Flashback– A Vancouver Riot That Wasn’t About Hockey

It’s Friday, which means we get to do as the hip, social media influencers do, and initiate a flashback post.  You may be saying to yourself, Mike– that seems like a cop out way to make your word quota for the day, regurgitating facts from a prior event and passing them off as news.  Well, you’d be right.  However, this is a column with deadlines to be met, and to that end, I’d like to throw you back– way, way back– to the year 1972.  A warm evening in June, on the Eastern edge of Vancouver, where the early summer evening descended into chaos at the hands of a notorious rock band, at the height of their powers.

As a preface, Vancouver definitely enjoys a good riot. The last couple have been famously borne of Stanley Cup game 7 losses by the hometown Canucks, and back in the early 2000’s metal heads took their vengeance on BC place when Guns n’ Roses brought their brand of ‘music’ to town.  Back in 72 though, the culprits were the bad boys of the British Invasion, the Rolling Stones, who were fresh off the insane success of four phenomenal albums, and kicking off a tour in support of Exile on Main Street, with the first stop an unlikely date at the Pacific Coliseum.

Obviously demand for the show was through the roof, and because it was the 70’s, if you didn’t have a ticket, your best bet was to mill about near the venue, and try and negotiate with a reseller.  The issue here, was that a large number of fake tickets were circulating at a premium price, and after being gouged in the parking lot, people were getting turned away at the door.  Suddenly, there were a couple thousand angry Stones fans, milling about on Renfrew street, facing an armed cadre of police. Someone decided to throw a smoke bomb, and then a glass bottle at the venue, and as the band kicked off the show with ‘Brown Sugar,’ a molotov cocktail sailed through the night sky and all hell broke loose.  The police charged the crowd, and in the skirmish 22 people were arrested. The stats were worse for the VPD, as 31 officers were injured, and 13 had to be taken to hospital.

The 70’s were a rocky decade for the Stones, and they made headlines again in Canada five years later, partying with then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s wife, Margaret.  Perhaps our flashback was a sign of things to come as the decade unfolded, or perhaps just another example of Vancouver getting it’s riot on.

Stones fans take on the cops in Vancouver, 1972. photo credit– Dan Scott, Vancouver Sun

 

 

 

The Rundown– Live & Loud in Vancouver

Halloween is in the books, and as we flip the calendar over to November, the culture desk at Evolution takes a look at some of the upcoming concerts coming to town over the next week.  From Canadian farewells, to well loved indie bands, to alt-rock stalwarts, and some classic 90’s era rock, here’s a rundown of what to check out as the evenings get longer, and the temperature begins to drop.

Hollerado– November 2, Commodore Ballroom

Ottawa’s Hollerado looking pretty in pink

Indie rock band, Hollerado, is currently on the road in support of their sixth and final album, Retaliation Vacation. The well traveled Canadian rockers will be lowering the curtain on their 13 year career with a December show at the Danforth theatre in Toronto, but before they head home to Southwestern Ontario, check out their final BC show, live from the Commodore Ballroom, on Saturday, November 2nd.

Ra Ra Riot — November 2nd, Biltmore Cabaret

  The baroque rock of American indie favorites, Ra Ra Riot, will descend upon East Vancouver on Saturday evening, as the Biltmore Cabaret plays host to the Superbloom tour, in support of the groups 2019 album. Think Vampire Weekend, with a dash of Death Cab for Cutie. You’ve probably heard their single ‘Boy’ without being aware, as it’s popped up in ads for Honda, as well as the American comedy Shameless

Big Wreck– November 1st, Commodore Ballroom

Night two of a dual engagement sees Big Wreck take over the Commodore for the first weekend of the month.  The 90’s alt rock band has enjoyed fan favourite status in Canada over their 20 year plus career, and will continue the love on the back of their recent release, But for the Sun.

Tom Morello– November 7th, Commodore Ballroom

Legend of the alternative rock scene of the 90’s and 2000’s, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage guitarist, Tom Morello, will be bringing the noise to downtown Vancouver of Thursday, November 7th.  Look for a crushing set of his trademark wailing guitar, in what will surely be a raucous affair at the Commodore.

That’s merely a taste of great live music kicking off across Vancouver; hit us up with your recommendations, or what you plan to check out this month.

 

 

Dallas Green Touches Down at Pacific Coliseum

Photo by: Alysse Gafkjen, for NBHAP.com

Canadian musician, and City and Colour leader, Dallas Green is bringing the ‘Astronaut’ tour to Vancouver on Saturday, November 9th, with a stop at the Pacific Coliseum at the PNE.

Green has been a mainstay in the Canadian recording industry since 2001, when the post hardcore band, Alexisonfire, burst onto the scene out of the Southern Ontario suburbs, to a raucous cry of screamo vocals, and pounding guitar, complimented by Green’s melodious back up vocals.  As the underground sensations found mainstream success, Green began to discover his musicianship pulled in two directions– contributing to songwriting duties for Alexisonfore, as well as focusing on his solo work, released largely on the Internet, which would eventually sow the seeds for City and Colour’s debut.

The subsequent break up of Alexisonfire was a slow process, playing out over a multi-year period where Green was performing extensive double duties with both projects.  Although many fans of the post hardcore group saw fit to label Green as the villain in the band’s demise, it was clear from subsequent interviews that the writer and guitarist was running himself to a physical and mental breaking point, releasing albums back to back, on the heels of extensive touring that left him on the verge of a nervous episode.  Remarking after the split, that being in the band was ‘Killing him,’ time has eased many of the old wounds from that 2011 break up, as Alexisonfire have returned to sporadic touring, as well as releasing a series of singles, indicating that the reunion Green stated would never occur is in full swing.

City and Colour saw Green take his alternative, folk rock style to the forefront, channeling introspection and emotion, in a bid to work through the prevailing anxieties his life on the road had accrued.  Next week’s show at the coliseum finds Green in support of his most recent release, the Canadian chart topping A Pill for Loneliness. The lead single for which the tour derives it’s name is an expansive ballad, showcasing an airy folk rock that is miles removed from the halcyon days of Alexisonfire’s blistering assault, and the album permeates with a decidedly somber mood.  Still, with peace among the members of his original musical outlet, and a series of large scale headlining gigs across Ontario this past summer, where Green was thrilled to see a new generation of fans who weren’t around for Alexisonfire’s first tear through the early 2000’s, the singer/songwriter looks to once again straddle the line between the quiet reflection of his solo output, and the unhinged anarchy of his underground origins.

Rich Aucoin’s Technicolor Funeral

Canadian musician Rich Aucoin is dying to live

The Biltmore Cabaret in East Vancouver is serving up a sensory overload this Halloween, courtesy of Canadian indie musician Rich Aucoin, whose ‘Death Tour’, in support of his third full length album, Release, is set to take over the venue in a wash of synth, technicolor, inflatable coffins, and all around good vibes.

Emerging out of the Halifax, Nova Scotia, scene in the mid-2000’s, Aucoin’s music has always focused on his relentless positivity– his first tour, on the back of his debut EP Personal Publication, was a cross country endeavor undertaken on a bicycle, with Aucoin using the opportunity to raise money for cancer awareness charities.  As he traversed the nation, Aucoin steadily recorded tracks for his full length LP, We’re All Dying to Live, incorporating 500 guest musicians along the way, including Jay Ferguson of Sloan.  By the time the album premiered at the 2011 Halifax Pop Explosion, Aucoin had developed a solid following, and his set was performed with a cast of 80 different musicians.

The lead single off Dying to Live, ‘Brian Wilson is A.L.i.V.E.’ won Aucoin a Prism Prize for it’s movie reference laden video, and garnered significant praise on the independent scene, long listing Aucoin for a Polaris Prize. His live shows became the stuff of legend, particularly in his home town– I witnessed a 2012 performance in the now defunct Michael’s bar in North End Halifax, where Aucoin employed dozens of guest artists, a rotating playlist of movie clips, and inspirational quotes beamed across the walls and ceilings, as well as a rainbow colored parachute that the audience was eventually engulfed under, with Aucoin in the centre, holding court like a joyful ring leader.

As he relentlessly toured on the back of his debut, Aucoin began testing new material and performance techniques, breaking down the wall of his live show, and spending the majority of his set lists in the middle of the crowd surge, utilizing group choruses to enhance his live experience.  The result of the years on the road, was Aucoin’s second album, Ephemeral, designed to sync up thematically with the musician’s favourite book, ‘The Little Prince.’  Ephemeral is an ambient soundscape of distorted vocals, and washed synthesizers, evoking a mood of isolation, and drifting in space.  It bridges the gap thematically between the straight forward pop rock of Aucoin’s debut, with the introspective airiness the artist employs on Release.

For this latest tour, Aucoin is embracing the concept of life and death, being carried to the stage in an inflatable pink coffin. If his previous work and live performances are any indication, Thursday’s Halloween showcase at the Biltmore will be a confetti strewn, vibrant, pop-culture loaded celebration. Tickets are on sale for this 19+ event, and you can grab them for under 20 bucks.  Doors open at 7PM, at 2755 Prince Edward St.

 

 

An October 31st playlist, feat. Ernest Scared Stupid

I grew up in the suburbs; Halloween was serious business.

On October 31st, after a day at school that was essentially a write off, as there was always a parade through the halls and classrooms to show costumes off that ate up a good portion of the clock, I would rush home, eat dinner in the living room while watching one of those early season Simpsons Halloween specials (I’ve always been partial to the segment where Bart sees the Gremlin on the side of the bus– an homage to this classic Twilight Zone episode starring Canadian legend, William Shatner, as well as the 80’s film version, starring John Lithgow.), and then spend the next several hours competing with my friends to see who could accrue the most pounds of candy.

Your neighbourhood may have been similar; maybe even yours is the house that everyone flocks to each year.  On Rosecliffe Crescent, in London, Ontario, I never met the people who became legends on the block for their Halloween decorations, but they obviously made enough of an impact that I’m writing about them in this column over twenty years later.  They would erect their monument to the holiday overnight– one day the place was a non-descript family home with a yard and two car garage, and in the morning it was there looking like something raised from Hell while you were sleeping.  An graveyard of bent tombstones littered the grass; every window was blanketed in cobwebs; when darkness fell, ominous lights would cast the glow of skeletons and animatronic ghouls across the doorstep.

Pretty serious stuff.  These people also tended to give out, like, full sized Oh!Henry bars to each trick-or-treater, so their status as Halloween Gods would have been cemented either way.

But, I digress.

After years of enjoying this routine, my first year of high school, my parents informed me that the party was over, and there would be no more roaming the streets in full costume, looking for my sugar high. I was relegated to door duty, forced for the remainder of my Halloween’s to hand out candy to the lucky revelers.  Stuck inside each October 31st, I started running marathons of horror movies to pass the time, which brings us to the purpose of this column:

Presenting– A Completely Subjective, Top 5, Halloween Playlist No One Asked For.

5.)  Gremlins (1984)

Yeah, yeah, I know; technically this is a Christmas movie, but this one speaks to the gloriously deranged 80’s kid in me. Quick recap if you’re late to the party– Salesman father buys an exotic pet for his son; exotic pet spawns horrible, green monsters, that proceed to destroy the entire town; much blood is spilled, an old woman gets flung through her window, and everyone learns the true meaning of the Holidays.  This was marketed as a kids film when it came out, and together with Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, where a dude gets his beating heart ripped clean out of his chest, ushered in the MPAA’s PG-13 rating.  Classic 80’s practical effects, puppets, and good old fashioned violence combine to make this one of my seasonal favorites. Honestly, watch it for Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo, and for the phenomenally bloody Kitchen Sequence.

4.)  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I will preface this with a warning: the last 20 minutes of this movie are a rough go. Without providing spoilers, a group of deranged, back woods, killers– with a taste for human flesh– are hosting a dinner party with a captive young woman.  The sequence, shot over a 26 hour period, in a farm house in Texas, with temperatures exceeding 115 degrees, would be a violation of every majour safety standard in place on a film set today. Chainsaw has this awful, Lo-Fi, vaguely unpleasant undercurrent running all through it. Despite the eye popping name, much of the brutal violence in the film is implied through quick cuts, and grating sound design, and the shoe string budget creates a film that looks as ugly as it’s subject matter. The film introduced the world to Leatherface, and spawned a pile of inferior sequels and reboots, as well as launching the career of director Tobe Hooper, who went on the direct the 80’s classic Poltergeist.

3.)  The Evil Dead (1981)

Marketed as The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror, this blood soaked, low budget story of a group of college kids trapped in a cabin in the woods (before that was a thing we all made fun of!), kick started the career of film maker Sam Raimi, who went on to direct the original Spider Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire.  Centered around a race for survival against a growing horde of demons, The Evil Dead is gleefully unhinged– a fun house of practical effects, terrible dialogue, and genuinely creepy moments. Though it paved the way for two sequels, The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, & Army of Darkness— both of which veered towards horror/comedy– the original still holds up as a fast paced, bloody mess.

2.) The Thing (1982)

One of my all time favourite monster movies, John Carpenter’s ultra gory, 1980’s remake of the 50’s sci-fi film of the same name, features some of the best practical effects you will ever see in a feature length film.  The body count piles up at an Antarctic research facility, after an extra-terrestrial parasite assimilates members of the crew, and imitates human forms.  Paranoia and claustrophobia pervade every frame, coupled with absolutely bonkers special effects, courtesy of a then 22 year old Rob Bottin.  Though it was panned when it was released in 1982, it’s stature has grown, to cement it as one of the best films in the John Carpenter canon, and one of the best sci-fi/horror mash ups of all time.

 

Interlude: Ernest Scared Stupid

Before we get to the number one pick on this list– this brief interlude.

When I was a kid, someone in my family took me to see this damn movie.  Up until 1991, Ernest was a wacky every man who tried to bust out of jail, and help kids enjoy their summer camp experience.  For whatever reason, some executive decided that the next logical step in the character’s evolution was as a mythological troll hunter.  This movie was definitely intended for kids, but that troll is seared into my memory.  It turns kids into wooden dolls! it imitates voices and hides under beds!  I remember being traumatized by this evil, evil movie.  I’m sure the troll is less terrifying, now that I’m a grown adult, with their life together, but I’m still too afraid to find out.

 

1.) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

With all due respect to any number of other great films– Halloween, Psycho, The Exorcist, the Shining…– Freddy Kreuger was such an integral part of my childhood, that I can’t help but place the original, wise cracking movie fiend at the top of this list.  Arriving dead center in the midst of a slasher film craze in the 1980’s, Freddy’s bladed glove remains one of pop cultures most identifiable weapons, and his scarred visage will forever be associated with the horror genre. With on screen deaths that still have the capacity to rattle you, over 30 years later, an all time great premise, and the feature film debut of Johnny Depp (Who gets eaten by his own bed!) the original Elm Street remains one of the gold standards of the genre, and a perfect night cap to an evening of Halloween viewing.

So, there you have it, debate away at the validity of my picks– in closing, I leave you with the rallying song of Ontario schoolchildren everywhere, a mainstay of our French immersion classes: C’est l’Halloween!

‘Joker:’ A Scorcese inspired take on the classic villain

As the credits rolled Monday evening, my wife turned to me with a grimace on her face.

“Well, that was…uplifting.”

We had just sat through one of the most anticipated movies of the season, and as people shuffled out of the theatre, I took a moment to consider what we had just watched: two hours of dour, dark, melodrama.

The film in question, ‘Joker,’ dropped this past weekend, and after the months of hype, media scrutiny, debate, hand wringing and vitriol, the Joaquin Phoenix vehicle scored an impressive debut.  Launching with over 90 million in domestic sales, and upwards of 250 million worldwide, the film enjoyed one of the all time great October releases, and– as of this writing– is on par to close out the week with close to 400 million in global haul. Phoenix’s make up clad visage is gracing billboards, and bus stops, across North America, and the movie has been a hot topic of conversation across age brackets, alternately praised for it’s groundbreaking take on the comic genre, and condemned for it’s dangerous portrayal of violence and mental illness.

The noise around the film began to really heat up this past September, when director Todd Phillips brought the movie to the Venice Film Festival, where it was screened as part of the competition among other, more ‘prestigious’ films.  The idea that a comic book movie, directed by a guy who had spent the bulk of his career making sophomoric comedies about road trips, and fraternity bros, could stand toe to toe with offerings from film makers like Steven Soderbergh, Noah Baumbach, and James Gray, was a long shot.  Add to the fact that over the past decade, only two English speaking films have won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Festival, and the odds were heavily stacked against the Clown Prince of Crime.

But, one towering performance, and a lengthy standing ovation later, Joker had defied the odds.  The Internet hype machine began to run amok with predictions of Oscar glory, and the mystique of the film grew steadily, fueled in part by fears of violence and copycat shootings in the wake of the 2012 tragedy in Aurora, Colarado.  It also helped that ‘Joker’ is centered around an essential figure in the pop culture lexicon, one immediately recognizable, even to non-comic book fans.  Since the inception of the Batman series, the Joker has been an integral part of the Caped Crusader’s mythology.  As well, film adaptions of the character have been seared into the cinematic hall of fame– from Jack Nicholson’s gloriously deranged, art loving gangster, draped in purple velvet amidst a pastiche of Prince songs in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, to the dark re-imagining of Heath Ledger, widely praised as one of the all time great movie villains, in 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight,’ to Jared Leto’s…uhm…Hot Topic inspired, Lamborghini driving, grill wearing, monstrosity in 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad–‘ The Joker is a character that great actors gravitate towards, and they always have some serious ‘method acting’ stories to go along with their descent into the mind of a mad man.

After Ledger tragically died in post production, of a suspected drug overdose, the rumors came flying regarding his deteriorated mental state as a result of taking on the iconic role.  Indeed, Ledger immersed himself so deeply in the work, that those on set found it difficult to separate actor from character.  When it was revealed that Jared Leto had also gone full method in his prep for ‘Suicide Squad,’ sending his co stars gift packages with rats and used condoms inside, it only helped to further the narrative of the Joker as a dangerous character– a role so nihilistic, that those who chose to inhabit it couldn’t help but lose themselves in the character’s depravity.

The Many Faces of the Joker:

 

It’s only fitting, then, that Warner Bros. saw dollar signs at the prospect of a Joker origin story. The leg work had been done decades earlier, and after the mesmerizing performance of Ledger, as well as the unfortunate aftermath, there was a morbid curiosity in the air over who would fill the clown’s shoes next, and what the effect would ultimately be.  This side story proves to be more interesting than the end result in the case of the new 2019 film, as Todd Phillips presents us a grim character study, led by Joaquin Phoenix doing some A-Plus acting, in a movie that basically spends two hours saying nothing and going nowhere.

Phoenix’s character Arthur Fleck, is an emaciated loner, living in the squalid inner city of a late 70’s-early 80’s grindhouse New York City…sorry, I mean Gotham City.  He spends his time working as a part time clown, and caring for his ailing mother.  He harbors dreams of being a stand up comic, and obsesses over a late night television host, played by Robert De Niro.  Fleck suffers from a mental condition that causes him to break into fits of deranged laughter when faced with an uncomfortable situation.  Phillips spends the first half of his film pretty much doing all he can to make Arthur’s life miserable– the movie starts at a low point, and really doesn’t climb much higher from there.

Here is issue one with the film: it’s not dangerous, incendiary, or groundbreaking.  It’s boring.  Despite the best efforts of Phoenix to inject Fleck with a sympathetic edge, he is rendered so pitiful, and subject to so much negativity, that the audience can’t possibly root for him as an anti hero.  ‘Joker’ borrows liberally from the 1976 Martin Scorcese film ‘Taxi Driver.’  By ‘borrows’ I mean Phillips seems to have watched Taxi Driver on repeat, and then tried to mash a Batman connection into that existing framework.  The difference between the titular characters in these two films, is that Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle spent the first half of ‘Taxi Driver’ on a slow burn, and the suspense was in knowing that he was reaching a personal breaking point.  Phillips starts Arthur Fleck at the breaking point.  The character spends the entire film on one note, and then, in the final third, throws some clown make up on, and becomes a Batman supervillain.  The writer/director takes so much time to establish that everything in Gotham sucks, and everyone is terrible, that the film offers nothing in the way of a character arc. Phoenix is angry, then he becomes angrier.

While on the topic of borrowing from other film makers, Phillips seems content to pillage the Scorcese canon further, as the essence of Robert De Niro’s character in ‘Joker’ is largely pulled from the plot of the 1983 film ‘The King of Comedy,‘ in which a socially awkward, failed celebrity wanna-be, who lives with mother, becomes obsessed with a high profile talk show host, eventually degrading into criminal behaviour (see a pattern here?).  Ostensibly ‘Joker’ begins to feel like a mash up of films that were already done better in the 80’s, and Phillips is pulling the homage card in order to give his 2019 film a sense of gravitas. The end result is a climax that is telegraphed from a mile away, so obvious by the half way point of the movie, that when the credits eventually roll, over a bizarre soundtrack, the ending is completely anti climactic, and largely ineffective.

Is it all bad?  Of course not. Phoenix is brilliant in his portrayal of Fleck, despite being given a bare minimum to work with.  He dominates the screen, and steals every scene he is in; it’s unfortunate that ‘Joker’ seems content to limit him to a pair of emotions: extreme sadness, and extreme anger.

The production values are fantastic, and the movie looks great– taking place on the grimy streets of a Gotham ripped straight out of the darkest days of modern America.  Garbage is piled high in the streets, and crime runs rampant.

In the end, the positives aren’t enough to outweigh the negatives. The connection to Batman, and the greater DC universe, is tenuous at best. Phillips has grand ambitions to comment on social issues, mental illness, media culture, and celebrity worship, but bogs his film down with so much despair that the message ultimately gets lost.

All of this to say, this review is not a criticism or indictment on you, the viewer– if you liked the movie, great. If you didn’t, that’s cool, too.

For me, the biggest let down for a film that promised to deliver an edgy, new take on the comic book genre, while providing a subversive commentary on our doom obsessed culture, is that I left feeling nothing at all.

After spending 55 dollars for a pair of VIP tickets, I guess that means the joke is on me.

 

October is Meant for Playoff Baseball

Hear me out on this one.

Sure, hockey season has just begun– a sacred time across this great country, where rivalries are renewed, friendships are tested, and we all gather in collective agreement that Gary Bettman is the literal devil incarnate.  The Vancouver Canucks home opener is this week, Wednesday, October 9th, vs. the lowly Los Angeles Kings.  There is optimism in the air around the lower mainland as the upstart Canucks head into the new campaign, but I can’t help feeling my enthusiasm is muted for this next round of the good old hockey game.

I should preface this by saying, right out the gate, that I am a Vancouver transplant, and as such, my Ontario bloodlines insist that I cheer for the blue and white, those lovable losers, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  But Canucks fans, I get it– I would be excited, too.  A human highlight reel in Elias Pettersson, coupled with the drama of whether or not recently signed winger Brock Boeser can stay healthy all year, are merely two story lines in what will very likely be a make or break season for head coach Travis Green. (Bonus storyline: how many games does Loui Erikksson spend watching from the press box?)

On paper, the Canucks have all the tools to compete in the weak Pacific division, and perhaps lock up a wild card position; they’ve added size and grit, with the offseason acquisitions of Michael Ferland, and Tyler Myers, Pettersson has bulked up to Captain America levels of muscle mass, and the goaltending duo of Jakob Markstrom and a (hopefully) healthy Thatchter Demko, gives the ‘Nucks depth and stability between the pipes.

Add to all these good vibrations, the fact that my hometown, childhood heroes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are forecast to be Stanley Cup contenders this season (Spolier: They Won’t Be.), and you’d think that as the calendar flipped over from Septemeber to October, I would be in a rapturous state of mind at the return of our national obsession.

But then the Majour League Baseball playoffs came along and screwed everything up.

Roll your eyes if you wish.  Hold fast to your belief that baseball is ‘boring, slow, and uneventful.’  October is meant for the Boys of Summer, even if the Blue Jays aren’t a contender this season.

And, before we go any further, a word on the Blue Jays– if you haven’t been paying attention, start to open your eyes to the future core of the birds.  A home run crushing monster in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., coupled with the slick defensive stylings of infielder Bo Bichette, has The Jays poised for a return to glory in the next few years.

However, while we wait for the Jays to fulfill their future potential, we have a host of talent to feast our eyes on.  While you’re busy watching the meaningless opening games of the NHL season, baseball’s best are fighting tooth and nail for the right to be crowned the 2019 Majour League Champions.

The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins are battling in the American League Division Series– by the time you read this, the powerhouse Yankees may well have dispatched with the Twins, who are suffering from a curse of historical ineffectiveness against the Bronx Bombers— but regardless, even a casual fan of the sport should be taking note of this series.  You like home runs?  We’ve got your home runs.  The Yankees and Twins combined for 613 home runs this season.  613.  That’s an obscene number, and both clubs shattered the record set just season by the Yankees, when they knocked in 268.  Home Runs are up across all of baseball this season, a stat that has conspiracy theorists running mad with theories of juiced up baseballs.  Purists, and advocates of National League style ‘small ball,’ may hate how frequently the ball is jumping out of the park, but for the rest of us, I say: Bring On the Dingers.

The American League Divisional Series also brings us the opposite side of the coin– God tier levels of pitching courtesy of the Houston Astro’s two headed monster of Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole, taking on the pesky Tampa Bay Rays– a team with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls, and a roster of players you’ve probably never heard of, all sporting a massive chip on their shoulder.  They’ll need all the tenacity they can muster, as they face Verlander, a veteran of the league who’s been resurgent with Houston, posting a 21-6 record as a starter this season, to go along with 2 complete games, and a shut out.  His earned run average is sitting under 3.00, to go along with a WHIP (Walks, Hits per Innings Pitched.) rate of .80

I’ll just sum up the stats for you thusly– he’s good.  Like, really, really, really good.

He’s also married to a supermodel, and quotes Will Ferrell on his Twitter feed. Basically, he’s living his best life, and mowing batters down while he’s at it.

The experts agree that the American League Championship Series is likely to be a rematch of 2017 when the powerhouse Astros went head to head with the Yankees in an adrenaline pumping, 7 game affair. The Yankees ended up on the losing side of that series, but in the interim, have added power hitter Giancarlo Stanton to their formidable lineup, to go along with ace Canadian pitcher, James Paxton.  Oh, they also still have this dude on their roster, as well as one of baseballs most exciting young talents, 22 year old superstar-in-the-making, Gleyber Torres.

But, enough about the MLB’s junior circuit, whats shaking in the National League?

No big deal, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, once again among the top teams in all of baseball, are trying to make their 3rd World Series Appearance in as many seasons.  Led by the home run crushing talents of Cody Bellinger, and the dominant pitching of Clayton Kerhsaw, the Dodgers are looking to finally get over the hump this postseason, and win their first World Series since the late 80’s.  They’re currently engaged with the Washington Nationals, who allowed superstar Bryce Harper to walk away this offseason to the tune of a 13 year, 330 million dollar mega deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Nationals went full jilted lover on Harper and the Phils, in one of the years best story lines, eliminating their division rival from post season contention in a late season, five game sweep, and proving to baseballs cockiest slugger that they were indeed better off without him. It also helps that Washington has superstar slinger Max Scherzer on the mound– a dude so bad ass he broke his nose, and then went and threw 7 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.  No big deal.

And then there’s the matter of the Atlanta Braves, sporting another of baseballs best young studs, in Ronald Acuna Jr– a polarizing outfield talent who bashed 41 long balls this season, while incurring the wrath of his fanbase, manager, and fellow players for a perceived lack of hustle.  Acuna has a habit of admiring his fly balls, much like myself in beer league softball, a tendency which angers baseball’s old guard, while signalling the spirit of the game is moving towards more personality driven antics.  Acuna and the Braves, helped out by the talents of former Blue Jays MVP, Josh Donaldson, are embroiled in a battle of wills with the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise so well run that it approaches Detroit Red Wings levels of managerial efficiency.  The Cards have been a playoff team 11 of the past 19 seasons, with World Series wins in 2006 and 2011, and have generally been making life miserable for the rest of their division for much of the decade.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest– so, let me sum it up for you:

Baseball is not your grandpa’s sport.  It’s dramatic, it’s tense, it emotional.  The game is full of superstars and personalities that will leave you breathless.  Pitchers are dominating, at the same time that home runs are at historic levels.  There is parity across divisions, and despite the constant death knell prognosticators love to ring for the game, it is better than it’s been in years.

Do yourself a favour, the next few weeks, spend a few minutes taking in some playoff action. Even if you need to fit things in between intermission on a hockey game. Heroes are made in October, as well as indelible moments that are seared into the collective minds of generations.

Don’t believe me?  Watch this one again, and tell me you don’t get a little chill down your spine.

We’ve got a long, frozen road of hockey spread out ahead of us; let’s enjoy the spirit of the summer just a little while longer.

New Music Now: William Cook

In another fresh episode of New Music Now, Mike McLeod sits down with Vancouver music writer, William Cook. In a wide ranging discussion, Will tackles an early love for Britney Spears, attending his first concert with his mom, the realities of freelance journalism, and which venues are his go to spots for live shows.