Monday, May 25, 2009

Roller Derby Madness

I've never been to a roller derby before, but this is one of those kooky hipster things that I knew would be too too wacky to pass up. So, let me begin by saying this -- I greatly overestimated the camp and underestimated the athleticism. In fact, writing about the derby in this little blog is probably a complete mistake. All the same, I'm going to stick it under the big banner of culture since it is a subgroup of the city's culture that merits some attention.

The roller derby might look (or project the image of being) all fun and silly, but in fact, its pretty hardcore. The girls out there kick each other in the metaphorical balls. In front of my nose (and the noses of my two manly companions), a girl went down and twitched on the floor after a power hit. Like a real champ straight from the Bell Centre, she was back on her feet and managed to skate off at the end of the night at warp speed. Roller derby is a sport in the same way rugby is a sport. This is a tough, physical sport.

So what is a roller derby if it isn't girls in tight dresses who pull each others' hair, you might wonder. Basically, it works like this. A pack of girls (I think 5 or 6 from each team) skate around an oval shaped track. They wear crazy outfits (more on this shortly) and the kind of skates that one used to wear back when skating rinks were all the rage (our local hotspot was called Hot Skates -- my brother and I renamed it Ghetto Skates after a recent because the clientele are now the sort of peeps who budget their welfare checks for a big night out at the White Castle. YEOW! Okay, that sounded funnier to write than it should have. Hot Skates is ghetto, though, and ghetto has nothing to do with race or color, but rather with an aesthetic and an attitude). Okay, so these girls skate around in a pack and push each other around, trying to create a difficult moving obstacle course of limbs and bodies. Meanwhile, two Jammers, one from each team, take their positions behind the pack, and at the whistle must elbow their way through the pack and get in front of it. The Jammer who gets in front of the pack first is the Lead Jammer and earns points for her team. Obviously, the pack makes it difficult for the Jammers and there is a certain amount of strategy and skill, as well as some smooth moves, that the teams employ. Sadly for Montreal, Toronto had more skillz n' moves. The whole process requires a certain amount of brains, strength, pluck, and lunacy to do. It was not at all what I thought it would be.

The part of the night that falls under the cultural banner is the "ethos." What do I mean by that? Well everyone from the audience to the announcers, look as though they raided the Blue Light Burlesque's wardrobe closet. I think I saw five or six Betty Paige lookalikes in the crowd, and at least 10 women and men who got into their pinup girl getup for the evening's shenanigans. Meanwhile, down on the track, the refs wear kilts, crow wings, multicolored leg warmers. Scores are taken by a few good trans folk (or shemales?) who came wearing full length gowns (I exaggerate, there was only one lady in a gown and my friend had met her the night before... and told me that she was a trans person). The skaters come out dressed not like the bobsled team for Team Canada, but instead bedeck themselves in team outfits that are tight, revealing, and highly personlized with crazy names, imaginary and invented numbers, and sparkly undergarments meant to entice.

According to my two companions, the audience comes to look at the T&A, I think, and what it perceives to be cat fighting. However, I did not see cat fights. I saw hardcore tough women skate their butts off and play hard. And personally, I couldn't quite understand how people could play such an intense sport and not present themselves with such frivilous frippery. But I guess that is the appeal. One need not look like an Olympian to be one. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and challenging preconceived notions of what athleticism and that culture entails is absolutely valid.

Yes, this sounds a little big academic for DMM (om!), but roller derby could easily become a legit study for social norms and things of that nature. The very weirdness of the juxtaposition of exterior wrapping vs. interior athleticism would have the average academic (also a rather strangely dressed subculture) drooling their way straight into the gender studies section of the library.

Anyway, I rank this as the second weirdest thing I have ever done in this city, with naked breakfast at La Princessa taking top honors.

Monday, May 11, 2009

King Khan and the Shrines at Sala Rossa

I love Sala Rossa like its nobody's business. THis show was so sold out that people were hanging out the windows -- not that there are windows upstairs -- but if there were windows, people would have been hanging out of them. I wasn't sure if I was going to get into the show, but with the usual finesse, I found my way inside inches away from King Khan's multi-piece band and burlesque go-go girl. Unfortunately, the guy on either mushrooms or PCP in front of me (he obsessively kept combing his slicked back greasy hair, so I told him a la A Scanner Darkly that he had bugs all over him) kept on stomping on my feet. I had to retreat to the sides and then had to retreat period because at 5'3" I don't see much and I don't like getting elbows to the face that much.

But, I can comment on the part of the spectacle that I did see, and let me tell you, folks, it was a spectacle! King Kahn made me think of 1968 Catskill mountains. He's brought together a ragged assortment of horn players and guitarists and plays songs that are... quite frankly... nostalgic. But modern nostalgia for that suburban sickly-sweet time period, for Elvis and the bobby soxers and stuff... is laced with a kind of skull and crossbones punk as fuckness. What was probably more innocent then has become a kind of zombie retro obsession for an entire underbelly of culture. Khan puts on a show like its nobody's business. King is the right name for him. Kahn is king, and the fact that he's of southeast asian descent instead of wonderbread white, says a great deal about how awesome it is to live in our day and age, in a city where multicultural isn't about being the single identity of your origin. Instead, it is embracing any identity one wants and wearing it with pride.

Khan struts and bellows, he lords it over the audience and loves them. He channels the spirits of those great entertainers but does it with his own very distinct brand of MOntreal cool that falls somewhere between punk, cowboy, city brat, DIYer, and hippie. It's hard to typify a Montrealer -- they always look hot and wear the oddest assemblages with class. He even manages to have his own not-quite-undead cheerleader who shimmys, shakes, and adds real sparkle (pun intended) to everything.

The show wasn't as chaotic as I'd hoped for, but it was much better musically than I ever imagined. For all the James Brown jumping around, Khan and his band have got skills. In other words, don't let the show prevent you from seeing just how good he really is.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Indyish Monthly Mess in May

I swore I would make it to one of the Monthly Mess nights of Indyish about two years ago. Now that I've gone, I regret not going sooner. This monthly party in a quasi-remote location features a nonstop line up of short acts from across the arts and culture scene of Montreal. Basically, these guys are the sampler of everything I should see and do with every free evening of my life. Except, of course, for my responsibilities and also my own artistic endeavors.

I would be at a loss to explain each act individually. Every single performer was outstanding -- Nir Blue, Chris Ralph, David Syrshpan, DAvid Simard, and especially the Darling Demaes. The Darling Demaes have more than a little buzz around them, so I'm hoping they'll play locally soon and I can fill your ears up on their charms and wonders. The comics, including host Asaf Gerchak, were certainly entertaining, and dare I say, varied. I wouldn't want to be around David Heti when he's having a bad day, that's for sure. I suppose last of all, I should mention the search for foreskin origins reading and powerpoint presentation by Jeff Gandell, which I enjoyed not just for its amusement value, but also for the gentle interplay of text and image.

Indyish Monthly Mess, we will not be out of touch!

Shout out out out out and the Casecos at La Sala Rossa

Free tickets? I am never one to say no to free tickets! And where exactly did these free tickets lead me? To see two CBC favorite bands from the indie scene. There was a third band, but I managed to skip out on them because I had to talk to my +1 guest. I might have kept on talking to my +1 guest and missed Shout out out out out if he hadn't bothered to point out that the main act might be starting. Some conversations are completely engrossing.

Anyway, let's start with the Casecos. Toronto based band, from what I understand. As the openers, they played to a mostly shy crowd dispersed at the edges of the room. People were head shaking and shifting in place to their groovy disco beats, but no one was brave enough to dance until the last song. Which is a shame, because they were a fine act. The band seemed slightly disappointed by this fact -- I suppose they don't know the whimsical nature of Montrealers, nor might they know that during exam week at the Universities, the usual audience is library bound. I can't say too much about them, in part because I've only ever heard them from one song played on CBC's music podcast about a year ago (???), so this was my first foray into their live act.

As mentioned, I didn't even catch the smalltown DJs. Too bad.

But, Shout out out out out (I'll just refer to them as SOOOO), was in fine style. This electronic act is in the vein of LCD soundsystem and Mouse on Mars... highly electronic. Though, they add my favorite component... a live drummer. Make that two live drummers! Yehaw! If only I did acid or heroin, the experience would be straight out of the rave scene of the 80s. Fortunately, that absentee audience appeared and was ready to boogie down to the electronic aural feast. With Korgs a flying (can Korgs fly?), they got me moving and the whole room shaking down, big and small alike. This is a big act that far exceeds anything pre-recorded on a CD. They have to be seen live to be appreciated, and I dare say that their old jams and new jams are lovable booty shakers alike.