Tattoos & Charm

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by RYAN BOLTON

Okey Doke Tattoo Shop is a good jog from Cabbagetown. When I get to the shop, located at College and Ossington, and gracefully dismount from my bike, I have a good layer of sweat covering my body. Doesn’t bother me, and doesn’t seem to phase Kyle Hollingdrake nor Alex Snelgrove, aka. Big Al, when I enter the shop.

That’s where the slightly puerile name, Okey Doke, comes from. They want to take the piss and pretension out of entering a tattoo shop. And good on them for that, albeit most of Toronto’s top custom tattoo joints are becoming welcoming as all hell these days.

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Arcade Fire wins Polaris Prize. Duh.

Arcade Fire

I know everyone is somehow shocked yet not shocked that Arcade Fire won the 2011 Polaris Prize. How could such an indie prize that rests on artistic merit alone who is partial to the band with the shortest wiki entry, go to a musical behemoth like Arcade Fire? Well, simple, it was the best album of the year. Yes, all the bands, all of whom I respect and admire deeply were all deserving, but then again, The Suburbs just captured so much more. End of discussion.

Here’s what I wrote with blogTO when I predicted the Arcade Fire win:

“Where to begin, really? Here’s an album that rightfully picked up not only the JUNO Awards’ Best Album honours, but left America dumbfounded as it also snatched up the Grammy’s Best Album of the Year to boot. An album, which is the third installment from the Montrealers, that hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 list. But why should it win the Polaris Prize? Because, for all that, these aforementioned accolades are mainstream, and the Polaris Prize concentrates strictly on the “highest artistic integrity,” eschewing sales or industry affiliation. But that’s the thing — the Suburbs, this walloping force, is the very definition of artistry. It’s a tour de force with lyrics that capture the essence of alienation and the vapidness of modern day suburbia. This album builds, haunts, delights and stirs the listener through a winding cacophony. It highlights the growth of a band; a band that continues to trail blaze. Because, let’s get to the point, it’s a really fucking good album.”

—RYAN BOLTON

Seeing The Decemberists in a snowstorm

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by RYAN BOLTON, originally published on blogTO

The Decemberists are an apt band to see when a snowstorm is looming. Everyone is giddy, excited for a snow day. Everyone has reason to sport a beard and their warmest flannel. And The Decemberists’ name itself brings forth images of that cold, fluffy stuff.

It all started with a unique introduction. With lights dimmed, the supposed voice of Sam Adams – current mayor of Portland, home to The Decemberists – asked for the audience to introduce itself to their neighbours. It set the tone for a solid, comfortable, at times strange and powerful set from the indie-cum-rock folk band.

Launching their most recent effort, The King is Dead, a mere two weeks back, The Decemberists have once again transitioned their sound. Straying away from their high-concept albums like The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love, their sixth album smacks of alt-country with a dab of that omnipresent folk tinge. Something that served well in showing the sheer diversity and range in the multi-instrumentalist’s 16-song set.

Opening with “Song for Myla Goldberg,” a song steeped with literary allusions, they quickly transitioned into the new country-esque single, “Down by the Water.” And they did so with ease, segueing with some deadpan banter from a chatty Colin Meloy. Meloy’s comical and meandering musings catches you off-guard at first, but you quickly embrace his bookish, dry take on just about anything, including calling us “Torontoites,” which the crowd promptly corrected him on.

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Tattoo Shop Profiles

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I have been working on a set of Toronto’s top ink dens with blogTO. And it’s been both an enlightening and enjoyable experience. Here’s one of my latest pieces, looking at Sal’s Tattoo & Barber Shop.

by RYAN BOLTON, originally published on blogTO

Sal’s Tattoo & Barber Shop doesn’t cut hair. They used to, a while back, but not any longer. There’s just an antiquated barber’s chair that sits alone in the front of the shop, a memory of days gone past. Sal’s has cut everything else out — no gimmicks, T-shirts or piercings — just straight-up classic tattoos.

Perched technically in Chinatown, Sal’s sits unassuming at College and Spadina. It blends in with the Chinatown environ. And when you enter, you get a no-bullshit tattoo experience. A layered-down, “gritty,” come-as-you-are shop that houses only two artists, Greg Kidd and Jenny Boulger.

Like many of the city’s top tattoo joints, Sal’s is a mainstay. First opened in the fall of 1998 by Steven Brazda, now a New York-based artist, the shop originally offered a haircut with its inking. (Something that New Tribe does too). Sadly, it didn’t last long.

When Kidd took over the shop in 2004, he liked the theme of combining the old-fashioned barber and tattooing and decided to hold onto the aesthetic, but not the service. Boulger joined shortly after and the two have been running the shop since to a steady clientele, which does service local CAMH patients. “We’re here for them, the patients,” says Boulger. “They have more of the touching, LA Ink-like stories. It’s cute.”

Read the rest of the story on blogTO.

Arcade Fire’s Toronto Island Show

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by RYAN BOLTON

Arcade Fire was a far cry from the suburbs last night. They were on an island. Toronto Island.

As the band got ready to hit the stage, their third album, which has been as well received as it was anticipated, The Suburbs, became the number one selling album in North America. And after having Terry Gilliam film their Madison Square Garden live to YouTube vehicle, they also bookended Lollapolooza last weekend. In other words, the Montreal collective of a married couple with a fellow sibling were, ah damn, I have to say it, on fire.

And the show didn’t disappoint the legions of fans that journeyed to Centre Island for an intake of indie gods pour on the energy. But the hour-and-a-half wait for the ferry after the show might have. (Commenters, like last time with the beer lines, do your thing below.)

Arcade Fire is built for festival shows. Their music, especially the anthem-steeped Funeral, is stuffed with building crescendos and oh-oh-ah sing-a-longs. I first saw the band perform at Hillside Festival in 2005 right after Funeral blew up. Back then they closed with their typical closer, “Wake Up,” but would then proceeded to march through the crowd with instruments in tow eventually forming a drum circle. (Yeah, it was Hillside).

With eight people on stage last night, including one that is wildly running around stabbing a snare drum, the energy is palpable. And standing there in the massive audience (well, in the beer tent), Arcade Fire not just moves you physically, but emotionally. It’s at once a personal and a collective experience in this milieu. And the atmosphere personified this as I spotted a couple people with tears streaming their cheeks. (One lad in the beer tent, Adam, I believe, came up to me worried. He thought I wasn’t having a good time as I wasn’t flailing my body parts, but then realized I was madly scribbling notes. He gave me the go-ahead when I explained.)

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