Costumed fans heroes of Toronto Expo

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Over a period of four days from September 1-4, costumed heroes, Trekkies and families felt right at home at the latest edition of Fan Expo Toronto.

The fans were the real heroes of what was a supercharged weekend full of celebrities, Q & A sessions, photo-ops, merchandise booths and various activities. Despite its numerous celebrity guests, Fan Expo is all about the fans, communities and people who unite them.

Fan Expo Toronto is Canada’s answer to the American Comic-Con. Although Comic-Con Toronto exists, it has yet to reach the magnitude of Fan Expo. The comic-con scene is a phenomenon that has seen its stock rise in the last decade. It is no longer solely about comic books and instead expands to celebrity guests, movies, video games and offers an incredible outlet for exposure and product placement.

 

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Overhead view.

Once subject to mockery and ridicule, such conventions now play host to thousands of fans every year. Attendees dress up as their favourite characters from colourful universes and established franchises dear to the hearts. Some call it dressing up, others know it as cosplay.

Fan Expo Toronto has grown to exponential proportions since it’s debut in 1995 as a humble comic book convention. The Metro Convention Centre has hosted the event since 1997 when it reached an estimated figures of 3800. Forward to 2016 where its attendance was projected to be over a hundred thousand [source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_Expo_Canada%5D. It’s a place where comic books, video games and anime juxtapose, and one where celebrities and fan meet.

 

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Volunteers kept a vigilant eye on the merchandise

The main attractions of the weekend included comic book giant Stan Lee—Lee was a popular guest with previous announcements that the 2016 edition of Fan Expo Canada would be his last— Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame and Star Trek Enterprise Captain William Shatner among a plethora of other guests.

 

Here’s just a few things that happened at Fan Expo:
•93-year-old Stan Lee’s last ever Canadian appearance.

•Sony displayed its new virtual reality headset.

•Eb Games held a Q & A and autograph session with former WWE/WCW Goldberg.

•Various panels were held with celebrity guests such as Mark Hamill and cast of Star Trek.

•Gamers got a taste of upcoming video games before their release in specific booths.

•Artists performed sketches and sold art for a fee.

•An abundance of merchants sold everything from comic books to character-themed weapons, Pokemon plush, mangas and much more.

•People in attendance could touch a rock that had been on the moon at the Royal Ontario Museum booth.

•Justin Trudeau was immortalized as a comic book character.

•Countless pictures were taken with various cosplayers, a vintage Batmobile and a giant Pikachu.

The festivities weren’t limited to what happening in the Convention Center, however. The Fan Expo also held events outside the venue such as a retro 90s after-party at the Orchid Nightclub and a Pokemon Go Lure party near the south building main entrance.

 

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The event didn’t quite go without flaws, however. Maybe, just maybe, Fan Expo Toronto wasn’t prepared to host this many fans. Delays and confusion were a recurring theme at the Metro Convention Centre leading to criticism throughout the four day-long event. Attendees turned to social media to voice discontent over last-minute detail changes, scheduling conflicts and cuts.

The Stan Lee merchandise table, for instance, was a classic example disorganization and lack of communication. The booth was swamped with autograph-seekers who were met with apprehension from Fan Expo volunteers as they had the daunting task of maintaining order and safety. Some patient fans were turned away and told to come back the next day. Others were asked, less than kindly, to buy tickets elsewhere and move away from the fire safety zone. To its credit, the Fan Expo twitter account was very active and did its best to solve problems.

Fan Expo Toronto 2016 put forth a celebration of fandom that spread across thousands of smiles, young and old, seasoned fans and newbies. The event is truly an enduring testimony of pop-culture’s long and ever lasting appeal.

We can’t wait to see what the 2017 edition will bring.

 

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Guns N’Roses’ triumphant return to Toronto

Concerts, Features, Live/Concerts, Uncategorized

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The calm before the storm. Guns N’Roses July 16 at Rogers Centre, Toronto by: Morais, Tommy.

     Freshly reunited (sorta) rockers Guns N’Roses made the only Canadian stop of their ongoing North-American tour at the Rogers Centre on Saturday night.

The tour —dubbed the Not In This Lifetime tour— offered young generations of concert-goers the chance to catch the band they thought they’d never see while granting another opportunity for longtime fans to witness the gunners in a live setting once more.

The unpredictability of the band kept the packed Rogers Centre on it’s feet. Would the band breakup on this momentous occasion? Would Axl lose it? That uncertainty is part of the ritual that comes with attending a GNR concert. On this night there were no hints of tension or drama as Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan shared the same stage.

It was a far cry from the Guns N’Roses that played Toronto just two short years ago when they hit the Sound Academy stage with Axl the sole remainder of the band’s glory days. The lineup then consisted of Rose with several musicians who would be unknown to anyone who hasn’t kept up with the band in 25 years. Flash forward two years to a sold-out crowd of 50,000 as the current version of the band appears on the top of the world bringing rock to Toronto— and the masses.

Although members of GNR’s original lineup have kept busy with various projects over time —including notable absentees Izzy Stradlin (who isn’t a part of the tour) and Steven Adler (who briefly performed guest spots on the tour in Cincinnati and Nashville) — Axl, Slash and Duff looked to be right at home onstage at the Roger Centre with the band that made them household names and members of the Rock N’Roll Hall of Fame. It may not be the full-fledged original lineup, but that didn’t stop fans from buying tickets in ’92-93 during the Use Your Illusion/Spaghetti Incident-era when neither Izzy or Steven where around. Why should it now?

The lineup was rounded out with longtime members Dizzy Reeds on keyboards, Richard Fortus (who could very well pass for the son of longtime Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood) on guitar, Frank Ferrer on drums and fresh face Melissa Reese on keys and vocals. With a few shows under their collective belt, this lineup of the sunset-strip rockers brought a well-oiled production to Toronto.

The Gunners took the stage around 9:45 PM, almost on time —and practically spot-on by it’s previously established standards—and surprisingly early for a band notorious for being especially late. The machine that is Guns N’Roses had the audience in the palm of its hand with opener It’s So Easy. Welcome To The Jungle received the biggest pop of the night. “You Know where you are Toronto?”, announces Axl to roars from the sold-out crowd.  The song’s reception was rivalled perhaps only by that of Sweet Child O’Mine‘s and Paradise City‘s. Songs from Appetite for Destruction were played side by side with material from the Axl-lead Chinese Democracy —including Better and the new added, Sorry—along with classic Use Your Illusion I & II era favourites like Civil War and the long epic November Rain (complete with Axl on piano).

The band played a massive minute set clocking in at just under 3 hours, comprising 27 songs including a guitar duel between Slash and Fortus and a 4 song encore. The last time I saw Guns N’Roses live circa 2010 they played a set that was just as long at 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Unlike the notorious frontman’s wardrobe changes (Roses loves his hats; cowboy, Crocodile Dundee-inspired, sombrero-style, it’s all good in his book), interactions with the crowd were kept to a minimum except for some Canada-related banter. Until Axl shared the woes experienced by the band at the Canadian border, that is. According to the frontman, someone from the organization brought a gun with them delaying their entrance in the country.

“They were very nice, they were very understanding. You know, it happens: You can forget you have a fucking gun,” said Rose just before a rendition of the bad-boy anthem Out To Get Me“It wasn’t my gun”.

The matter wasn’t made public before the show, as such, fans in the audience got the “scoop” firsthand.

Was it worth the hype?

While it wasn’t the full-on Appetite for Destruction-era reunion many had hoped for, the 3/5 classic Guns members experience definitely brings a bang for the buck with their lengthy performance and expert musicianship.

Axl’s voice was in excellent shape throughout the concert as he displayed the wide vocal range he is known for. The only signs of wear in his voice happened during the closing encore Paradise City at the end of a complete near 30 song set. Judging by visible panting and the expressions on his face after hitting the high notes, Rose truly gives his all for the fans.

The enthusiastic crowd was also delighted to see Slash, the ever cool top-hat, leather clad guitar slinger. SkyDome was buzzing when the fuzzy-haired, Les Paul-clad guitarist played the blistering solos to songs like Sweet Child O’Mine, but admittedly it looked slightly out of place when Richard Fortus played the solos created by Slash.

Bassist Duff McKagan even got his share of the spotlight as he sang lead on Attitude as the gunners covered punk outfit The Misfits.

I will gladly tell anyone who will listen that I was at Guns N’Roses 2016 . I’ll proudly add, “I survived Guns N’Roses 2016, including scorching heat and a tight, rough crowd”.

****/*****

Setlist:

It’s So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
(with Slash intro solo)
Estranged
Live and Let Die
(Wings cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
Attitude
(Misfits cover) (with “You Can’t Put Your Arms… more )
This I Love
Civil War
(with Voodoo Child Outro)
Coma
(with band introductions)
Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)
(Andy Williams cover) (instrumental, Slash guitar solo)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Sorry
Better
Out Ta Get Me
Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet
(“Wish You Were Here” with “Layla” outro)
November Rain
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
(Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain

Encore:

Jam
(“Angie” by the Rolling Stones)
Patience
The Seeker
(The Who cover)
Paradise City

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How the Raptors won in defeat

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LeBron James, post game 6 interview, May 27, getty images, credits: Ron Turenne.

“Do you hear this? Unbelievable respect and must respect to these fans, to this country. This is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like this in my thirteen year career. This is special and they really appreciate what each team did.”

Those words came straight out of LeBron James’mouth in the post-game 6 2016 interview following the NBA Eastern Conference Finals that pit the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Toronto Raptors.

This is high praise from the big man himself. Praise that elevates Toronto and furthers it’s impact on the nationnal sports scene. Being acknowledged with choice words by the NBA’s biggest star is significant for a team who has struggled to earn respect in the past and still fighting to be seen as a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.

In fall of 2015 Toronto succumbed to Blue Jays fever, In spring 2016 the city experienced a full-on Raptors-mania. With a 56-26 campaign the Raptors earned their third consecutive division title and their first-ever 50+ wins season.

As impressive as that sounds Toronto has been struggling in the playoffs for the majority of their 21 year tenure. Just last year they were swept 4-0 by the Washington Wizards. 2016 would be different. This is the year where the Raptors broke the mold and prove themselves a force to be reckoned with.

The first step for the Raptors was winning their first playoff round since 2001, a feat that was accomplished in a 7 game series versus the Indiana Pacers. Then came the Miami Heat. Toronto won the season series 5-2 and prevailed once again in a 7 games during the playoffs. Their next opponent would be no other than LeBron and the Cavaliers.

Analysts and experts had already written off the Raptors and predicted a series sweep by Cleveland believing Toronto had exhausted all of it’s resources. After all many thought the Raptors had presumably scarce chances to give a competitive performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Then something happened. Toronto refused to give up. Down 0-2 in the series but not out, the underdog Raptors managed to even up the series 2-2 prompting raised eyebrows and dropped jaws from fans, analysts, news outlets and sports publications alike.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith even apologized on-air to the organization, its fans and the entire country of Canada.

“I gotta be a man of my word and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere because I certainly thought that this was going back to Cleveland, 3-1 … with the Cavs closing this series out on Wednesday night so I wouldn’t have to go back to Canada and go through customs and all that other nonsense.”

-Steven A. Smith

 

CBS Sports ran a poll among its viewers to determine which of the final four team fans thought would win the coveted NBA championship. The poll listed Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and other. The joke here of course, is that Toronto had been snubbed out of it’s rightful final four slot and contender position.

It didn’t take long for Toronto Mayor John Tory to retaliate.

“We’re not the slightest bit offended,” said Tory. “In fact, we’re used to being underestimated.”

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Toronto mayor John Tory also got into the post-season momentum by defending the city’s honour.

Tory went on to tout Toronto’s stature and exploits before proclaiming that Toronto would win the NBA championship this year before adding, “Especially since basketball was invented by a Canadian. You’re welcome!”

The events on the court would prove Tory wrong but Toronto can take pride in the mayor’s defensive stance.

Despite the valiant efforts of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry the Raptors would lose after facing elimination in a crucial home game 113-87.

Although they lost the series, the Raptors—and the city of Toronto and to a degree, all Canadians everywhere— won. Yes, you read that correctly, won. Few if any expected Toronto to put in a spirited contest against Cleveland, but that’s exactly what they did. Versus LeBron and the Cavaliers the Raptors had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They lost in front of their fans at home who gave them a standing ovation. Oh, and words of praise from LeBron. Not a bad send-off, truly.

The Raptors won by proving their detractors wrong. After all they weren’t supposed to make it this far, where they? Toronto had a standout season in which won their third consecutive division title all while tallying an impressive 56 wins before standing tall in the playoffs to reach the Eastern conference finals. Judging by the team’s performance, their fans’ enthusiasm, I think basketball in Toronto is doing just fine. They lost the series to Cleveland and won at the same time.

The Raptors effectively sent out a message in the 2016 regular season and perhaps even more so during the playoffs: “Basketball does belong in Toronto—respect us, eh!”