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Friday
Jul012016

Rock, Paper, Scissors- Peter Gabriel and Sting, Air Canada Centre, June 29th, 2016

I first saw Sting and Peter Gabriel share a Toronto stage in 1988, when they headlined the Amnesty International ‘Human Rights Now!’ show with Bruce Springsteen. Too young to have had the pleasure of watching Gabriel front Genesis live, I did however get many opportunities to see Sting with the Police from 1979 until their last Police Picnic in 1983 (and the reunion a few years ago). In the 80s, Peter Gabriel and Sting both toured as solo artists, and I also have fond memories of seeing them separately as well as together on the Amnesty International stage. I was quite intrigued by the idea of their joining up for this current tour, wondering what the collaboration would look and sound like.

‘Driven to Tears’, which would be the case a few times over the course of a very poignant night.

Stages seem to have opened up in the last few years, and this show was no exception to this trend. From high above in our 300 level seats, we could see everything clearly, including the video side and back drops, and this direct view helped bring me closer to the performance as the night wore on. From the very first notes, the audience was treated to a visual and auditory feast for the senses. Each musician gave us a strong performance that threw in their huge hits as well as some deeper cuts. My favourite moment, which followed a comment about waking up in Washington D.C. after the UK’s EU Referendum vote results and turning on the TV to wonder (and I quote) “what the fuck had happened to our country”, was Sting’s brilliant medley of the Genesis classic ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” and his own ‘Message in a Bottle’. It was one of many poignant reminders of how timeless their music and lyrics are; when Sting dedicated ‘Fragile’ to the victims of the Orlando shooting, it was hard to imagine it had not been written a few weeks ago. Watching the footage of refugees while he sang an emotional ‘Invisible Sun’ really brought home the point that we have not moved forward much since he wrote the song about the Northern Ireland troubles of the 1970s. The locations may have changed, but the pain and suffering continue.

‘Invisible Sun’ in 2016. The conflicts have new locations but the words still hit home.

There were beautiful renditions of some of my favourite songs, including ‘Don’t Give Up’ with Jennie Abrahamsson’s haunting vocal duet, ‘Red Rain’, ‘Solsbury Hill’, and ‘Games Without Frontiers’, and a phenomenal cover of Sting’s ‘Set Them Free’ from Gabriel. Sting too was in top form, giving us great renditions of ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Roxanne’ among his huge hits. There were also new tracks, including the stunning ‘Love Can Heal’, which was written and performed by Gabriel as a tribute to slain British MP Jo Cox.

Lighting away the dark during Gabriel’s tribute to Jo Cox, ‘Love Can Heal’.

Two things stood out for me; these two are still social justice warriors with a great ear for stellar talent, as we witnessed great musicianship from the band members accompanying them. As well, they are visionaries, with a catalogue that is still as relevant lyrically today as when they wrote their songs all those years ago. I left the venue lifted by their ability to be beacons of light in a world that often seems very dark these days, but also delighted that despite the serious, often sombre themes of many numbers, there was a joyfulness transmitted to the audience that followed me home and remained hours after the show had ended.

Goofing off with old tunes and old friends after the show.

On a more personal note, the concert was also a reunion with a few local friends who were peppered here and there in the crowd and who met up for quick catch-ups before and after the show. This is for me, so far, the Toronto concert of the year, and I feel fortunate that we could witness this reunion of likeminded icons. If they haven’t yet appeared in your city and you have the chance to still catch them on this tour, make the effort to go see them. It will be worth every penny.

All photographs by Anne-Marie Klein, with the exception of the last one, taken by Miroslav Lorh.

Friday
Jul012016

Sting and Peter Gabriel: Rock, Paper, Scissors Tour— Air Canada Centre, Toronto, June 29, 2016

I first saw Sting and Peter Gabriel share a Toronto stage in 1989, when they headlined the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! show with Bruce Springsteen. Too young to have had the pleasure of watching Gabriel front Genesis live, I did however get many opportunities to see Sting with the Police from 1979 until their last Police Picnic in 1983, and then as a solo artist. I have fond memories of the Amnesty Show and of the duets the top artists shared, and so I was quite intrigued by the reunion of Sting and Gabriel for this current tour.

Stages seem to have opened up in the last few years, and this show was no exception. Front high up in our 300 Level seats, we could see everything clearly, including the video side and back drops, and this direct view helped bring me closer to the performance as the night wore on. From the very first notes, the audience was treated to a visual and auditory least for the senses. Each musician gave us a strong performance that threw in their huge hits as well as some deeper cuts. My favourite moment, which followed a comment about waking up after the UK vote on the EU Referendum and turning on the TV to wonder (and I quote) “what the fuck had happened to our country?”, was Sting’s brilliant medley of the Genesis classic ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” and ‘Message in a Bottle’. There were poignant reminders of how timeless their music and lyrics are; when Sting dedicated ‘Fragile’ to the victims of the Orlando shooting, it was hard to imagine it had not been written a few weeks ago. Likewise, when Peter Gabriel gave us ‘Love Can Heal’ as a tribute to slain UK MP Jo Cox. Watching the footage of refugees while Sting sang an emotional ‘Invisible Sun’ really brought the point home that we have not moved forward much since he wrote the song about the Northern Ireland troubles of the 1970s. The locations may have changed, but the pain and suffering continues.

There were beautiful renditions of some of my favourite songs, including ‘Don’t Give Up’ with Jennie Abrahamsson’s haunting vocal duet, Red Rain, Solsbury Hill, and Games Without Frontiers, and a phenomenal cover of ‘Set Them Free’ from Gabriel. Sting too was in top form, giving us great renditions of ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Roxanne’ among his huge hits.

Two things stood out for me; these two are still social justice warriors with a great ear for stellar talent, as we witnessed great musicianship from the band around them. As well, they are visionaries, with a catalogue that is still as relevant lyrically today as when they wrote their songs all those years ago. I left the venue lifted by their ability to be beacons of light in a world that often seems very dark these days, but also delighted that despite the serious themes of many numbers, there was a joyfulness transmitted to the audience that followed me home and remained hours after the show had ended.

On a more personal note, the concert was also a reunion with local friends who were peppered here and there in the crowd and who met up for quick catch-ups before and after the show. This is for me, so far, the Toronto concert of the year, and I feel fortunate that we could witness this reunion of likeminded icons. If they haven’t yet appeared in your city, make the effort to go see them. It will be worth every penny.

Saturday
Jun112016

Jeff Woods "Radio, Records & Rockstars" Book Launch- The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, June 9th, 2016

I love music as much as I love books. When these two loves collide, I tend to get excited. This past Thursday night, at one of Toronto’s most iconic music venues, The Horseshoe Tavern, I had the great pleasure of attending the book launch for Radio, Records, and Rockstars. The book, released almost a month ago, is a mixture of autobiography and rock star recollections, telling the personal stories of legendary musicians as well as Jeff Woods’ own story.

The welcome sign at the Horseshoe Tavern

Blessed with a deep voice so destined for radio, a love and appreciation of music and rock history, Jeff Woods is to me one of the legends amidst The Legends of Classic Rock, the nationally-syndicated weekly show he hosted and that I faithfully listened to for years before it ended last summer. He captured me immediately as a listener because he managed time after time to present his musical subjects in a way that was so personal and meaningful. He got to the heart of each musician’s story, and his guests always seemed to trust him to converse with them in a respectful, intelligent manner. I learned so much about some of my favourite artists through these broadcasts, and was always informed and entertained.

Two radio legends: John Derringer interviewing Jeff Woods

I ordered a hardcover copy in later March, and it arrived signed and dedicated a few weeks ago. As I told Jeff on Thursday night, professional responsibilities have not allowed me the pleasure of opening it yet, to which he replied that all things come in their own time. It will certainly make a delicious and satisfying summer read. I attended the book launch for a variety of reasons: I wanted to purchase a surprise signed copy for a mutual friend, I wanted to hear the “fireside chat” interview between Jeff and fellow radio legend John Derringer, I was delighted at the idea of a rock ladies’ night out with three good friends, and I also wanted to finally meet Jeff, and to thank him for his kind support of my rock fiction book release a few years back and reciprocate in kind. I had sent him a copy of my book, and he was lovely enough to post a copy of the cover on his Facebook wall, which I appreciated very much. I meant to thank him while we chatted, but the conversation was short and I forgot, so if you are reading this, Jeff, thank you for doing that a few years back.

Two authors and music lovers: yours truly with the legendary Jeff Woods

The interview with Derringer was insightful, and my favourite moments were Jeff’s David Bowie recollections, and a great little sidebar about “forbidden topics” and how to navigate interviews politely. He is a testament to the fact that hard work and respect go a long way in building and maintaining a reputation, and I hope this project brings him tremendous success.

For those of you who love music and a good tale, I sensed from the launch and radio interviews I’ve heard all week that this book will be full of great stories about music. At the centre of all, despite his phenomenal professional achievements, Jeff remains humble, honest, and passionate about music. In his own words, he is first and foremost a fan, and for that above all else, I know this is going to be a captivating read. I’ll come back in a few weeks to review it.

You can purchase your own copy of Jeff Woods’ book at: http://jeffwoodsradio.bigcartel.com/product/jeff-woods-book

Sunday
May012016

The Who at the Air Canada Centre- April 27th, 2016

“The Who Hits 50” was supposed to go across North America last fall, a celebration of their half-century as a band in the form of a big stadium tour. Last week, after two date changes(one from last fall and then another to accommodate our NBA playoff-bound Raptors), I saw the second of their two rescheduled shows at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I decided to get tickets to both evenings because I suspected it would truly be the last time I saw this band. There is an irony in my saying this because my first exposure to them live was the rehearsal concert for what they had dubbed their farewell show back in late December, 1982. Since then, I’ve seen them in Toronto, Hamilton, at Madison Square Gardens in New York, across the continent in California at Mountainview near San Francisco, and farther even still across the bigger pond in Berlin back in 2006.

The Who in Berlin in the summer of 2006. Memories…

The show last Wednesday was exceptionally good in terms of sound quality: the band as an ensemble was powerful and tight, something I’ve really noticed has been consistent on the last two tours. As well, Roger Daltrey, having recovered from a dangerous bout of meningitis that postponed the tour for many long months, had a strength and range that seemed greater than it was a few years back. The banter between him and Pete between numbers was charming and amusing, and the local audience thoroughly enjoyed the reminiscences about their beloved city, but it was the passion and liveliness of the two frontmen that impressed me the most as they went through a two-hour set of big hits that spanned the length of their half-century careers. From our great vantage point just twenty rows from the front, it was easy to see that the band was enjoying itself and not merely going through the motions. Roger twirled and swung his microphone a bit more cautiously than in the past, but Pete jumped around, leapt into the air, and did his famous Birdman pose with the same agility and strength of a man half his age. The rest of the group, and in particular Zack Starkey on the drums, played with great precision and energy.

Roger Daltrey, looking and sounding magnificent on the rescheduled tour date.

My only complaint, despite the fantastic, engaging performance, is that the setlist was identical to the one presented just over a month and a half ago at the same venue. Surely an effort could have been made to alter one or two songs for fans returning to see them a second time. I have less of an issue with the lack of an encore on this tour, since they are not true encores these days but rather added parts of a planned setlist.

Two legends doing what they do best.

The lights and video backdrops complemented the open stage nicely, and we were treated to some great footage of older Who history, including video clips and stills of much-missed departed members John Entwistle and Keith Moon. There were also visual references to global historical events, particularly during a moving rendition of the beautiful orchestral, instrumental piece, “The Rock”, from Quadrophenia.

On a personal note, we played host to a visiting member of our Who family, and it was a real pleasure for me to have our friend stay with us in Toronto. She was as charming as I knew she would be, having known her online for a decade, and we enjoyed her company over the two days she was here. It was a delight to bring her to the local places some of her grandparents called home for a time in the west end close to my own childhood home, and we got to spend some time in the hospitality lounges before and after the concert meeting other friends and getting reacquainted with people we’ve met through the band. All in all, a great few days of adventures that give me added reason to see The Who as often as I can.

A happy souvenir of Who hospitality.

Overall, for the average and more devoted fan, this is still a band worth catching live on what might well be their last tour. I am never convinced (not since the great deception of 1982!) that I won’t ever see them again, but have never passed up an opportunity in case I am proven wrong. Every time I see them, my love affair gets renewed and I start wondering where and when I can see them play next. If all goes well, I have another date with them in Glasgow in August. Long live rock!

Wednesday
Mar022016

The Who Hits 50- Air Canada Centre, Tuesday March 1st, 2016

My love affair with The Who started in the later half of the 70s, and was soon wrapped up in my other love affair with Sting and his appearance as the Ace Face in the movie Quadrophenia, based on the fantastic 1973 release of the same name (and my favourite Who record). I remember picking up LP after LP of their work, and by the time 1982 rolled around, I was finally old enough to go see them. It was their “last show” at Maple Leaf Gardens, and I was fortunate enough to trade a pair of grey cowboy boots for a pair of grey seats to the live rehearsal planned for the day before the televised event on December 17th. I remember Pete Townshend’s houndstooth pleated trousers, a lot of loud music, and emerging from that evening as a confirmed fan for life.

Another priceless Who-venir!

Some of the video montage from the show.

Since that “last concert ever”, I’ve seen the band perform numerous times in many different locales, including Berlin, NYC, and California. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance, because there is always something magical that accompanies their shows, whether it’s the location, the company I’m with, or the music itself. Last night, all of those things came together as I saw them once again in my hometown.

Getting to the Air Canada Centre in one piece was my first challenge yesterday: I’d torn a leg muscle two days before and was nursing my injury so that I could attend. I was doubly looking forward to going because an old university friend I’d not seen in twenty years was meeting up with us, and we were quite fortunate to have guest passes to one of the hospitality rooms before and after the show. Twenty-four hours of bed rest and iced compression did the trick, and I made my way rather easily into the city centre ahead of a major snowstorm. Once there, we met up with my old friend and together had a pre-show round of drinks. We were regaled by hilarious storytelling from Tom Kenny, the lighting designer for the current tour; he was completely charming and amiable, and I’ve now added Bill Flanagan’s novel “Evening’s Empire” to my reading list because one of the characters is apparently based on him and that’s enough to pique my interest. In staying and socialising, we did miss the opening act, but it was so much fun chatting and hearing some great road stories. We bonded over common knowledge of dodgy Dublin neighbourhoods, and really enjoyed his company. He is also, as we subsequently found out, an incredibly talented light show designer.

Happy Birthday, Roger!

The show itself was full of all the things I have come to expect from The Who in the last thirty or so years. Their setlists tend to feature their biggest hits from a wide selection of their classic albums, which satisfies the casual fans. They always throw in a few deeper cuts, and Join Together and The Rock were the choices last night. The latter song, a long instrumental from Quadrophenia may have been chosen to give Roger a moment to rest and recover his voice, but it is a great showcase for the musicianship that surrounds him and so I was happy to close my eyes and enjoy it. Pete was slightly frustrated by some recurring amp problems early on in the evening, and then “turned it up to 9” and solved whatever problem he was having. He was less chatty than usual, although he did once again reaffirm his great love for our city and in particular our fine women. There must be great stories in there somewhere…

Pete doing what he does best. Turned up to 9.

The light show and video backdrops were incredible (nice job, Tom Kenny!) and paid wonderful tribute to the history of the Who and its two fallen members, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. There were also visual references to historical events from the late 60s to the present day, including clips of Princess Diana, 9/11, and Margaret Thatcher. It worked with the music, and the jumbo screens largely complemented the songs rather than detracted from them. I expected at some point that we would be invited to sing to the birthday boy, but despite many attempts by the audience to acknowledge Roger Daltrey’s 72nd birthday, it never came to fruition.

Roger’s voice was in fine form.

Video montage during the “Tommy” portions of the set.

My only complaint about the evening was that the set was too short. It came in at just under two hours, and to my absolute shock, there were no encores. The band finished with its standards “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” after a few songs from Tommy, and I was in disbelief when the houselights came on a minute after the band left the stage. Of course, this just meant it was time to head back down and socialize in the hospitality room before heading home, which we did until we had to catch our train back home. While we had been in the cocoon of the Air Canada Centre, Toronto received its first serious dumping of snow of the winter, which made it a very beautiful but slippery walk once we were close to home.

Getting off the train to the first sight of the pretty white stuff.

One final note about this current tour: The Who have been tireless supporters of The Teenage Cancer Trust, and I was pleased last night to contribute in a small way to their continued efforts to raise money for this great cause. Who guitarist Simon Townshend generously donated his time before the show to sign autographs and take photos with fans, and I would just like to commend him and the entire Who organization for their contributions to this charity. What a great way for them to give back to a community that has given them lifelong careers.

Yours truly chatting with the very generous Simon Townshend at the charity booth for Teen Cancer America.

For those of you considering seeing The Who on what I think may well be their “final” tour, I would say to just do it. They are still sounding great and have fire in their bellies after 50 years together, and I felt the same great love for them that first convinced me to catch their last show almost 34 years ago. They are rolling through Toronto again in April, and the first I did today was find a pair of tickets to see them again. For the last time.