Notes from the Toronto SARs Concert
It was amazing.
Nearly a half a million people in one place, gathered to listen to some of the best bands in the world, for a sixteen dollar admission charge.
We got there around noon, and spread our blankets up in front of one of the giant screens. (There was no way we were going to get close to the stage, that area was well packed by then.) It was a great spot, with the stage right behind it, in the distance.
The first acts were OK, bands that most of us had never heard of and didn't care about. They did short, forgettable, three song sets. None of them sucked, and none of them were memorable, with the exception of The Flaming Lips. They filled the stage with people dressed as large animals and smiling suns - it looked like a casting call for Trigger Happy TV. It was the only interesting performance until Jeff Healy took to the stage. From then on, it didn't let up.
The Isley Brothers got things hopping with a great set, and things just got better from there. The only weak performance came from Justin Timberlake, who proved that he's really, really, really white. The audience showed their disapproval by throwing bottles of water at him, the only ugly incident all day. Hey, he sucks, but at least respect him for showing up and giving it his unimpressive best.
The Guess Who was one of my favorite groups when I was growing up, and I was hoping they wouldn't just be paunchy shadows of their former selves. They weren't; they sounded as good as they did thirty years ago. Randy Bachman is playing with them now, and he stepped forward for a rousing "Taking Care of Business" in the middle of the set.
The sets got longer and longer as the better acts appeared - just the way it should be. Rush performed in front of a set of front-loading washing machines. AC/DC was, well, AC/DC, as fired up and wild as they've ever been. Angus Young did a strip tease that ended with him pulling his pants down and mooning the crowd with his Canadian flag underwear.
And what can you say about the Stones? Mick took the stage in a flaming purple shirt and pranced and preened for the audience like he was twenty-five. (He just turned sixty. Sixty!) Justin Timberlake joined him for "Miss You" in a failed attempt to absorb some second-hand coolness. The result was unintentionally hilarious as the young pup tried, unsuccessfully, to keep up with Jagger. It was like watching Pavarotti trying to do ballet. Except Pavarotti can sing.
Keith had a camera mounted on the head of his guitar, aimed down at the strings. On screen it looked like the guitar was rigidly locked in place, while the background changed as he danced around the stage and pointed it at things. Very strange, very cool, and only done for one song so we didn't have time to get sick of it. Honkey Tonk Woman was accompanied by a graphic adult anime that left no doubt what that tongue is for.
My only complaint was that I couldn't spend money. This was intended to bring bucks into Toronto, and I planned on doing my part by buying lots of stuff. I even exchanged my cash for Canadian money before the trip. I wanted to drink their beer, but that would have entailed a one hour wait to buy beer tickets, and then a fifteen minute wait to get any beer, which then had to be consumed in a tent that wasn't wired for sound or video. Vendors sold hot dogs, burgers and ice cream, but the lines were about an hour long, so I just ate the stuff we brought. They needed at least four times as many vendors.
I wanted T-shirts. I needed T-shirts. But there were only a couple of merchandise booths, and they were more crowded than the ass-kissing booth at a yes-men convention. There were about six people manning the place, leisurely selling T-shirts while we baked in the sun. After standing in line (or more accurately, the clump) for 45 minutes I had only moved forward about three feet. Someone was leaving with a shirt in hand and I asked him how long he had waited. "Two Hours." I gave up and left, disappointed - I had been planning on buying shirts for myself and my kids, and then wearing them all myself. I'll have to see if I can get them on-line somewhere. Not counting the tickets, I only spent thirty of my Canadian dollars, and most of that was outside the venue.
The crowd was huge, polite, and friendly. (Cops reported just fifteen arrests out of 450,000 people.) There air smelled of pot, but not nearly as much as I expected. People were sprawled out all over the place, and other people were carefully walking all around them and over them. The thoroughfares were jammed, but there wasn't any shoving or elbowing, and the inevitable collisions were good-naturedly brushed off. It was almost overly polite, like a Jehovah's Witness convention, if Jehovah's Witnesses smoked pot and listened to rock and roll. We made friends with the people camped out around us, and later in the evening one of our party, who had braved the beer line, came back from the tent with six people (four lovely women and two of their boyfriends) to share our spot.
As we left we were treated to a fireworks display. It was an unnecessary, unexpected bonus, a nice little cherry on top of the day.
Congratulations to the folks who put this together. It was one hell of a party.
Backstage at the show
© 2003 Dave Hitt