Nitro Circus @ Montreal Bell Centre – 16th October 2015

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For a guy who hasn’t seen the term “Action Sports” since the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 for the Playstation 2, I had very little idea of what to expect for Nitro Circus‘ stop at the Bell Centre. Promotional material for the event promised a spectacle of high-flying stunts, pyrotechnics, and larger-than-life characters. This, filtered through my only frame of reference in sports entertainment, translated in my mind to “wrestling on motorcycles”. Being a fan of any combination of wrestling and motor vehicles (see: any time Stone Cold Steve Austin drives a truck), I was excited as all hell – and though that unfounded expectation was quickly shot down when the show actually started, Nitro Circus definitely came through on its promise of wheels going through the air with people riding atop them (most of the time).

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VIP ticket-holders were treated to an early entry to the arena, where they were given a Nitro Circus lanyard, a first look at the appropriately-named Giganta ramp, and access to a short Q&A with some of the Nitro athletes. Chief among them was ringleader and mastermind Travis Pastrana, and the Q&A emcee was helped greatly by the francophone translator, who tried his damnedest to match the interviewer’s enthusiasm for the Montreal crowd. The lanyard-badge I was given featured some examples of the feats scheduled for the night, and as I turned it over in my hand I noticed an FMX, an ATV, a wheel-barrow, and an old-time big-wheel tricycle. I looked up to see the Q&A get capped off by a BMX giveaway and dance competition for some of the kids in the crowd, and I was more confused than ever.

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The main event hit soon after with a video package featuring “Streetbike” Tommy Passemante in full clown gear, playing a clip show editing elephants and sideshow-freaks together with Nitro Circus footage of flipping school buses and water-walking motorcycles. The introduction continued the circus motif, bringing out the night’s featured performers as strongmen, lion-tamers and thrusting mimes, all gathering together on the ramp to dance in front of the pyrotechnics rig – triggered, of course, by a big cartoon TNT plunger. Accompanied again by the evening’s francophone translator, emcees Andy Zeiss and Bruce Robson brought up Pastrana, now decked out in a crushed velvet ringleader jacket, to screen a trailer for Nitro Circus’ new movie “Action Figures”, available October 20th.

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Nitro Circus then kicked into full gear, chopping up the evening’s program into a series of segments with vaudevillian names like “Bikes, Boards, Boots, and Scoots” and “Outrageous Right Way-Up Riding” and gravity-defying jumps and flips off the ramps. Admittedly, for a layman who can’t fully appreciate the difficulty of particular grabs or jumps being called out, the excitement of seeing riders sail through the air one after the other might eventually start to dip. However, Nitro Circus seems to understand this, and actively tries to keep things fresh by mixing it up – either by sending one rider through the sky in a whiskey barrel (a stunt that, according to the video package, nearly killed FMX’er Jolene Van Vugt), jumping a bathtub, or challenging riders to land in the tiny hole of a giant inflatable bubble.

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Before a nearly 30 minute break, the first half of the show had an early highlight in the form of paraplegic Bruce Cook, strapped into a modified bike to make history by successfully pulling off the backflip that paralyzed him two years ago. This was a rare emotional moment in a crude and larger-than-life production, and I found myself starting to understand why crowds might connect to these often faceless riders. That was hard to beat, but Cam Sinclair came close by taking three untrained crowd volunteers on a similar backflip, carrying a total weight of 455 kg. The emcees showed a video package of 5 previous attempts, with 5 serious injuries – but fortunately enough, these guys walked away with little more than a bruised ass.

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The second leg of the show tried to carry on the momentum with whip trains, a Canada vs USA trick-off, and a Special Flip by “Special” Greg, but it was hard to reach the heights of the first half. Even with a new high-angle ramp and Cam Sinclair’s FMX double-backflip (a trick that once left him in a coma), it was starting to feel like Nitro Circus might soon run out of steam. Thankfully, this was the ideal moment to go out on a high note, calling the entire cast out to try one more massive train of tricks, giving the audience one final aerial curtain call in front of the pyro. It might not have been the kind of sports entertainment that I’m used to, and it may have left me more afraid of driving than I’ve ever been, but Nitro Circus showed me that you can do far more with a set of wheels than should be physically possible – and, even if it’s impossible, some guys are gonna suit up and try it anyway.

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Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Kieron Yates

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