The events page for Pop Montreal 2022 reads like the menu of a pre-pandemic buffet. With over 200 shows, many of which are showcasing up and coming artists, it’s a veritable smorgasbord, and I’m eager to dive in. Before I’ve gotten halfway through the calendar, I break out a pen and paper, making lists, organizing blocks of time like Tetris pieces.

I’ve got a shiny press pass, so I’m free but not unfettered: Wednesday is a weird day to start a festival, and I’ve got a desk job. There’s some comfort in knowing that even if I had the days off, I wouldn’t actually be able to see everything, and isn’t that the secret tragedy hidden at the bottom of every all-you-can-eat outing?

The Pop people made a fab Spotify playlist so we can sample everything and plan accordingly. Here are a few of my takeaways:

We’ve got the Born Ruffians (I think I’ve heard that name? They have a strong Spotify following, at just over half a million). The tunes are spacey and dreamy.

The Linda Lindas broke out during the pandemic when a video of the teens punking out in a library with their original song Racist Sexist Boy. It gave me full L7 / ’90s Hole vibes, and I promised myself I’d see them live. It’s an all ages show, and fun moms are bringing their wee punks. I’ll be there.

I’m struggling to describe Thanya Iyer’s surreal tunes, but thankfully her Spotify bio is perfect: “Thanya Iyer’s experimental movements radiate an effervescence of twinkling rock filled nights, clubs of electronic intensity, and church-like hyms”. I couldn’t have said it better myself; I tried. You can catch her for free, Thursday at noon at Jardins Gamelin.

With Wayne Snow’s loungey dance tunes, it’s no surprise he’s already got a strong following. Shuffling through his repertoire gave me disco glitter makeout vibes, which is perfect as both dancing and kissing are wonderful sweater weather activities.

Sisi Superstar will be bringing candy pink pop vibes when she opens for Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka, who will of course be serving up a show to dance to.

JayWood’s coming to us from Winnipeg, and bringing his unique, self taught talents. His tunes are groovy with some rock, beautiful acoustic bits — it’s the fusion you didn’t know you needed. His Spotify bio uses words like “psych funk” and “electronic groove”, but you should probably give it a quick listen and then go see him live.

My dudes, I could go on and on, but honestly, this all starts tonight, so less reading, more listening. Get them tix, and get your POP on!

POP Montreal 2022 runs September 28-October 2. Full schedule and tickets at popmontreal.com

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Premier Legault shooting down a $10 Billion climate fund hours before Montreal is hit with a major downpour, the Quebec Election Debate, QS Rail and Bus proposal and concerts this weekend.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Though it may seem like festival season is winding down, film buffs have something very special to look forward to this weekend. The 14th edition of the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival is back for three days of astonishing artistry and sensational storytelling.

Founded by Concordia Film Animation professor Erik Goulet, this homegrown festival was the first of its kind to focus purely on stop motion when it debuted back in 2009. Ever since, it has played host to both celebrated professionals and up-and-coming indie filmmakers from around the world. Their dedication to an art form equally painstaking and breathtaking has kept audiences coming back for more, even as Hollywood seemingly overlooks the medium.

The sad fact remains, precious few stop motion features are produced by major studios, in spite of movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Chicken Run and The Little Prince earning widespread acclaim. Even if the bigwigs are determined to overlook it, this annual gathering is a reminder of the astonishing versatility of stop motion, especially when utilized by bold storytellers.

This year’s program covers a wide variety of subjects, from the whimsical to the thought-provoking. Sitting somewhere comfortably in the middle is Bear Hug, a deceptively simple short about a young bear’s quest for companionship on his birthday.

Director Margrethe Danielsen gives her adorable lead character a beautifully detailed forest to explore as he finds himself torn between the ways of his fellow bears and the local bird brigade, neither of whom are especially welcoming. The results are utterly charming, thanks in no small part to the tactile appeal of the medium, which she takes full advantage of.

The Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated Bestia

While Danielsen’s furry outcast is appealing, the lead in Bestia is the stuff of nightmares. Director Hugo Covarrubias’ chilling portrait of Ingrid Olderöck – a real-life agent of the Chilean Secret Police who tortured and raped political opponents with the assistance of her dog – is a sobering reminder that not all animation is intended for children.

Meditating on how systems can dehumanize and displace, Bestia manages to be as tense as any live action psychological thriller and especially clever in its choice of materials. The lead’s frozen, shiny, porcelain-like visage captures perfectly the terrifying artifice of her identity.

As she grapples with increasingly intense nightmares about her life’s work, her stone cold expression is changed ever so slightly to express fear, uncertainty and rage. It’s impressive in its subtlety and upsetting in its realism.

Other Half, meanwhile, goes a more surreal route in telling an almost mythological tale about trying to feel complete in a world where coupledom is king. Produced by an LGBTQ+ team during the first covid lockdown, this film’s colorful combination of Claymation and stop motion techniques brings the lead character’s journey of self-discovery to vivid life.

And there are a few good laughs sprinkled throughout, especially when Ren desperately utters that all-too-familiar refrain of “we can make it work!” as yet another relationship turns sour. Haven’t we all been there?

Other Half‘s Ren surrounded by besties

Upon further reflection, a unifying theme actually does seem to link this year’s slate of animated offerings: the frustrations of isolation and the importance of connecting with other (stable) people, which seems only fitting, given the two years we’ve just endured.

Best then to head on over to the de Sève cinema this weekend, where an animated crowd awaits, excited to encourage the efforts of filmmakers as eager as they are to reconnect.

Featured Image from Bear Hug, playing at the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival

For ticket information and a full rundown of the remarkable films in competition, visit the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival’s website. The festival concludes this Sunday the 18th.

This piece was created as part of a fundraising campaign for an ongoing multimedia project. This is not a fictional creation in and of itself, but rather an account of a real interview that took place with a fictional character. The people reported as being there, were actually there, in the actual places mentioned. The parameters of Conor Blaine’s character, from his accomplishments to his quirks, are already well established, but the dialogue here was improvised: while we each had time to prepare, we were unaware of each other’s preparations / questions, which created a unique authenticity in our interactions. And that’s how I spent a real afternoon with a fictional character…

It seemed appropriate that the night before my scheduled interview with Conor Blaine, I was up irresponsibly late drinking vodka Monsters and binge watching reality TV. While the magnitude of the event should’ve had me in bed early with outfit prepped and alarm set, it was the combination of nerves and excitement that kept me up. My better judgement warned that I would fundamentally regret my choices, but there was comfort to be found in knowing that Conor himself would approve of the use of time…and that he hates sleep.

I arrive at Else’s right on time, and even though it’s just opening, it appears Conor’s been there for a bit. He’s tucked away at a table in the back of the empty dining room, finishing up a phone call as I approach.

As much as I’m glad to see him in the flesh, he’s downright surprised to see me. I found out in short order that he wasn’t aware of our scheduled meeting, but he was a good sport about it.

I introduce myself, telling him I’m there for our interview.

“Aren’t you lucky?” he quips with a smile, and while it’s definitely arrogance, I find it rather charming coming from him.

We cover a few quick points on who I am, and how I got this meeting (his manager Margot set it up without consulting him, a fact that doesn’t appear to surprise him). He’s wearing black boots with black shorts, black heart shaped sunglasses (yes, inside), and a white tuque under his hood. His black hoodie is emblazoned with “Peg the Patriarchy” in pink, and I compliment it, which turns out to be a good opening.

“It’s a Luna Matatas design. Cara Delevigne swiped it for the Met Gala in 2021. Never gave her credit. But she knew who originally created it. It was with intention. Dumb broad. Luna is great, she’s a sex educator, primarily.”

And we’re off to the races.

Anyone who follows Conor on Twitter knows of his penchant for live tweeting 90 Day Fiance, but scattered amid those are gems that highlight his familiarity with the Real Housewives universe, where I’m hoping to connect with him.

“Fuck marry kill, all the Housewives.”

“Kill. Next question.”

Laughing, it takes me a moment to gather myself. I ask him what it is that keeps drawing him back to Montreal. He could be anywhere else, and yet he flies back here whenever he has a spare weekend.

“I love Montreal, truly. It’s a big city, but people don’t give a fuck about fame here. I can just live, you know? Whether it’s arrogance or respect, the Quebecois understand.”

I ask how long he and his husband Raphael have been together, hoping to skip some steps toward intimacy, and get closer to the subjects that matter most to his heart.

“Two years. Probably two years…I think it was two years. It was in the third season. Two years,” he says definitively. “Everybody always wants to know about Raph.”

“Well,” I say. “It’s kind of relationship goals, you know? You guys seem so happy.”

“Don’t we? Aren’t we?”

And that’s when things got interesting.

We were interrupted by local author and YouTuber Holly Rhiannon, ring light in hand, camera gals in tow, already filming.

It took a moment to straighten everything out; in the end we determined that Margot had double booked the time slot. Holly was the apparent winner of lunch with Conor thanks to an online contest.

“I’m sure you got a heads up about this,” she said.

“I’ve had no heads up about anything. I should be doing something much different than this right now.”

She seemed more curious content creator than enamoured fangirl, and it was clear that she’d entered the contest ironically. Still, neither one of us was going to get the exclusive one-on-one time with the star that we were promised, and we’d have to make do.

Once everyone settled in and drinks had been ordered (gin and tonic for Conor, of course), he asks us each what we thought about Margot. Unsure what he’s after, I tell him the truth, that she was nice enough, and Holly shrugs that she was “great”.

“I don’t think either of you have met her.”

Changing gears, he tells Holly that I’ve been asking some questions, and she says she has questions as well.

“You know how I love doing interviews!” he grins, and while Holly may not realize it, I know he’s being facetious: he likes few things less. “What kind of questions do you have? Are they personal?”

“Some of them might be. I actually don’t know too much about you.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that in my life.”

“Well, I’m not big on celebrity,” she says.

“Not big on celebrity!” he parrots, incredulous.

Trying to get back on track, I ask him how he and Raph manage to keep things spicy considering how much time they spend apart.

He hesitates, looking for the first time at a loss for words, and just as he begins to speak, Holly interjects, saying that she’s more interested in his new Twitter account.

“One thing that I knew about you before is that you weren’t into social media, and then I saw this Twitter account pop up, and you don’t stop tweeting.”

“I was told that it was time to finally get Twitter and the only reason I’ve never had a Twitter account is because I didn’t want to get canceled.”

I ask who it was who did the telling.

“Margot; the one who tells me everything. But I decided I would do it my way. I’ve been trying a few things out; there was that whole issue with Garcelle Beauvais.”

Holly wonders out loud which reality show she’s from before starting that she’s never seen someone so into reality TV.

“Let me be clear to all the cameras involved. I do not like reality television. But I do enjoy 90 Day Fiance. It’s a brilliant socio-anthropological study on the desperation of ugly people, specifically Americans.” He pauses here and looks my way. “Your turn.”

I’m ill prepared for a tag team interview. It’s obvious that we’re coming at this from very different directions, which is a shame because I imagine that had we conspired, we might’ve been a force to be reckoned with.

I try to get back to him and Raph, and how they manage to keep things fresh from a distance.

“I mean, I guess we don’t.”

Which makes me wonder if they have an open relationship…

“No. No, not that I’m aware of.”

Holly asks about his high school experience, and if he had a nemesis.

“My mother [Lilith Blaine]. I was homeschooled, so she was probably — definitely my biggest bully. Like I’ve said, there was nothing about growing up in my house that was normal.”

Asked what would happen if he forgot Mother’s Day, Conor answers with stark honesty.

“I don’t think anyone would’ve noticed. I mean, in the age range when it was apropos to give my mother a card for instance, she was drinking heavily then. You know, she doesn’t like Sundays; or brunch. You know, we share that.”

Now that Lilith has been mentioned, it’s as if a curse has been broken, and I feel free to tell him that I’ve read all her books. As he nods deadpan, I realize how often he must hear it, and regret mentioning it.

“It’s about time I write one of my own,” he says, and I ask what it would be called. “Valuable and Vulnerable.” He has it on the tip of his tongue, and maybe he really has been giving this some thought.

While it’s hard to imagine being as famous as Conor Blaine, it’s also hard to imagine the fact that he’s never known another life. His lineage made him famous before his mother ever began to play stage mom. As much as it might appear enviable from the outside, I wonder if he ever wishes he could give it up and be someone else for a while.

“Absolutely. I’m always looking for a little bit of anonymity. It’s what I was saying about Montreal; a little bit of that anonymity is refreshing.”

At this point, Holly and her team make some adjustments to the lighting, tinkering with the angles. One of the crew says she’s read up on him, and asks about his friendship with Lindsey Lohan. I hold my breath: she is one of the subjects on the list I received of things not to discuss.

“Lindsay and I are not friends. She knows why. And she still owes me 20 bucks.”

In an attempt to get things back on my agenda, I ask about the much awaited film version of Son of Mine. It feels like it’s been in the works forever, and he tells me that they are finally in post production, with a trailer expected in November. While much of the cast has been released, we still don’t know who’s playing Conor, and I tried to get it out of him.

“We’ve got a bunch of children that play me through the years.”

While he’s a producer, he downplays his involvement with the project.

“I just paid for it. I knew it’d be a hit. It will be a hit. There’s not much I could do to improve upon it. I mean, you read the book; it’s fantastic. I’m on every page.”

In a flash, Conor deflates. He looks out the window and rolls his eyes.

“You know, I’m done here. If you guys want to ask more questions, you’re going to have to come with me.”

Holly says that she’ll definitely go along, as she was told she’d have four hours with him. Conor’s eyebrows raise at the time allotted, shooting above the frames of his glasses. Personally, there’s no way I would miss out on the opportunity, so I pack up my notebook and follow.

Conor Blaine’s a fast walker. I get the impression he’s trying to create distance, that this is the unseen interlude between cut scenes and he’s just trying to get it over with. He chain smokes and talks on his phone. The only thing he says to us, is that “it’s not far”.

We arrive at Bifteck just before 2pm. The back of the bar is in dusky shadows, the pool tables spotlighted; we wouldn’t notice the sunset if we stayed there all night. We have the place to ourselves, and Conor moves around comfortably. He tells us he used to spend a lot of time here, right around this time of day, and then into the wee hours. Again, it provided anonymity, privacy, a shelter of sorts. One can imagine that as the night goes on and people first trickle, then crowd into the popular St. Laurent dive, that the regulars would take his presence for granted, and those caught off guard would talk amongst themselves. Still, it would be hard to speak to him directly without at least trying to best him at the pool table.

Today is no different; he tells us we can only ask questions while we shoot. He lists off a bunch of rules before noticing Holly and I staring at him blankly, and then tells us to just give it a go.

I’m immediately aware of how much better I was at this game an undisclosed number of years ago, but thankfully Holly’s on par with me and we team up.

I figure it’s now or never, so I delve into the more sensitive questions. Margot had sent me a list of things not to mention, and I ask him why she didn’t just send over a typical list of talking points instead. I’ve personally never received a list of topics not to touch upon.

He’s caught off guard, and asks me what I’m talking about, which flusters me, and before I can muster anything, Holly pulls a printed page from her notebook, unfolds it, and hands it to Conor. He looks over the list, half a smile, the mischievous sparkle in his eye reminiscent of his younger self. He points to things at random:

“Well, this makes sense…I don’t know why she thought this was off limits…Lindsay Lohan does know why, I already said that, so it’s a direct quote.”

Blaine Defense Systems, funny enough, is not on the list. So taboo that it was omitted, Conor’s consistently maintained that he didn’t own the military weapons manufacturer that is the other part of his family legacy, and the media has treated the matter as settled, preferring not to rock the boat by pressing the matter. Recently however, the company was sold to Russian investors for a whopping $900 000 000. Sold in whole by none other than Conor Blaine.

“I don’t judge people like that,” is all he says on the subject of the buyers. “I inherited it when my grandfather died. It skipped my mother for obvious reasons.” He doesn’t have to specify that it’s because she’s a woman; the older generations of his prominent ancestry are notoriously old school conservative, to put it kindly.

As to where these new found profits might go, he says he’s passionate about food security. “I believe that everybody should have access to good, healthy food. I don’t think it’s right that we as a society lock food up. There are even food deserts in Montreal.”

He asks for more questions as he clears the table. Holly and I are not improving at the game, but we are getting better at working together, and we confer with each other, notebooks in hand.

I reluctantly admit we’re out; he nods, and finishes his drink.

As her team packs up, Holly and I debate another round, and another game too as we obviously need the practice. I turn to see if Conor will give us some pointers, and he’s nowhere to be found. He’d made a quiet escape, slipping out of the bar and into the comforting anonymity of a mid afternoon Montreal main street. An awkward ending, but a graceful one too; certainly an unforgettable way to end my already memorable afternoon with Conor Blaine.

Pre-Launch Peaks & Perks

Fundraiser!

This week, we’re chock full of festivals, three of them running simultaneously and one of them running two shows at the same time in different locations. This is going to be a busy weekend, so let’s get started:

MEG is Back at Parc Jean Drapeau & the SAT

MEG Montréal is celebrating its 23rd edition with two four-day parties in two locations: the Piknic Électronik site at Parc Jean Drapeau and the Société des arts technologiques (SAT) on the lower Main. They’re bringing in legends like Fatboy Slim, Hugo TSR, Misstress Barbara and Dillon Francis and also have a panel to discussn “Hip-hop culture in all its states, between France and Quebec.”

MEG’s plan has always been to set “the stage for up-and-coming electro hip-hop artists, with a mission of bringing curious, open-minded night owls together for an unforgettable experience.” This year’s “back to school” edition promises to be no different.

Have a look at a video of MEG 2019:

MEG Festival runs September 2-5 with shows running simultaneously at Parc Jean Drapeau (Piknic Électronik site) and at SAT (Société des arts technologiques), 1201 Boul. Saint-Laurent. For tickets and schedule, please visit MEGMontreal.com

Estival du nouveau cinéma Gets the Ball Rolling

Nope, that’s not a typo and nope, we’re not early. 51st Festival du nouveau cinéma still takes place from October 5 to 16, however this weekend, for the second time, they’re getting the ball rolling early with Estival du nouveau cinéma, a mini-fest made up of four nights of screenings at the Esplanade Tranquille in Quartier des spectacles.

It kicks off tonight with L’Infonie Inachevée, the landmark 1973 Quebec documentary by Roger Frappier, then tomorrow Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Paolo Sorrentino revisits his youth in late 80s Naples in The Hand of God. On Saturday, Montreal and global icon Leonard Cohen is front and centre in the new documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. The mini-fest concludes Sunday with a presentation of Dune (the recent Denis Villeneuve version, not the David Lynch one from decades ago).

Estival du nouveau cinéma runs September 1-4 with 8pm showtimes at the Esplanade Tranquille in Quartier des spectacles. FREE. Info at NouveauCinema.ca

FME in Abitibi

Okay, admittedly, this one isn’t exactly a Montreal show this week, or even a Montreal region show this week, but it is in Quebec, Rouyn-Noranda in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region specifically. And it is quite the show.

Festival de Musique Émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FME) features over 90 acts from all genres on nine stages over four days. Hubert Lenoir, Animal Collective, Lisa Leblanc, Rich Aucoin and many many more performers will be there.

FME’s 20th Anniversary runs September 1-4. For the lineup and more info, please visit fmeat.org

Featured Image from The Hand of God, courtesy of Festival du nouveau cinéma

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

As we approach the end of summer and beginning of fall, we’re heading into the part of year where regular shows start mixing with the remaining events of Montreal’s festival season. Since this year, so far, regular shows seem to be returning in full force, we’re bringing back Shows This Week (as opposed to Montreal Arts & Music This Week, which includes releases not tied to an event).

So without any more hesitation, let’s get started:

Andrew Searles’ LA Chocolat! @ Café Cléopatra

Andrew Searles has been a comedian for 20 years (professionally, that is) and a Montrealer for longer. For the past six years, though, his base of operations has been sunny LA.

He still returns to his hometown, though it’s usually part of a tour, and his shows here generally sell out. His latest show LA Chocolat! seems to be following that trend, with the 8pm Friday night show at Café Cléopatra already full.

There are still three shows (as of publishing time) that you can buy tickets for and Searles will also be recording an album on the Saturday shows. Here’s some standup from before Searles left for LA:

LA Chocolat! by Andrew Searles runs August 26th and 27th, 8pm and 10:30pm, at Café Cléopatra, 1230 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, 2nd Floor. Tickets available through Eventbrite

Festival FAR in Montreal’s Alleyways

Festival FAR, which beings its sixth edition this Monday, is a multidisciplinary arts festival that takes place exclusively in alleyways. This means mostly smaller, intimate shows, but also a few events with stages in larger alleys.

This year’s event begins in Parc-Ex and culminates in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie with stops in Ahuntsic, Côte-des-Neiges, Downtown (the Ville-Marie Borough), the Sud-Ouest (Pointe-Saint-Charles specifically) and Ville St-Laurent.

Festival FAR 2022 runs August 29 – September 11 in various Montreal neighbourhoods. For schedule and info, please visit festivalfar.com

Marché des Possibles Every Weekend Until September 25th

Last week we announced that POP Montreal is returning with a full lineup. Today, we’d like to announce that the POP and Plateau Mont-Royal Borough co-production Marché des Possibles is also back, well, back again this weekend.

The weekend event has been running since May, featuring a variety of local performers playing L’Entrepôt 77, a makeshift outdoor performance space in the park under the overpass at the very top edge of Mile-End.

This weekend’s lineup features Thanya Iyer launching the Rest EP with Cedric Noel and Ambroise, Ukulélé Club de Montréal, Blood and Dust, amarior, Girl Circles and Lyndsie Alguire.

Marché des Possibles runs at L’Entrepôt 77, 77 Bernard Est, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until September 25. Lineups available through their Facebook page


Featured Image from last weekend’s Marché des Possibles via MDP on Facebook

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

POP Montreal is back!

Well, come to think of it, they were already back in 2020 with a virtual version and last year with a smaller socially-distanced version, but this fall, they’re offering over 200 concerts in close to 20 venues in the Plateau and Mile-End. You could say that they’re back to full-force, but don’t say they’re back to normal.

According to festival Creative Director Daniel Seligman in a press release:

“The notion of ‘going back to normal’ isn’t really POP Montreal’s jam. We will forever be moving forward, doing our best to care of our community and create spaces that allow for all kinds of voices to come together. One of the lessons we’ve learned over the ‘panini’ is that being in relation with each other is the essential ingredient of culture. So let’s come together and experience the most delicious musical sandwich the city can offer.”

This year’s sandwich, or lineup, includes headliners like Allison Russell, Tortoise, The Linda Lindas and POP veteran Martha Wainwright as well as way more than two handfuls of up-and-coming and already established acts representing a variety of musical genres. from the eclectic punk pop of Sophia Bel to Indigenous futurists Ombiigizi, to maverick Toronto rapper Witch Prophet, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy checking out.

POP Montreal runs from September 28-October 2, 2022. For the complete schedule and tickets, please visit POPMontreal.com

The lineup is listed in the poster below:

Summer in Montreal means many things for many people. Dirty old men trolling for much younger partners at Grand Prix weekend, The International Jazz Festival, Francofolies, Just for Laughs, and the torrent of construction that torments pedestrians and motorists alike.

For me one of the highlights is Shakespeare in the Park, a chance to take in some fresh air and culture, courtesy of Montreal’s own Repercussion Theatre. After a nearly three year hiatus due to the COVID19 pandemic, they were back with a vengeance, resuming a tour of that went to parks across Montreal and as far outside the city as Morin Heights from July 14 to August 6, 2022.

The play on offer this year was part original play, part medley. Titled All Shall Be Well, the show was a discussion of the Plague in England and Europe during Elizabethan times and how it may or may not have affected Shakespeare’s writing.

There were history lessons and science lessons, all helped by a cast as easy on the eyes as it was diverse, with the actors slipping into simple but effective costumes for when they acted out scenes from Shakespeare’s various works that may have contained subtle references to outbreaks of the bubonic plague.

All Shall Be Well was a fine play, but in many respects it was a disjointed one.

The first half of the show focused heavily on the science and history of the pandemics during Shakespeare’s time, acted with a child-like enthusiasm that felt very much like an after school special. Most notable in this part was Samantha Bitonti who played adorable and excitable in a way that would easily fit among the cast of The Wiggles or any other children’s program.

The second half of All Shall Be Well was closer to what I expected of Shakespeare in the park: passionate lovers, lyrical language, some bawdiness, and portrayals of authority and grief and despair, masterfully played by Tiernan Cornford, Anton May, Andrew Joseph Richardson, and Thomas Vallières. The second half focused more on scenes from Shakespeare’s works and less on the historical context.

It’s as if the play was written knowing full well that most attendees who had brought their kids were going to leave at intermission, leaving the real Shakespeare fans behind to watch the rest. Had I known this in advance and were not there to review it, I probably would have only come for the second half of All Shall Be Well. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first part of the show; it’s that I was acutely aware of the fact that I was not its target audience.

Though All Shall Be Well was fun, I do hope that next summer Repercussion Theatre will stick to more traditional material like Shakespeare and Molière and employ theatrical tricks within them to keep young kids interested, as they have in the past. In the meantime, this would be a fitting piece to tour schools with during the colder months.

For now, I can’t wait to see what they’ll put on next summer.

Osheaga returned to full-force last weekend and FTB was there. Here is a gallery of photos from all three days by Chris Zacchia:

The final two days of Osheaga seemed promising. The lIne-up looked intriguing but would the performances be any good?

We started out day two still getting over last night’s epic Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire closing performances wondering if it could be topped. To answer that question: yes, yes it can be!

Mitski

I started off checking out Mitski who is known for her gyrating performances with a full 80s synth pop sound. I saw her at the smaller stage a few years ago and she was very impressive.

Now at the main stage, I realized I enjoyed her performance better last time. Maybe it was her being on the main stage that threw me off, or maybe it was the fact that I was surrounded by so many people who seem utterly distracted or detached from her music.

I wish more people at the main stages were more interested in seeing Mitski, but I guess they must have been waiting for some other performer. 

Photo by Chris Zacchia

Polo and Pan

How weird can French disco/techno can get? Well, if you let Polo and Pan show you the way, you’ll understand how much. I know the weird DJ man wearing a house coat showed me. It was a surprising to the end of the performance. Definitely something you should check out.

Photo by Chris Zacchia

Caribou

What can you say except Caribou may have stole the show at this years Osheaga, especially Saturday. They were one of my top highlights,

Caribou was everything I hoped they would be. I was looking forward to them playing Odessa but then I remembered how many other songs I loved and wanted to hear them play. I danced late into the evening with thousands of other people dancing around me. It was pretty crazy,

Khruangbin

Khruangbin were one of those surprising bands that sounded better than even their recordings. With elements of seventies funk, blue grass and country, Khruangbin is one eclectic romp through American music.

Blood Royal

How much noise could two people make. Well Royal Blood proved that two grown men could make a pretty impressive racket.

Great songs, powerful bass and the crowd went pretty crazy. This included an impressive mosh pit swarm, which I haven’t seen at Osheaga in quite a while.

Wet Leg

The highlight of my festival was seeing Wet Leg. They just plain rock. I had so much fun jibing to this 5-piece that still played to perfection with only four.

Cheers to the ladies that rock this good, great riffs and catchy tunes. They definitely put a smile on my face.

Idles

While most normal people were ending the night at Dua Lipa, people who like hearing British people swear were busy at the Idles show.

And boy did that man ever curse! But they put on one hell of a show.

Photo by Chris Zacchia

Dua Lipa

I don’t know much about Dua Lipa except that she is extremely popular, her stage was dangerously packed and, well, she ended the festival. It was most definitely one night to remember. 

Photo by Chris Zacchia

After speaking with Rick Mercer the week before the Just for Laughs festival hit Montreal, I had high hopes for the show he was hosting. Comedy Night in Canada was unfortunately a disappointing mishmash of ethnic clichés and other safe topics that left me starving for the edginess that so beautifully defined the other shows I’d seen at Just for Laughs this year.

The roster of Comedy Night in Canada consisted of Mercer, Salma Hindy, Sophie Buddle, Ivan Decker, Dave Merheje, and Eman El-Husseini, whom I remember back when she was waitressing at the now defunct (due to a fire) Comedyworks club in Downtown Montreal. I must applaud the producers of this show for sticking with Canadian comedians, while not shying away from ethnic diversity, making the show reflective of the Canadian Mosaic. That said, I desperately wanted to love this show and I couldn’t.

The material most of the comedians stuck with was brutally safe, and often repetitive. Dave Merheje, whom I’ve interviewed in the past, stuck with family anecdotes and jokes about his own ethnicity, as did Salma Hindy. Ivan Decker and Eman El-Husseini’s stuff was about relationships and mundane activities. Sophie Buddle mainly rehashed the jokes she’d used in The Nasty Show.

Only Mercer and El-Husseini were about to add some edge to their comedy. El-Husseini’s joke about having a boy means having a child “that will masturbate all over your house” was funny, but it came too little too late in her set. Mercer’s material on conversion therapy, naming public property, and the dullness of space were by far the edgiest and funniest the show got.

It must be said that the quality of the comedy cannot be blamed entirely on the cast of Comedy Night in Montreal. As me and my plus one settled in our seats, we saw a sea of Baby Boomer and elderly mainly white faces.

When I saw the cost of the tickets, I understood that the audience was indicative of the generational and racial wealth gaps. The comedians who performed that night were clearly pandering to this audience, and the quality of the jokes suffered for it.

If Comedy Night in Canada comes back, I want the roster to unleash their inner beasts and come out with material that’s actually funny and not just comfortable for white Boomers who love ethnic clichés and bashing young people. I’ve seen these comedians do better and I want them to.

They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy. This Thursday, SNL alum and beloved funnyman John Mulaney put that theory to the test with his one-man show, From Scratch, which detailed his recent recovery from drug addiction. The question some JFL attendees were left asking, however, was…too soon?

“Hi – it’s me. The comedian from a couple of years ago…” he cautiously began, addressing the enthusiastic audience at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, which was packed to the rafters. Clad in one of his trademark dapper suits, the likable comedian touched briefly on the news cycle in America – “CNN does breaking news the way a breathless kid runs up to tell you a pointless story,” he quipped – before getting straight to the meat and potatoes of the evening: the addictions that nearly ruined his life.

“I’m here to be vulnerable for money,” he admitted as he launched into the details, date by date, of how he lost his way. The seemingly-straightlaced 39-year-old admitted frankly to having used cocaine, Adderall, Xanax, Percocet, Seroquel and other drugs in the lead-up to December 2020, when his celebrity friends staged a 12 person-strong intervention under the guise of a dinner party.

“It was a star-studded intervention,” he remarked. “A ‘We Are The World’ of alternative comedians over the age of 40. The funniest people in the world…and they promised each other that they wouldn’t do bits,” he added. “Fred Armisen was serious. Do you know how off-putting that is?”

Mulaney recounted how Nick Kroll and Seth Meyers each expressed their concerns, though it was ultimately actress Natasha Lyonne who got through to him, prompting him to immediately enter a rehab facility where – to his disappointment – no one seemed aware of his celebrity status.

Seeking to connect with the audience during the show, Mulaney engaged in an impromptu interview with a former addict seated up in the balcony, asking her to detail her history of substance abuse for the crowd. While probably a genuine attempt on his part to discuss the subject of recovery candidly, it also came across as exploitative.

Once the woman finished answering his questions – no doubt excited to have connected with him – he rebuffed her request for better seats, leaving the crowd to laugh at her for expecting a celeb to value her honesty or participation. Apparently, the rest of us must content ourselves with being vulnerable for free.

Even with his flawless comedic timing and witty observations, the evening sometimes had the uncomfortable tone of a confessional. An amusing one, mind you, but at the same time, a troubling one as well.

Mulaney’s talents as a writer/performer helped him rise up in the world of entertainment, but it’s his complex personal struggles that have been the subject of headlines for years now, particularly his sudden divorce from first wife Anna Marie Tendler in the spring of 2021 and subsequent involvement with Olivia Munn, who bore his first child soon after. The comedian briefly mentioned his girlfriend and the birth of his son during From Scratch, but sidestepped the subject of his marriage altogether.

If some matters were still too personal to share with the world, others were described in full, such as his relationship with “Dr. Michael” – no last name – who worked from home and provided Mulaney with whatever prescriptions he wanted. The comedian even gave the JFL audience a verbal “how to” guide for finding sketchy doctors online, just in case anyone wanted to get their hands on some drugs. Not that he was endorsing the idea, he clarified. It was, for all these reasons, a bit of an odd evening of comedy.

One can only applaud a newly sober person who is willing to come clean about their mistakes. Mulaney would hardly be the first comedian to know these kinds of struggles, and turning his painful experiences into punchlines must feel both cathartic and like something of a professional reset. How else to move beyond the story of his relapse if not to address it head-on?

Yet, beyond the witticisms, a rather bleak picture is painted here of someone still in recovery who is returning to the same industry whose excesses fueled his addictions. A man who, judging by the name-dropping scattered throughout his show and his frustration over not being recognized while in rehab, seems a tad too focused on finding success of a very particular sort instead of sorting himself out.

Make no mistake: Mulaney successfully mined tragedy for laughter with his one-man show. Was that the best way to go about reintroducing himself to his fans? That may be up for debate.

Perhaps less addiction-related humor would have lightened the evening up. Or, alternatively, embracing the confessional nature of the piece and bravely examining the factors that lead to his addictions and divorce, which could have made for a more intimate and impactful set.

Looking at his current situation, one can’t help but think back to other entertainment legends who feared losing their moment in the limelight more than losing their lives. It might be wise for Mulaney to take a little more time to restabilize and find his footing without the pressures of showbiz complicating matters. His comedic chops, as evidenced on Thursday night, are obviously in no danger of disappearing and neither are his fans, who root passionately for his future to be a brighter one.

For more details about Mulaney’s From Scratch tour, visit his website

When I spoke with Indian comedian Vir Das about his Just for Laughs solo show, part of his Wanted World Tour, he assured me that it would have a story and he certainly delivered when he performed at the Olympia.

To a packed theatre with an audience so ethnically diverse it would have given Quebec Premier Francois Legault a stroke, Das put on a show that was as fearless as it was entertaining. As I waited for him to start, part of me worried that he would stick to safe subjects like family and relationship stuff peppered with comparisons of his own ethnic background to that of white, English-speaking Westerners, but that wasn’t what audiences got. It’s a tactic common among many so-called ethnic comedians, and thankfully Vir Das’ comedy is not like that at all.

If there’s one thing you get from Vir Das’, it’s that he’s absolutely fearless. Though he only spoke for an hour, he managed to cover everything from cannabis, to sex, to dogs, to freedom of speech, giving us – the audience, an education, while still keeping it funny.

No one, from Christians, to the British, to babies, to vegans, to his fellow brown people was safe from his mirth. One of his best jokes was about his anger at experiencing physical abuse by his school teachers, adding:

“I would never slap a teacher, their salaries do that,” a remark that resonates with educators in North America who continue to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.

Das told me that he is first and foremost a comedian and throughout the show it showed. He was comfortable and friendly on stage, making me and so many others laugh and think while providing insights into his life story.

In many ways it didn’t feel like a standup show so much as a storytelling session with someone you know and love, and despite a few disrespectful types who tried to film the performance, the audience welcomed his approach. If I have one criticism of his performance, it’s that he would switch to speaking Hindi once in a while and didn’t always provide an English translation, something that was fine with the many East Asian audience members, but won’t work for English speakers. In the future he needs to translate all of it for English audiences or provide subtitles above or below the stage.

While JFL is over, Vir Das is sure to be back. Until he is, you can check out his Netflix specials

So I says to my 24 year old daughter, I says:
“Hey, wanna go see some comedy?”
She says yes, I say who? She says Neal Brennen, and I was pretty impressed.

“Do you know him from the Chappelle show?” I ask.
“The what?”
“The Chappelle show; with Dave Chappelle”
“With who?”

After a few more questions, I learned that she hadn’t been familiar with the comedians in town, so she watched standup clips to decide who she wanted to see. She chose the one that made her laugh, which is how she ended up choosing Neal Brennen: Unacceptable as her first ever live comedy show.

A little background: Neal Brennen first collaborated with Dave Chappelle on the cult classic Half Baked, released in 1998.

He co-created and co-wrote Chapelle’s Show with Dave Chapelle, and the rest is history. It bears noting that they promised between themselves to never reveal who wrote which sketch; a quiet sign of both their artistic integrity and their mutual respect.

Neal’s been nominated for three Emmys, and has an impressive list of credits including directing JAY-Z’s 4:44 documentary series, and writing for episodes of SNL. Oh, and he does really good comedy.

It was my first time seeing a show at the Gesù, and it was the perfect venue. The space felt intimate, the seats descending to the stage, putting Brennen among us instead of raised and separate. There was no opener, no mic stand; it was personal, and knowing that this was his one Montreal performance, made it even more special.

Adding to the uniqueness of the experience was the fact that this show felt like a funny one man show. Sure, there were set ups and jokes, but the tapestry of the performance was more intricately woven than simply that. He spoke of his struggles, his frustrations, the strange journey of this life and the state of adulthood that we’ve all found ourselves mysteriously catapulted into.

The writing was perfect, his presence authentic and endearing. In a time where stars hire publicists to teach them how to come across as human, Neal Brennen brought an honesty and candor that reminded me that we’re all on this weird ride together.

And we laughed, of course; at COVID, drugs, relationships, societal expectations, it was liberating to look straight at the dark spots without denying the darkness, and yet also finding light.

This was wholly different than other comedy shows I’ve seen. Brennen had the crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time, controlling the pace and tone of the show with conductor-like precision. There were moments when you could’ve heard a pin drop as we waited to see where he would lead us.

The 90 minute show flew by. The standing ovation felt full of love, and Neal stood gracious and humble, taking it all in.

It was the perfect last show for my festival coverage; profound, professional, masterfully hilarious.

As for my kid, she followed him on social right after the show, which is of course how that gen shows their approval. While she doesn’t know it yet, she’s going to have trouble finding a show that will live up to it, I sure look forward to helping her try.

Drag Queens pride themselves on being able to startle their audiences. Friday night in Quartier Des Spectacles, however, the stiletto was on the other foot.

Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 winner and songstress Trixie Mattel had to bring her open-air Just For Laughs show to an abrupt halt when two separate audience members required medical intervention within moments of each other.

Due to her off-the-cuff comedic sensibilities, most assumed it was just another bit when the performer repeatedly told her band to stop playing mid-song. Trixie then asked her fans for silence and patience so medics could make their way to the people in need of assistance on either side of the stage.

The comedienne credits the crowd for alerting her to the emergencies. “At first, it looked like they were just moving their hands to the music,” she later reflected, noting that both people ended up being carried out, something that “has never happened during a show before.”

In spite of the minor setback, the Milwaukee native – nee Brian Ferkus – enjoyed an otherwise triumphant night. Thousands packed Quartier des Spectacles to revel in Trixie’s signature blend of vintage outfits and frank comedy.

It’s difficult to imagine another personality who could so easily attract audiences both gay and straight and young and old, nevermind one confident enough to quip about anal sex and call guests “whores” at an open-air event.

Trixie has built her brand by maintaining an honest, “you’re in on the joke” dialogue with fans, both as a makeup mogul and an internet personality. Her hilarious YouTube series, entitled UNHhhh, features extremely unfiltered conversations with fellow Drag Race alum Katya and has garnered them millions of views.

Simply put, people would be disappointed if Trixie didn’t bring some irreverence to the proceedings. And Trixie, having attended JFL once before, knew better than to hold back with a Montreal audience.

The self-proclaimed Skinny Legend bantered playfully while strumming a guitar and bopping her way through a selection of tunes from her folk and rock-inspired albums. Hits like Hello, Hello and Malibu were interspersed with covers of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games and even Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda.

And through it all – of course – were a variety of wig and costume changes glamorous enough to delight even those standing back by the Dairy Queen on St. Catherine’s Street. Hilariously redubbed vintage commercials played between sets to afford Trixie time to change, in a welcome callback to the zany editing of UNHhhh.

There was one slightly botched costume reveal, thanks to two unrehearsed audience members acting as assistants. But throughout it all, the star maintained her composure, even delighting when the skies opened up in time for her final number.

As someone who rose up from humble beginnings to the top of the drag world, Trixie knows how to roll with the punches and fans love her for it.

They will also love hearing that her recent renovation reality show, Trixie Motel, may possibly be expanding into something bigger. Much like the plastic doll that first inspired her, Trixie is eager to explore new avenues, thanks to the continued support of those who’ve followed her career.

Mattel basked in their affection while reminding them to savor the moment: “this is the last f***ing time you’ll see Trixie Mattel do something free for you guys!”

Trixie Motel currently streams on Discovery + though fans wanting to see her and Katya in person should check out their upcoming tour dates.

The first day of Osheaga was a positively radiant day of sun, suds and tons of great acts culminating with an Arcade Fire rain dance that ended the evening. The short burst of rain left the crowd slightly soaked but very satisfied with Osehega’s return to full capacity after a brief halt due to the pandemic.

With a few surprises and a solid lineup Friday I think everyone was a little excited to start their weekend of music .

To start out my day I checked out the Local Naives at the valley stage. Their atmospheric rock sound was a good way to slowly get into the Vibe of the scene. And after a few beers and a few songs, I was totally into the festival experience.

It seemed like this year’s Osheaga, after a two years hiatus, felt very full.

The surprise treat of the evening was a very good performance by Arcade Fire. I didn’t think their last few shows were as energetic as I remembered them being in the past, but what they did right Friday night was know how to play for a local crowd.

They had a perfect group of songs, from Funeral and The Suburbs to Wake Up and Sprawl II. It felt like Montreal’s band was back, even after these last two dreadful albums. 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

What can you say about the always intriguing performance of YYYs? They brought the crowd back to aggressive pop rock. The crowd loved Heads Will Roll and Maps

Video courtesy of Kyle Cadogan

Definitely recommend checking them out next time they are in town.

Honorable Mentions:

Charlie XCX: Her catchy pop 90s song I Don’t Care was a wild romp and the crowd went pretty crazy,

Johnathan Summit’s DJ set at the Island stage was excellent the beats got me transcendental.