Avril, Sum Rock for Toronto
Canadian artists rally behind SARS-stricken city
Leave it to Toronto pop clowns Barenaked Ladies to inject humor into a touchy situation. "Give me an S! Give me an A! Give me an R!" they chanted at the Concert for Toronto, a two-venue, six-hour, all-Canadian bill featuring Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Our Lady Peace and Sarah McLachlan, among others. When the BNL's Steven Page and Ed Robertson were finished the S-A-R-S spell-out, the answer to "What you gonna do?" was "Quarantine!"
Up until that point, there had been little mention of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the disease that has hit downtown Toronto hard, leaving thousands without jobs and costing businesses an estimated $100 million Canadian -- even though SARS cases have largely been confined to regional hospitals.
The two concerts, held simultaneously at SkyDome stadium and Air Canada Centre in front of a combined 70,000 fans, were intended to boost morale and show that the city is safe -- a grand gesture to entice people to come to downtown Toronto. Many in the audience sported "I Love T.O." T-shirts made for the event -- a portion of their sales went to SARS research, and the "love" symbol was a maple leaf.
The more rocking acts -- Sum 41, Lavigne, OLP, Swollen Members, Barenaked Ladies and headliners the Tragically Hip -- played the larger SkyDome, while the softer side -- soul singers Glenn Lewis and Remy Shand, adult-pop singer Jann Arden, jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall and Sarah McLachlan -- took the stage at the Air Canada Centre.
At SkyDome, Ajax, Ontario, punks Sum 41 put on a furious show that proved they are very much at home on a stadium-sized stage. Singer-guitarist Deryck Whibley implored the crowd, "Don't go dying on me," but presumably that was to entice them to make some noise and not a reference to the thirty-six people who have died from SARS in the area.
At the Air Canada Centre, singer-songwriter Arden joked about McLachlan being her favorite "temptress vixen" on Knot's Landing, as she introduced the Vancouver singer to duet with her on "I Would Die for You." She didn't squeeze in a SARS joke there, but did tell the crowd "Sarah has been preparing a dance," and said they had both purchased new brassieres for the occasion.
Back at SkyDome, Lavigne took the pop-rock repertoire from her debut album, Let Go, and gave it a thoroughly rock rendering, playing guitar herself on some songs. When she sang, "I'm with you," it seemed to be a comforting nod to Toronto.
Right after each live set, the other venue's action was beamed in via satellite. It ran like clockwork, but such different bills made it difficult for people to remain interested in what was going on down the street.
That changed when McLachlan hit the stage for her fifty-five-minute set. The Vancouver-based singer, who has not toured for a few years, looked genuinely moved by her enormous reception. "It's been a long time for me," she said. "It's kind of freaky."
Switching between guitar and piano, McLachlan ran through her hits, including "Building a Mystery" and "Ice Cream," and invited Diana Krall and Jann Arden onstage to back her up on "I Will Remember You." "Now the complete Black Sabbath catalogue," quipped Arden before McLachlan's keyboardist broke into a riff from the metal legends. "Not my genre, sorry," replied McLachlan.
Later, McLachlan got serious. "It's really a drag that the media has portrayed it as an epidemic," she said. "The media should be held responsible" -- exactly what millions of people in Toronto have been saying for months.
(June 26, 2003)
Concert For Toronto ACC: Sexiness In The City
At first it seemed like the Concert For Toronto at the Skydome was the preferable place to be compared to its sister ACC show. That's where the fans were on their feet and screaming like banshees. That's where every seat was sold out. That's where there was the infectious energy of youth in the air. The Air Canada Centre show was slow in building momentum, but eventually beat Skydome's youth infection.
The night began with up and comer Glenn Lewis, looking like that guy you used to know in homeroom who could charm his way out of doing homework. He sang soulful soothing R 'n' B with passion in his voice, and even managed to evoke an audible whoop from the half-empty arena, but this is the type of performance where you need to see his face. With such intimate lyrics and such expression in his body, you miss a lot of power when you're 100 yards away.
This was a running theme with almost all of the performers: they weren't suited for such a large venue. When it comes to these types of artists (R 'n' B, soul, jazz, folk, alt.rock), you crave the cramped, dingy, smoky club where you can experience the intimacy of the music. For the first half of the show at the ACC, that didn't happen.
Remy Shand then took the stage looking classically cool in a fedora, light shades and an open-collared shirt. This man, although trapped behind his keyboards, looks like he's capable of reaching orgasm through playing an instrument. His fingers move so fast over the keys and, later, over his six string, that you couldn't follow them with the naked eye. His entire body was a soulful cascade. His feet danced under his seat while he nodded his head, making it look so natural.
As Jann Arden's name flashed over the JumboTron, it caused a surge of cheers from the still-half-empty arena. But as soon as she took the stage, the crowds began packing in the seats. This woman is living proof that all you need is a guitar, a spotlight and a wicked sense of humour. She moved the audience with her sombre and introspective songs, (including a ghostly rendition of "Insensitive") and then snap us back to reality with a fart joke. Pointing to the JumboTron behind her she laughed, "How big is my head there? Can I show you my lunch?" The most exciting moment was asking Sarah McLachlan, whom she introduced as "a former Knots Landing temptress," to join her in "I Would Die For You." Their combined divine voices incited a standing ovation, to which Arden reminded the crowd that she has a new record due in September.
Next was Diana Krall. Again, this was another performance better suited to a smaller venue, but although the ACC was cold, her grand piano was hot. With her sultry voice, her sexy music is too good for this era. She teased and thrilled the audience, illustrated in one song appropriately called "Temptation," which seemed to explore the fine line between enticement and damnation.
The night finally became a blockbuster as the much anticipated Sarah McLachlan took the stage for her first public appearance in Toronto since 1999's "Mirrorball" (and her cookbook, Plenty). She took the time off to get all happy and domesticated with her new baby, which she commented on with, "Being a mom is fabulous. It's the best thing in the world. I highly recommend it." It made me want to be her child just so that she could sing me to sleep. In her absence, I almost forgot about her angelic voice and her powerful and potent songs. I realized how much I missed seeing her sway, shrug and flirt with the piano. She's still a stunning beauty and still such a wonderful performer that it makes our being deprived of her for so long that much more painful. Beginning her set with the powerhouse of "Possession," she banged through hits like "Building A Mystery," "Adia," "Ice Cream," "Sweet Surrender" and "Hold On," all the while smiling through the blinding camera flashes and looking genuinely ecstatic to be back on stage. Songs like "I Will Remember You" (with Jann Arden and Diana Krall on backup) and her encore song of "Angel" reminded me of all the tragedies we've been plagued with since we last heard these songs. Even the roadies and teamsters standing in the wings stopped and watched her in silent awe. She left the stage with a standing ovation behind her, from a full house.
—Christine Estima

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