last wednesday, i was in toronto for the "Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto" show, better known as the SARs benefit starring the rolling stones. at nickel's request, here's the story of the concert.
my buddy and i headed up there tuesday afternoon. after nearly getting killed 3 miles away from my house by an idiot who didn't know to check his blind spot (don't they say that most accidents happen within 5 miles of home? ), the trip proceeded uneventfully. i discovered i like ontario drivers a lot, as they are competent and drive about 140 km/h. just the way i like it.
customs was a bit of a pain (they were asking us retarded questions about where we were staying and if we had made reservations yet. then they wanted to know how many cans of beer were in the cooler in the back seat ) but fortunately, we had it better than our friends, who got detained for special questioning and searches.
anyway, we had scored at room at the crown plaza don valley in toronto for $36. the hotel was ok (and great for $36), but not that nice. we took off from there to see the city. we ended up walking about 5 miles to the subway rather than taking the bus, and had a few more near-death experiences there.
downtown, we chilled out and looked at the sites. ended up having dinner at some little italian place called mario's something or other. good food, great service. our friend nick and his GF, sara, met up with us there, and we ended up in some irish pub called golden argyle (or something like that). we stayed far later than we were planning to and almost missed the last train of the night. but fortunately we caught it and got a bus and ended up at the hotel at 2 am. (the original plan was to be in bed by 11 to get up early the next day).
on wednesday, we were so tired but got up at around 7:30, headed out by 9. we had reserved a parking place. unfortunately, the dumbass on the telephone reservation line gave us incorrect directions, which caused us to drive around for an hour or more trying to find our parking lot. finally, we found it and walked an hour to downsview park, the site of the concert.
it was already scorching hot, without a cloud in the sky. the security lines were awful -- not really even lines. just a mass of thousands of people crammed together, inching forward. when we were almost up to the checkpoint, we discovered they were wanding. not a good thing, as both rex and i are tapers, so we had our minidiscs, mics, and recorders stuffed in our crotches (to avoid detection in a pat-down, which is what we were expecting). in a quick move, we hid the stuff under the beach blanket in my backpack, and fortunately they weren't checking bags too well, so we didn't get busted.
we finally made it to the stage area (which was already crammed with a few hundred thousand people) right about 12:30, as the concert was starting with a performance from dan aykroyd and jim belushi's "have love, will travel blues revue band". it wasn't that great.....the musicians weren't *on*, and it's difficult to translate the blues to a massive stage and expansive audience.
rex and i threaded our way through the crowd and ended up in the front section, probably 300 or 400 feet from the stage, in front of the left screen. we found a little unoccupied spot and settled in (although i really wanted to keep moving forward, rex was in a stationary mood).
my review of the acts (i hope i have these in the right order):
sam roberts: canadian rock band. very very solid. i was impressed. i don't know who i'd compare them to, but i was definitely impressed with their musical talent. they got a great response from the crowd too, especially for it being so early in the day.
kathleen edwards: canadian rock/folk singer. she seemed similar to sheryl crow to me. once again, a solid performance. not outstanding, but she has a nice voice, writes decent songs, and has good musicians playing with her. decent crowd response as well.
the flaming lips: good show from a great band, but not received that well. the lips are definitely an aquired taste, and it was a poor venue for them, imo. most people just didn't know how to respond when a band showed up on stage with a bunch of dancing people in animal costumes. they played a strong show and rocked out, and of course wayne coyne was having a good time and jumping around, popping balloons, throwing confetti, etc. but the crowd was dead.
the tea party: a dark, heavy rock band from canada. again, i was impressed. they played an energy-packed set, touching a few different styles (including one with a strong reaggae flavor). the crowd was digging it, for the most part.
have love, will travel: in their second set, aykroyd and belushi's band got the crowd going a little more. still not a stellar blues performance, but solid.
sass jordan: former teenie-booper star in canada, now trying to resurrect her career as a judge on "canadian idol". stick to tv, sass. nothing to write home about until jeff healey joined her on the last song of her set playing guitar. absolutely amazing. at that point, it was basically jeff healey playing guitar with some random chick singing. hell, he could make me sound good. his string-bending performance was a musical treat.
la chicane: a french-canadian band from montreal. they tried hard, but couldn't accomplish much. no one had heard of them, no one could understand what they were singing about, but they still played an energetic set. the crowd, after already hearing several hours of music, was basically listless.
the isley brothers: a motown-style r&b band. one of the highlights of the afternoon (why didn't i turn on my recorder before they took the stage? ) their lead singer came out dressed like an old-style pimp (he is -- they've been performing for the past 40+ years) in a suit, tie, hat, and carrying a cane. his brother, the guitarists, was an amazing showman (and a great guitarist), ripping into solos with his axe over his head and behind his back. the keyboards, drums, bass, and backup singers fit into the music perfectly. they definitely rocked the crowd.
blue rodeo: a toronto hometown favorite, rock/pop band. their set of ballady rock numbers was warmly received by the crowd. a good performance, but nothing too amazing.
justin timberlake: yup, "loverboy" (as dan aykroyd called him) made his appearance. earlier in the day, when it was announced he was coming up later, the whole crowd began to boo and someone held up a sign reading "timberlake is a fag!", which the cameras quickly zoomed in on. this caused the crowd to go wild. so not surprisingly, JT was greeted with a chorus of boos and a shower of waterbottles. but hey, he wasn't all bad. sure, he's no ac/dc. but he had a collection of solid pop numbers, and he is backed by a good band. the crowd was ok after they got the initial boos out of the way.
at this point, i should mention that all of the performances i've mentioned so far were supposed to be limited to 15 minutes (although most were between 15 and 20). this meant 3 or maybe 4 songs from each performer, which makes it difficult to establish any one groove. however, the crowd was positive throughout the afternoon. everyone was hot, it was sticky, it was crowded (and kept getting more and more crowded as the afternoon went on), and there were frequent set changes.
however, the crowd that was around us (and from what i heard, the entire 450,000+ mass of humanity) was well-behaved and positive. sure, people didn't like waiting 2 hours for a beer or a porta-john. water was overpriced (2 bottles for $5cdn), but cheaper than other shows (woodstock 99 - $6us/bottle ). there was a decent amount of water available though and not too many people got heatstroke (i'm sure the reminders every 7 minutes to drink plenty of water helped). also, they did a good job of providing entertainment between sets so people didn't get too restless.
finally, around 5:30 or so, the acts that everyone was *really* there to see began to take the stage. we moved up to a point around 150 or 200 feet from the stage. decent views, but not as good as we could have had if we had moved up an hour early. uh yeah, i was a little annoyed. but going to concerts with someone else, you each have to balance and conceed, and it all worked out ok, so it's all good.
the guess who: good, solid show. the opening was slightly flat, until the third song, when the band busted out a cover of bachman-turner-overdrive's "takin' care of business" (guitarist randy bachman is now a member of the guess who). that got the crowd rocking and bachman ripped of an absolutely amazing solo. good show, and by this time the crowd was really getting into it.
rush: oh yeah! what else do i need to say? as they started playing (kicking off the set with "tom sawyer"), rex is like "holy **** man! they are SO ****ing tight. absolutely amazing!" he was right. they were SO on. the crowd was into it and they were just nailing everything with their performance. a great setlist, including closer to the heart, paint it black (rolling stones cover), the spirit of radio, limelight, yyz, and freewill. the washing machines (running, with soap, water, and clothes in them) were a nice, albeit enigmatic, stage prop. at this point, the whole day was worth it. their 35-minute set was just solid and powerful. feeling the crowd energy building heightened the enjoyment of the performance.
ac/dc: this, in my opinion, was the highpoint of the day. the sun was finally starting to sink toward the horizon when they took the stage shortly before 8 pm. the venue was packed to the gills and quite frankly there wasn't much room to move about (at least where we were). the guess who and rush had primed the crowd to rock. and when ac/dc gets on stage, you better bet your ass you're going to rock. i would highly recommend going to an ac/dc show just to see a straight-up rock and roll band that is all about pleasing the fans. angus young (the guitarist) is an absolute crazy man). he stalks the stage, practically frothing at the mouth as he will do practically anything to further incite the audience. lead singer brian johnson screams, prances, and flails to work the audience into a fever pitch. it's all about hearing the fans go nuts as the opening notes of "thunderstruck" or "hell's bells" revererates through the air.
"the jack" turned into a 10-minute marathon that included a strip-tease from young, who turned out to be wearing a pair of canadian flag boxers, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. throughout the show, the crowd energy was unbelievable. everyone was singing, chanting, and screaming. and throughout it all, the rock just kept pouring off the stage, ending with an encore "highway to hell", which left fans spent as some headed toward the exits, hoping to beat traffic.
the rolling stones: most of the people at the show were either there to see ac/dc or the stones. however, once ac/dc finished, a certain amount of energy escaped from the venue. people were tired and exhausted from a day rocking out in the sun. and ac/dc just put on such a powerful show.....while the stones were great, they just couldn't match the energy.
nonetheless, as the spotlights came on (they hit the stage just after 10, and it was finally mostly dark) and mick, keith, and the boys came onstage, it was an amazing moment. mick jagger and keith richards, more than many rock stars, are icons in and of themselves. their faces mean rock and roll, and have been representing it for the last 35 years or so. so to be standing there with 450,000 people and look to the stage and see mick jagger, wearing a long purple robe and a sleeveless tshirt, strut to the center of the stage as the opening cords of "start me up" rang out.....to me, it was an amazing moment, like i was seeing a piece of history, or a treasure, right before my very eyes. i've never met a rock star, but i've seen mick jagger and keith richards perform live. that's enough for me.
you'd never know they've been performing for so long and have so much money when you watch them. it's like they're still hungry and still have something to prove. throughout the show, mick was running from one end of the stage setup to the other (we're probably talking around 500 feet here). keith was also all over the place, trying to incite the crowd further.
despite the somewhat tired crowd, the stones were determined to rock hard. brown sugar, ruby tuesday, you can't always get waht you want, and it's only rock and roll brought out the best in the different members of the band and kept the crowd rocking. then justin timberlake appeared to duet with mick on "miss you". it wasn't bad, and it was pretty funny to see justin apeing mick's every move. obviously, you don't ever want to look like you're trying to show up mick jagger on stage, and justin was definitely showing that respect. funny stuff.
after a couple songs with keith on vocals (including "nearness of you", dedicated to the toronto nurses who died of SARs), mick returned in a long, shiny brown leather coat for "sympath for the devil". they busted out the pyrotechnics, with columns of flame shooting up from either corner of the stage riggings. then on rock me baby, out came angus young and ac/dc's bassist to join the stones. remember what i said about not trying to upstage mick jagger? well, angus has no such concerns. he got out there and went nuts. pretty soon, he was hopping across stage on one foot, with keith richards in tow, mimicing him. it was truly a classic rock moment. if there's a dvd from the show, i definitely hope that song makes the cut.
after honkey tonk woman (with an accompanying video that was basically anime pr0n) and satisfaction finished off the set, which was capped with jumpin' jack flash for an encore. i didn't want it to end, but yet was so ready for it to end because i was about to fall over.
stuff actually cleared out pretty quickly as fireworks exploded overhead, making a nice closing lightshow for the evening. despite all the people, we made it to our car quickly (relatively, seeing as we were about 3 miles away). traffic wasn't bad at all, although it was around 2 am by the time we were getting out of toronto.
i wanted to drive back that night (i had to be at work in the morning) but around 3:30 i just got too exhausted. rex was already asleep and i was so tired that i was hallucinating. finally i found a rest stop and crashed there for about 2 hours.