Good times

Last night was one of those nights when the gods and goddesses were not going to allow me to simply stay at home and watch TV or or aimlessly browse the Internet. No. I had to be out, it seems, and I was getting it from all quarters.

First, it’s starts with a call from DT on Sunday, asking me if I was interested in seeing Ashtray Heart at Barfly on Tuesday. Well, I said, as much as I’d like to I don’t see how I can. Then yesterday morning I get an email from my pal Allan reminding me that the Bellrays were playing at La Sala Rosa and he’s got my ticket. Great! Can’t say no to that, can I? So I figure I’ll just meet up with him at La Sala and skip the usual pre-show Barfly meetup, even though the Habs are playing Boston and Habs games at Barfly are a hoot. Then KB calls me while I’m out in the afternoon and leaves me a message….she’s back in town and will be at the Barfly around 8:00 and would like to see me there. This was a no-brainer and settled the matter. I’d have to go to Barfly after all, broke or not. As if that weren’t enough, at about 7:45 I get a call from….BARFLY. Geoff calling to telling me to get my ass over there and catch the game!

I get to Barfly at the beginning of the second period and there’s the usual Habs hockey night atmosphere. Every seat is practically taken and there’s this constant buzz about the place. After saying my hellos to regulars I haven’t seen in what seems like ages, I spot KB at the bar and get the mandatory hugs and pecks on each cheek and the usual warm greetings, and then inquire about the score. 2-0 Boston. No problem, I say, we’re going to win this anyway. I managed to get a seat by the bar and have a good chat with KB while watching a pretty good hockey game. The atmosphere at Barfly while watching the Habs is second to none. The place is usually full but not packed, and there’s always Barkley, a dog who barks every time the Habs score, matching the exuberance of the patrons. It felt good to be there last night. There were friends everywhere and everyone was in a good mood.

At about 11:00 we made our way up the Main to the Sala in a taxi, thinking we might be missing part of the show. We turned out to be early, just catching the end of the opening act’s set. The Bellrays came on a little after 11:30 and started rather slowly, seemingly taking a little while to warm up. Once they got going it was clear that most of us would be in for a treat. I read somewhere that the Bellrays are like Aretha Franklin singing for the MC5 or the Ramones. I’d say it’s unfair to make comparisons with Aretha Franklin, but will say they are true to the slogan on their T-Shirts: “Soul is the teacher, punk is the preacher”. While you can definitely hear the influences of the MC5, the Ramones, and even Black Flag, they’re also pretty funky. I found the sound a little off at times, and found myself wanting everything to be a little louder, especially Lisa Kekaula’s voice. It was a fantastic show, and while I think they’ve probably been better (judging by what others have said), I look forward to seeing them again with better sound.

A great night!

Idle

Got a surprise call from DT this morning, considering it’s a weekday and she normally works. She has the day off and was in the neighbourhood so she came by with some chocolatines. We chatted while listening to the New Pornographers, then went out to grab a delicious cafe au lait at Olympico and sat on the steps at the church and found ourselves talking a lot about Alex. We don’t always do this, but for some reason this morning I found myself missing him a lot and wishing he were around more than usual. You get over the shock, you get on with your life or try to, but the fact is Alex is gone forever. Yet I’ll miss him my whole life, and I’ll allow myself that. In the past, Alex and I might go months without being in touch but one of us would eventually call the other. Speaking for myself, if I’d been out of touch with for more than a couple of months I could feel myself needing to touch base with him. I still get that feeling now, only I can never touch base with him, I can only imagine what he might say.

At the Divan Orange on Friday, filled with old faces from the Bad Old Days of the Montreal music scene and photos of now famous Montreal bands , I couldn’t help but think Alex would have got a kick out of the currently “hot” Montreal scene. I think even he would agree that it’s never been better, though he’d probably be one of the sceptics and not as enthusiastic about it as I am. He would have definitely enjoyed the bill on Friday night. Perhaps he would have been on the bill with either the Nils or Chino had things not turned out so badly. That night I found myself reminiscing with Rick Trembles, Chris Burns, Francis D, and even Mark Lepage about what it used to be like in 80s. All of us seemed to agree that there can be no talk of the good old days. Some of us could talk about feeling nervous prior to going to a show, never sure if violence would break out or something crazy happening. It’s not like that now. There are more bands, more fans, and more venues than there ever was. Violence is an exception. Today, those of us who still attend shows on a somewhat regular basis see ourselves more as artifacts of a lost era. You just can’t compare the way things were then and the way they are now. It’s like another world. That a festival celebrating independent music can successfully put on 300 hundred shows over 5 or 6 nights in Montreal would have been laughable to most of us 10 years ago. To those responsible for making the Montreal scene as dynamic and diverse as it is today, I say hats off, congratulations, and THANK YOU. You’ve accomplished what many of us would not have thought possible.

Ashtray Heart @Playhouse

A couple of friends came by my place on Thursday and within a couple of
beers, we were off to the Playhouse to see Montreal’s most criminally
overlooked punk rock band, Ashtray Heart. Formerly a seedy Parc Avenue
strip joint, the Playhouse now hosts punk/metal shows on an occasional
basis through former Unruled guitarist Michel Cyr. I didn’t know what
to expect from the venue, except evidence of its former strip joint
persona. Add about 50 VLTs (well, a lot anyway), and you’ve got a
pretty good idea of the place.

As we approached the place, I could see Michel hanging outside, having
a smoke. Michel and I, while never actually good friends, are old
acquaintances. We met back in 1981 through Genetic Control’s Rob Huppee when we were in Sec IV. He was one of the few punks on Rob’s street in
Brossard, and going to his place for a visit was a chance to hear all
the bands we had heard of and wanted to hear but couldn’t. After a
quick chat, I went upstairs and was treated to some of the best punk
I’ve heard in a bar in years.  The “hits” just kept
coming….Buzzcocks, SLF, Clash, Damned, Ruts, DKs, Viletones…..I
could go on and on.

Ashtray Heart at Playhouse

Weekend Fun

With the exception of Saturday night’s Sonik Records 5th Anniversary bash at Barfly, It was a relatively quiet weekend for a change. Stayed in and watched a double dose of Law and Order on Friday night and then dozed while watching “Being John Malkovich’, a film I’ve seen at least twice and have enjoyed each time. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Just as well. I knew Saturday night was going to be a big night, a punk rock extravaganza with the Confusers, Aversions, Jerk Appeal, and Born Dead Icons.

Comment on other musical events that evening

Bands, Birthdays, and Bootlegs

It’s been that kind of 9 days. Saw Starvin’ Hungry, Crackpot, and the American Devices at Le Divan Orange on the 22nd; celebrated Gail’s birthday on the 23rd; got together with Carlos and friends on the 24th and listened to unreleased Nils demos/live recordings; saw the Sunday Sinners and the Royal Mountain Band at Barfly on the 25th; celebrated Debbie’s birthday in style on the 26th; checked out a Jerk Appeal rehearsal with Rick since Luc from Chino is playing drums with them for one time only on Tuesday; and finally, saw the Weakerthans, Constantines, Lullabye Arkestra, and Malcolm Bauld at Cabaret last night. Unfortunately for me, none of these activites have helped me with what is my priority task these days – finding full time work, or any work at all for that matter. I have to get a job, and fast. But enough of that. All of the above were worth any time and money I put in. A thoroughly enjoyable nine days, which is probably why it’s taken me so long to write an entry.

Last night’s show at the Cabaret was what I’d call a good mixed bag. We arrived just in time to catch the last 6 songs of Malcolm Bauld’s set, a very poppy brand of rock. I thought they were pretty good, sometimes a bit too poppy for my taste, but he and his band play sincere, from the heart pop rock. Then came the Lullabye Arkestra, an add-on to the night that we didn’t expect and really enjoyed, as it turned out. Allan Youster described them as the “Tijuana Brass Band meets a dirty bass…. who knew it would work?” They kind of reminded of Camper Van Beethoven with Mexican brass replacing the polka/klezmer sound of CVB. Plus, they’re way heavier than CVB. Closer to metal than punk. Really enjoyed this band and hope to see them again soon. Then it was the Constantines, a band I’ve heard plenty about but never actually heard. To be honest, I just wasn’t into them. They played stuff that felt like Killing Joke-meets-Gang of Four-meets-XTC-meets Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know…..they’re a good live band, very tight, but I’m not sure if I like the material. I’ll have to see/hear them again to form a definite opinion.

The Weakerthans finished the night with a fantastic performance. Except for the rousing rendition of the Travelling Wilbury’s “End of the Line” with all the other band members at the end of the night, I had not heard any of the songs before. I heard them for the first time at Cabaret last night and was thoroughly impressed with them. These guys are pop rock at its finest. They had huge chunks of the crowd singing the words spontaneously. From where we were sitting, we were almost as impressed with the emotion of their fans as we were with the band. I’ll definitely be checking out their recorded material to see if it measures up with this performance.

A couple of observations and anecdotes from the evening:

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show and hardly recognized a soul in the place. Everyone seemed so young. One of the few people I did know I wouldn’t have recognized unless she introduced herself to me. Which is what she did. Christie, a former “Real Pub” waitress who’s served up plenty of coffee and breakfasts to half awake Galsgow Celtic supporters on weekday mornings. She was our best waitress ever, and I haven’t seen her in a couple of years.

Snippet of conversation with Christie

A Typical Stroll

I’ve had a coffee and more cigarettes than is good for me, and walk out of my hideaway on the Main onto the street (and block) I’ve lived on for 11 years, loaded with my bag of laundry and headed to the Buanderie Duluth. Walking half a block south, I pass the Barfly and remember that I stayed far longer than I anticipated last night. Then I pass Laika, and look through it’s large front windows to see if Mike or Gerry are in and they’re not because it’s too early and they’re usually in by late afternoon.

Approaching the corner of Duluth and St-Laurent, I cross over to the east side of St-Laurent and walk east along Duluth to the Buanderie, where people have been doing laundry in the ‘hood since 1968, and where I’ve been doing it since 1994.Walking in, I say a big hello to Mr. Apollo, the kindly owner and custodian of the Buanderie since it opened, and the man who makes doing laundry seem fun and easy, especially when he’s in a mood to sing. Walking into “Apollo’s”, as it is affectionately known, feels like walking into a laundromat crica 1970. There is a turntable and a basket of LPs dating as far back as 1957, with the latest being the soundtrack to “Grease”. Among the various pictures and handmade signs on the wall is the classic Expo ’67 aerial shot of “Man and His World”, a picture I remember every Montreal household having somewhere when I was a tot in the late 60’s early 70’s.

Hi Mr. Apollo, how are you today?”
“Hello good boy! Good, good! How many machines today?
“Just two today, Mr. Apollo, thanks.”

He provides me with the required change and soap, we talk a little about the good weather we’ve been having as I load my machines, and then I head out to get some some smokes at Le Marche Ventura. Walking 4 blocks west along Duluth, facing a view of our little mountain I’ve yet to tire of, I approach the legenadary Marche Ventura, owned and operated by Mario and his younger brother Hari for nearly 20 years. While the sign in front refers to this gem of a depanneur as Marche Ventura , we of the neighbourhood know it alternately as Mario’s or Hari’s, depending on how old you are and who you know best. They usually open around 11:30, and it’s noon now so they’re open and Hari’s standing outside having a smoke looking like he’s trying to wake up. If you get Hari in the late morning or early afternoon, he’s a very quiet and sometimes even sombre character. It lasts only for a couple of hours, because as anyone who knows him will tell you, there’s nothing sombre or quiet about Hari.

Again, as is the case with Apollo’s, there’s little evidence to suggest anything has changed since the day Marche Ventura opened. There’s nothing glossy about this corner store, and it often seems to outsiders like it is in a perpetual state of chaos. Yet there’s definitely some order, you just have to look a little harder to find it.

Before I’ve even asked what I want, he says hello as he reaches with his right hand for a pack of my regular brand. We briefly chat about the events of the night before at Barfly’s “Slutty Bingo” night (held every last Monday of the month), where Hari did a very special kind of dance that no one who saw it will soon forget. We have a laugh about it, say “See you later”, and I go for a much needed breakfast at Patati Patata, walking east along Duluth and then a block north on St-Laurent to the corner of Rachel.

Patati Patata is a very popular and busy counter diner that serves regular fare like burgers and sandwiches and fish and chips, all with a unique twist. Owned and managed by the affable Louis and a hard-working and dedicated staff, it has become one of the pillars of the neighbourhood in the 6 years of its existence, a testament to the quality of their food and service. Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, chatting with a member of the staff just before the start of his shift, I notice an older man walking in with a female companion. They sit down in one of the counters “for two”, and I continue chatting with Luc about the evils of these new landlords. I then notice a young man 2 stools to my right approaching the older gentleman with a question:

“….excuse me, but are you….?…you are, aren’t you? It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir! Could you do me the honour of signing an autograph? I’ve never asked anyone for an autograph before, but I’d really like it if you could.”

My interest now piqued, I turn around to get a glimpse of this celebrity in our midst. He sat behind me, but I could see just enough of him to realize this gentleman was none other than Leonard Cohen. He graciously accepted to sign an autograph and then quietly went on eating and conversing with his companion. That was my first glimpse of Montreal’s most famous troubadour/poet in my time living here.

I then walk south on St-Laurent once again, back to Apollo’s to put my washing in the dryer, bumping into Mike and his dog Jinx. He let me know that Barfly just got a new pool table and invites me to come by before opening hours to have a game and try it out. I put my stuff in the dryer, then head to Barfly, excited by the prospect of new queues, new table. Alas, the table, while an improvement over the previous one, is not what we expected it to be. The felt needs cleaning, and for some oddball reason, they did not include a triangle. Mike and I had a game, I lost by scratching on the eight, and the table was christened. I left shortly after, picking up my laundry at Apollo’s, then came home to finish off this entry.

So that’s my typical stroll around the neighbourhood. I don’t know if it even qualifies as a stroll, but it’ll have to do. Things did not necessarily happen on this day or even in the order in which they were told, but it is typical and all this stuff happened. All of these places have one thing in common: they are what this neighbourhood is about and for the most part they’re the kind of places that speculative landlords with no connection to the neighbourhood want to see destroyed. In their place, they would put some ludicrous specialty boutique, upscale bar, or condominum. They buy into this neighbourhood, wanting to displace the tenants and merchants who have made this place what it is, forgetting it is we who have made this ‘hood what it is. Us, not them.

Not without a fight, I say.

The Neighbourhood

I ran into a fellow regular at the Barfly this evening who asked me point-blank when I was going to update the blog again. so I figure I might as well get it going again if only to change the top entry. The regular’s only complaint was “too much politics and not enough about the Main”, and he’s “absolutely” right. I really did want this to be about my neighborhood, among other things. I’ve lived on the Main for 11 years and still love it. Things have changed over the last 4 years, but thankfully Quebec’s progressive tenant’s rights laws mean that a lot of people have managed to stay put while rents everywhere else on the Plateau have skyrocketed. I’m one of those people, and I plan on staying put.

But where to start talking about this wonderful street I call home? It goes without saying that people make a neighbourhood, and the Plateau draws people of all stripes. Without getting into it, for some reason the Plateau area of Montreal draws an interesting assortment of people. Places to meet people also abound, so it’s a very social place to live. The place many of my neighbours and I go to is Barfly – a diamond in the rough if ever there was one. It’s usually a dark and smokey place with a recroom decor you’d expect from a collection of die hard Montreal Canadiens fans. During the day, it’s usually quiet with a few regulars from the neighbourhood stopping in or staying in. Habs games are always on with the sound, and bands are usually told no soundchecks until the intermission or until the game is over. There’s quite a pack of hockey regulars, and this season the bar fills up to standing room only by the second period. And then there’s the music culture of the bar, the legacy of it’s previous (and legendary) incarnation as Bar G-Sharp. There’s a fair amount of history here that I won’t get into in this entry, but suffice it to say that Barfly is one of the great very small venues in the city. Go there Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday if you like bluegrass, jazz, or blues. You won’t be disappointed.

Then there’s Le Vieux St-Laurent, my favourite local diner. It’sa day place – they’re open from 7AM to 5PM Sunday through Saturday. Great burgers, breakfasts, pizzas, and the best souflaki south of Mile End. Nothing fancy, just a really good diner where you tend to meet people who either live or work in the neighbourhood.

There’s loads I could write about the neighbourhood….but I have to get some sleep…..