On the road with Cinema L’amour
Peering into the muggy Montreal heat while nursing a well-earned hangover, the sight of Dorian’s rusted Chevy Venture was an air-conditioned vision of heaven. Rusty, as it is affectionately referred to by it’s friends and occupants, was to be our road bound home for the next two weeks, going across Canada for the big summer tour of Cinema L’amour. Chris Kavanagh and Dorian Schiedt had set up this grand endeavor, the most ambitious project for the band to date. It’s objective, to send Dorian’s rickety van from Montreal to Winnipeg, meeting strange new people and laying the foundation for the even larger trans Canada tour in the fall. I’m also told there will be some of that rock music the youth so enjoy, so something for everyone. Chris and Dorian are the members of Cinema L’amour, named affectionately for our local Porno theater/ historical landmark, and they provide the musical talent, driving skill and general get up and go that a tour requires. Myself, I was selected (I imagine) for my world-class loafing skills, precision procrastination and mildly deranged outlook on the world. Much sought after skills in the high-speed 21st century work place, to be sure.
So, the tour. The ride out of Montreal is largely occupied in my memory by the fevered hangover visions that plagued my otherwise quite pleasant nap. Awaking from this blurry and confused visit to the inside of my head I was greeted by the majestic landscape of northern Quebec, which is pretty well the same as the north of Ontario, indeed the north of Canada in general. Rocks, trees, and lakes. Lots of those three ingredients, in every possible combination. Tiny rural communities hemmed in on all sides by looming, massive quantities of those ubiquitous three elements. Dilapidated barns and bucktoothed gas station attendants, homes with no front steps and roadside billboards extolling the power of Christ. If you’ve taken some time out of Canada’s urban centers to the north, you’ve essentially been on the drive we undertook to Thunder Bay, which may in fact be in the direct middle of Nowhere, Ontario. We only had two days to make it to Thunder Bay in time for the show at the Apollo, making for two days inside the surprisingly roomy confines of Rusty. Starved for entertainment, we had to make do with the meager offerings of poorly designed road signs and small town attractions.
A word on road signs, because on this trip I became aware of a phenomenon that no doubt causes more death in the north than drinking and smoking combined. I am speaking of course, of the dreaded shadow moose and the lugubrious nether plane which it inhabits, forever seeking a weakness in the veil between our reality and it’s own to feast on the quivering souls of man! At the very least, these were the conclusions I was forced to draw from the endless road side signs proclaiming a “Night Danger Zone!” with an image of an unearthly shadow moose soundlessly charging across the endless tracts of it’s lightless world. Terrible stuff; don’t know how the people up here deal with it. Lots of nice lakes, trees and rocks at least.
Other events of note: One of Rusty’s tires exploded, leaving us to cook our lunch on the side of the road while waiting for the nice CAA man and his tow truck to come fetch us from obscurity. Also, while camping randomly in the woods by the side of the road is a lovely romanticized idea, the practical application often leaves much to be desired. When lacking a tent and with the air’s composition sitting at something close to 90% mosquito, there can be some issues. Again the day was saved by the relative comfort of Rusty, functioning as a hotel room as well as vehicle. Rusty is far from an impregnable fortress though, we still where forced to slaughter great swathes of mosquitoes inside the van for most of the evening.
After our valiant stand against the horde of mosquitoes, we finally arrived in Thunder Bay, which in case you’re curious is terribly underwhelming. There’s a big lake, I’ll grant it that, but not much else. Despite the relative cultural desolation, there was a diamond in the rough to be had, and that was the Apollo. First impression of the place is a good one, cool décor and a very easy going ambience. Sheila, owner and bartender, sets us up with some free food and keys to the rooms we’ll be staying in upstairs, regaling us with the story of the Apollo itself. Due to some petty local politics the Apollo has very little following in Thunder Bay, having offended the all encompassing local punk scene by its higher aspirations. While the locals may not love it, it is the darling of the touring band, situated ideally for any cross Canada tour. Anyone hoping to go from one end of the country to the other on land will have little choice in stopping there, not much else in between the plains and the urban centers of Ontario and Quebec. Sheila offers free food and lodging to these touring bands, as well as an incredibly open and accepting venue for any musical styles. For these reasons it functions as almost a rite of passage amongst those trying to get their bands on their feet. The real thing that makes the Apollo so excellent is that the staff are so genuinely interested in music, not as a profession per se, but as a passion, as art. Sheila performs a beautiful balancing act between cynicism at the industry and a genuine interest in the evolution of current music. Sheila’s been providing this much appreciated role for about 10 years now, and with any luck, for many more to come.
The rain was torrential the night of the tour’s first show, to say the crowd was limited would be putting it mildly. Despite this, Chris and Dorian got up on that stage and delivered one of their best shows to date, it certainly didn’t hurt that the Apollo’s sound set up was superb. While the crowd was quite small, they made up for it with drunken enthusiasm, and the evening was a surprisingly damn good time. We had some more beers after the show, chatted with the amicable sound guy Alex, and ate some more of Tina’s delicious cooking (Sheila’s mother and the venue’s cook). Tina regaled Chris with stories of elaborate wedding ceremonies in her native Greece, Dorian discussed the nature of tour booking with Sheila, and I learned all too much about some of the Thunder Bay locals. My personal favorite was the mother blackmailing her daughter, who is currently getting her PH.D. in psychology, with video of her stripping in public on her 15th birthday after her mother had gotten her drunk. Ah, people. All in all, a fine way to begin the tour. Next Stop, Winnipeg!