Published Apr 10, 2015There were no flashy bells and whistles at Shane Koyczan's first-ever Montreal show; no violins nor cellos swelling with the ebb and flow of his delicately chosen words, no projector screens in the backdrop displaying his viral spoken-word videos To This Day or Shoulders, and certainly none of the pomp and circumstance of his 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies contribution. On the small, slightly elevated and dimly lit stage at Divan Orange, there was just a microphone, a worn-down McGill music stand, and Koyczan — with his trademark chinstrap beard, black button-down shirt and mild-mannerisms that just emanate huggability. But for an hour-and-a-half straight, he bewitched the packed house of Montreal hipsters (standing shoulder-to-shoulder, leaning on the stage, funnelling down the bar) without a cellphone screen or Instagram account in sight. He expertly and easily used his witty banter to navigate through raucous laughter, stunning silences and eventual tears, all with the magnitude of his words.
After stepping on stage to a roar of applause, any air of pretence instantly evaporated when he invited the cramped audience to sit on the stage if they at all got tired from standing, while poking fun at his lack of French ("Mi casa es su casa… that's French, right?"), quickly proving that his in-between banter was just as well-crafted and moving as his pieces. Before launching into his first poem, he mentioned this month is National Poetry Month, which his grandmother likes to remind him means he's twice as likely to have sex.
His first piece, "Remember How We Forgot" crossed topics as far-reaching as the politics of war to the childlike wonder of a first crush and the nostalgia of wanting to be an astronaut ("We were young / Our dreams hung like apples waiting to be picked and peeled"). The room silently soaked up every word, the only sounds being Koyczan's voice, the ceiling fans and a few Montreal Canadiens fans on the street (4-3 against Detroit, if you were wondering). After the appreciative applause, Koyczan bounced the mood back with his self-deprecating banter, quipping "I bet there are a lot of guys out there that are thinking 'Oh fuck, I'm at a poetry show,'" setting the theme of the night, an emotional tug-of-war between heart-break and hilarity.
From there he moved into "Crush," a piece about his first-ever crush in grade five, a girl named Penny, who stood up to those who had bullied him. Like many of Shane's poems, this one expertly hit that demographic of '90s kids who fondly remember things like video rentals and library card-catalogues.
And it's those sombre elementary school moments that left not just audience members, but Koyczan too, in tears ("When I Was a Kid" and "You Are Dying"), with his wit coming out afterwards, suggesting someone sell his Kleenex on Ebay. That humour wasn't just reserved for poems though; he included a hilarious piece about spoken-word clichés and another about bad spellers, replete with probably the most puns anyone has heard in a three-minute span.
Closing with a new piece called "One Thing I Could Change" he again had the audience delving into the depths of broken-heartedness, questioning why we all seem to want to change our appearances. After a standing ovation, he returned with the political call-to-action "This is My Voice," dedicating it to the next election.
But perhaps the most endearing part of his Montreal debut was post-show Koyczan, sharing beers and stories at the slightly dingy bar on St-Laurent, staying until almost closing and signing poetry books. If this isn't what National Poetry month looks like, I don't know what does.