that this was the first show that we had been to in a long time where we felt young, but comfortably so. The audience was made up of twenty-somethings who you could tell had been there-and-back with popular music. They'd already cut their chops on one-hit-wonders and had now settled into a more mature, more eclectic style of music.

Their was an air of savvy to the place that circulated from person to person that gave you the comfortable impression that we all shared something in common, we all knew what we wanted from our music, and we were so happy to be there. It was an almost indescribable sensation. Plus, no kids elbowing me in the back of the head because they still think moshing's cool. In fact, practically no kids at all.

Saint Etienne, as a band and as a performance, embodied this comfortable sensation. Their songs have a catchy, upbeat hook to them that draws you in and absorbs you in a way that is rare with live acts. Really, though, most of the men in the audience would agree that it was the singer, Sarah, that held our enrapt attention. Her breathy vocals, her innocent, yet slightly sly smile, her minimalist, slightly off-beat dancing and slightly messy blonde hair....she's an embodiment of cute.

Stacey made a joke about all of us drooling over her and made me admit that I had a crush on her. For those who know me, you probably know that I go ga-ga over certain female vocalists from time to time. Sarah's no exception. She knows how to manipulate her male audience, and she does it with such style that you can't hold it against her. That brings to mind a joke, but never mind.

We left the Opera House satisfied and looking for a place to dance. And what better place to dance than a place called the Dance Cave? It was the obvious choice. While Stacey left the bar to talk to a friend who had come to meet us at the club, Matt, Mike and I hit the dance floor. We finished off the night back at Mel's, where I made the oft-repeated mistake of buying a smoked meat poutine. One of these days, I will learn. No really, I will. Low and behold, we didn't get to bed until nearly 5 am.

Sunday morning, Stacey and I somehow managed to crawl out of bed and onto a subway to get to the Lord of the Rings exhibit for 10am. Fortunately, the line was much, much shorter when we arrived and we saw the exhibit on relatively peaceful terms. And what an experience! The attention to detail on every single prop was extraordinary. If you're in town and you get a chance to see the exhibit before it ends (last week!), it's fully worth fighting the crowds and the $15. Trust me. If you didn't know that elves and orcs weren't real, you'd think it was a legitimate historical exhibit at a legitimate museum.

After lunch with Stacey's friend, Donovan, at a place called C'est What (oh, a pun! Puns hurt me), Stacey and I hit the road and came home, happy, tired, and satisfied. And definitely looking forward to the next trip.


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