I have attended some 300 concerts during my lifetime but (sadly! as I think back on it today) only started writing full reviews in July 2007. Man oh man!, I wish I had had this epiphany so many years earlier when I witnessed the best acts in the world perform! Their greatness and glory were recorded in my heart and my musical soul but the specific exquisite beauty that they imprinted on me are now chiefly lost in the mists of time because memory is a fickle friend, especially as one grows older.
However, I do remember some things about a lot of these concerts and I guess I will try to collect my thoughts and recreate some of these memories and share them anyway. I recently discovered a photo album in which I had kept many of my tickets stubs (and thankfully jotted down a few notes!) and stored press clippings from reviews that appeared in the newspapers after concerts between 1985 and 1988. I suspect there may be another volume out there, but, at least, while I look for it, I have a basis to jog my memory a bit. So here are the highlights (or low lights!) in as sequential an order as I can muster (given the somewhat jumbled nature that memories usually tend to resurface):
Bryan Adams (with opening act Idle Eyes) at the Civic Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (September 1985): my first official concert all by myself. Bryan Adams: A simple guy in a white T-shirt and blue jeans and a guitar. I kept wondering why there were so many screaming (and I mean shrieking!) teenage girls at this concert. Guess I wasn’t all that attuned to what a heartthrob Bryan was to the young ladies and why he caused such a fuss. I witnessed my first mosh pit at this concert. I came for the music and Bryan Adams delivered.
Genesis at the CNE Stadium in Toronto (October 23, 1986): I took a 4-hour bus ride from Ottawa to Toronto to attend this concert with my brother who had flown up from Nova Scotia. It was open air under driving rain. Quite uncomfortable but a helluva show! Well, that is until one guy and his girlfriend stood up on their chairs and screamed for Genesis to play In The Cage, like it was their personal song or something. They became so obnoxious and interfered with everybody’s viewing of the concert that were in their line of sight that some frustrated fan, at one point, ran up some ten rows of seats, and knocked the dude back into his steel chair to the delight of the crowd around me. The guy behaved after that rude awakening. I remember Phil Collins and Chester Thompson playing a monstrously long drum duet on Dance On A Volcano like it was yesterday. And the band played a fantastic set on Home By The Sea and Second Home By The Sea. Very haunting! It made it all worthwhile, especially being totally soaked and having to take the long bus ride home before hitting the hottest shower in memory.
This is one for the ages: the aborted Luba concert at the Winterlude Festival in Ottawa that was supposed to take place on Lake Dow but had to be cancelled when the ice started giving way under the pressure of the bigger-than-expected crowd that had come to see the show. That is one concert I will always regret not having seen. Freaky experience though to have to evacuate an open-air venue like that and as slowly and quietly as possible to not provoke a shift in weight on the ice! A few years later in 1986, the band was involved in a serious road accident with its tour bus and took some time off before returning to the music scene.
Peter Gabriel at the Montreal Forum (with opening act Youssou N’Dour)(July 13, 1987)(So Tour): This was my first time (and my first of many times) seeing Peter Gabriel in concert and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Always the consummate professional. The opening act, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, also had a phenomenal voice.
U2 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal (October 1, 1987 – Joshua Tree Tour) with opening acts Little Steven and Los Lobos: I was waaaay high up in the stadium!
- Where The Streets Have No Name
- I Will Follow
- Trip Through Your Wires
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / Exodus (snippet)
- The Unforgettable Fire
- Exit / Riders On The Storm (snippet) / Van Morrison’s Gloria (snippet)
- In God’s Country
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
- People Get Ready
- New Year’s Day
- Pride (In The Name Of Love)
The review in the Montreal Gazette the next day read as follows:
Montreal Gazette, October 2, 1987
Wild U2 crusaders stride in and conquer the Big O beast
by John Griffin
In the whole wide world today, there is only one band capable of confronting the Olympic Stadium beast and staring it down. That band is U2.
The Irish Quartet strode like wild Western crusaders into the heart of acoustic darkness before 65,000 fanatic believers last night and turned potential disaster into a victory that had more to do with religious communion than it did with rock’n’roll.
With singer Bono leading the service despite an arm broken from a recent fall from a stage in Cleveland, the globe’s most popular group staged a performance of messianic proportions that was easily a match for the Big O’s daunting dimensions.
The stage itself was enormous, framed by a giant, delicate Japanese screen of a desert motif, taken from their multi-million selling LP The Joshua Tree.
As the strains of the Beatles’ All You need is Love on the p.a. system faded away, U2 quietly took the stage, plugged into many many thousands of watts of power, and leapt immediately to the attack with the galloping rhythms of Where the Streets Have No Name, followed that with I will Follow, had the entire venue singing a cappella to their new anthem I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and drove the assembled to frightening intensity with Sunday Bloody Sunday. The magic in the place was palpable and set the tone for the rest of the performance.
Indeed, it took magic and tremendous faith to make something of the night. Tens of thousands had stood cheek to leather jacket on the stadium floor waiting through opening sets with Little Steven and Los Lobos for the opportunity to see their idols as something more than inch-high heroes.
The going was brutal in the ranks directly in front of the stage andsecurity guards pulled fainting kids out of the masses like fish from a spawning river all night. Were it not for the tremendous moral force U2 exercises with its music and personal stance, this could have been a tragic time.
As it was, the sight of all those bodies swaying and waving like asea of light was one to treasure. This was no conventional concert; it was an event.
And a classy one at that, given the impossibility of making real music in a building whose roof now lends it the look of a hotel toilet bowl with sanitary cover neatly in place.
Little Steven was fed to the sonic lions in the early slot, while kids were still stumbling for their seats in complete darkness. Los Lobos, make that Lost Lobos, fared only slightly better, though they raised a huge cry with La Bamba, which thes kids recognized despite the echo factor.
Still, in a situation where only the largest gestures could make an impact, small things made the difference. There was terrific music in the lengthy down time between sets from cats like Hank Williams, Little Richard, Booker T. and the Waterboys.
There was a raised platform and special toilet built on the stadium floor for the handicapped.
And U2 saw to it Amnesty International had a booth in the foyer to compete with the T-shirt and fast food concessions.
Little touches, but they added elements of humanity to an inhuman hall that U2’s performance drove on home.
© 1987 Montreal Gazette.
Heart at the Montreal Forum (October 14, 1987)(Bad Animals Tour): All I can say is the song Alone and Nancy Wilson! Need I say more? (Well, there was Ann Wilson‘s powerhouse voice too!)
The Cars at the Montreal Forum (Hallowe’en Night, October 1987): they played to the half-bowl configuration (about 9,000 people) and what a shame for those who were not in attendance! Glorious concert, both visually and sonically! Still one of my all-time faves. Those bass lines will forever remain imprinted in my mind.
John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, on one of his so-called final tours, at the Montreal Forum (February, 1988). A thoroughly enjoyable experience and, as I recall, quite a long (like nearly 3-hour) concert. I remember the power of Kenny Aronoff on the drums and the overall fantastic musicianship of the entire band, in particular a violinist who was introduced to us that night, Lisa Germano.
Rush at the Montreal Forum (March, 1988)(opening act Icehouse): My notes say: Great light show and projections. My memory agrees. And the songs weren’t too shabby either. Superb live band!
Pink Floyd at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal (May 11, 1988): the first time I saw Pink Floyd, I was up in the rafters and the sound just wailed in distortion hell while we watched the famed pig fly around. During a later tour, I wasn’t so much in the boonies (Level 3 instead of 5 if I recall right) but it didn’t matter: they installed quadrophonic amps all throughout the stadium and the sound was unreal. Visually and aurally stunning!
Rod Stewart at the Montreal Forum (August 31, 1988). Rod Stewart is another artist who is very popular in Montreal and sometimes schedules sold-out concerts twice (and even once, I remember, three times) a year. I had a seat on the floor, around the 15th row. I was amazed by how energetic Rod Stewart was as a performer, prancing up and down the stage the entire concert long, for about 2 and a half hours. He struck me as being very physically fit, indefatigable really, and he was in good vocal form, kicking soccer balls into the crowd at the end of the concert as he often does (perhaps a wink to another professional career he nearly had). I remember this concert for an entirely different reason as well: a dude in the row ahead of me offered me coke to snort at one point during the concert (which I politely declined!) I mean – seriously! – who does cocaine at a concert? Some peeps I guess! With way too much money to blow (pun intended)! I returned to see Rod the Mod one Valentine’s Day another year. Great showman!
Pat Benatar at the Montreal Forum (September 10, 1988): I was struck by how effortlessly she could climb vocally but disappointed in her stage presence, her turning her back on crowd. She seemed lethargic and to put all her eggs in one basket, namely her incredible voice that clearly dominated a very loud sound and the rest of the band. The music was good, very good even, but the delivery left a lot to be desired. I remember being dumbfounded by how that was possible for a band that had been performing for so long. The opening act, called Rhythm Corps, had two drummers and they sounded amazing!
Human Rights Now! Concert
The Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour brought a whole slew of international artists to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on September 17, 1988 before some 80,000 fans: Los Lobos opened at 5 p.m., then Tracy Chapman whose voice just rolled off the walls and sounded even better than on record, and we were treated to Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen. Sting and Peter Gabriel addressed the crowd nearly entirely in French and even explained their songs in French before performing them. Bruce Springsteen tried to get a few words in French in but failed rather miserably but it’s the intention that counts. The party broke up at way past 1 a.m. with all the artists on stage signing The Chimes of Freedom and Get up! Stand up! 8 hours of concert. Tired but soooo happy! Getting home via the subway connecting to the stadium was murder but soooo worth it!
Cheap Trick at the Montreal Forum (February 10, 1989)(opening act: Eddie Money): I still think this was the loudest concert I ever attended. Incredibly show but my ears buzzed for 4 days straight afterwards. Cheap Trick are loud to the Nth degree!
Red Rider at Place des Arts in Montreal (February 16, 1989)(opening act: The Northern Pikes): Red Rider is one of the most underrated bands in the world. This concert was so exceptional that I remember thinking to myself that they deserved their place on a much bigger stage. There were moments in this performance when I thought I was witnessing shades of Pink Floyd by another name. Outstanding live band!
Chris De Burgh
Chris De Burgh at the Montreal Forum (February 27, 1989): One of the best light shows I have ever seen!
Brighton Rock at Club Soda in Montreal (March 4, 1989): on a night when they were filming for an upcoming video. I’m sure there’s a video out there somewhere of me tripping out to the band’s music. The lead singer (Gerry McGhee) even pointed to me at one point because I guess I was having a good time.
Mike + The Mechanics
Mike + The Mechanics (with opening act The Outfield) at an outdoor concert at La Ronde on Île Sainte-Hélène, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (summer 1989): The artists played on a floating stage placed in front of a small amphitheatre (on terra firma). They arrived on stage via boat. Really cool. I attended with my friend The Prof who had come to visit. Both bands were very good.
U2 at the Montreal Forum March 23, 1992 (Zoo TV Tour). This was a much more ‘intimate’ venue, holding just under 20,000. It was the most disconcerting, bewildering visual bombardment on screen overlaid on music I have ever experienced in my concert life. Every few seconds, words would appear on the giant screen that ran the length and height of the stage (and, by the way, was created by technological wizards in Montreal), in rapid-fire sequence. You would barely have time to read the words and absorb the images thrown at you and immediately you were subjected to more. It was, I assume, intentional. The concert left me feeling overwhelmed and drained, in a good but strange way. I was left with visions of what it would be like to live in an Orwellian world where the state controls your thoughts and absolutely everything you are exposed to. Perhaps that was the point.
Genesis at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal (May 29, 1992): I remember vividly the pungent smell of pot and beer before, during and after this concert. This was the first time I saw a band actually manage to produce quality sound and tame the Beast (the Olympic Stadium and its renowned poor acoustics) and I think it was chiefly due to the fact that they toned down the volume and actually sounded halfway decent in a stadium that is notorious for its ‘howl’ effect.
U2 PopMart Tour (November 2, 1997): I remember how big a production this was for some 65,000 fans but, as is nearly always the case, the sound at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal (The Big O — or Big Owe — as we call it locally) tends to become quite warped. It’s not like listening to the CD in the comfort of your home and expecting the same quality live.
Bon Jovi / Nickelback
Nickelback outdoor concert in Parc Jean-Drapeau at Île Sainte-Hélène in Montreal (July 13, 2006), in the middle of the Saint-Lawrence River. Very disappointed in them as a show. They were the opening act for Bon Jovi and, when they failed to warm the crowd up with what was quite frankly a dismal stage presence and an attitude like they were winging it through the songs (the vocals were fine but the delivery was nonchalant – I couldn’t believe that a band that had toured the world could be that casual!), they resorted to vulgarity as a means of riling up the crowd. Major turnoff!
Bon Jovi took to the stage as the sun set. Gorgeous! Very professional show! Bon Jovi is quite the staple in Montreal, performing here on average twice a year to sold-out crowds. When they put out a new album, Quebec is one of their markets in the world where their music sells the fastest and they are well aware of this, always putting on a good show here. I don’t know what the specific fascination is with Bon Jovi in Montreal, aside from the fact that there’s a sizeable Italian population and Jon Bon Jovi is an attractive man, which doesn’t hurt with the ladies, but whatever it is, it is palpable in Montreal.
Aerosmith / Mötley Crüe / The Panic Channel
Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe (with The Panic Channel as opening act) at the Bell Centre in Montreal (December 5, 2006): very disappointed overall in this concert. Aside from the lead singer’s brilliant vocals (Steve Isaacs), The Panic Channel looked at sounded like they didn’t want to be there, and Dave Navarro was just dialling it in, even smoking while playing as if that made him one cool cat. They looked bored and had no chemistry onstage. Mötley Crüe was actually not a whole lot better and their act, with half-naked dancing girls in cages, was pretty jaded and predictable. And, when Tommy Lee‘s drumming in and of itself was not sufficient to whip the crowd into ecstasy, he started a tired old spiel of insulting the crowd with profanities (Get up off your fucking butts and dance!) and passing the Jaegermeister bottle along to the front rows. Pretty lame really. Most disappointing of all was Aerosmith however. This concert took place a short time after the band had put out a much more blues album and they insisted on playing the entire new album and very few of their mega-hits (I believe four or five only when that what the crowd really wanted!). It is not the hard-rocking most fans had come expecting to see I think. Although Dream On, which was performed as Steve Tyler walked up and down a long extension of the stage into the middle of the venue, was divine!
Rockstar Supernova / Dilana / Juke Kartel
RockStar Supernova at the Bell Centre in Montreal (January 23, 2007): VIP seating in the 5th row if I recall with my longtime friend The Prof who travelled to Montreal to spend a week with me and take in this concert.
Opening acts: Dilana, quite good, Juke Kartel, very, very good, I remember feeling their music bore into me from the concrete floor. Amazing drummer!
Melissa Etheridge at Place des Arts in Montreal: when you attend a Melissa Etheridge concert and you are not gay, you suddenly and very openly feel in the minority. She is quite the performer on stage with the torch songs and lyrics of unrequited love. She truly is a female version of The Boss.
Phil Collins at the Montreal Forum:
Deep Purple / Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the Montreal Forum:
Styx / Kansas
Kansas and Styx at the Montreal Forum: I had never imagined that Kansas had that hard a sound. Bordering on metal at times really. I was very impressed. I will never forget Carry On Wayward Son and Dust In The Wind live. Nor am I likely to erase from my memory Styx‘s rendition of Suite Madam Blue live.
Yes at the Montreal Forum:
Journey with Steve Augeri singing lead vocals at an outdoor concert at a 4-H Fair in Vermont: I got sick on one of the rides and had to buy a new T-shirt. Aside from that mishap, the concert was fantastic.
I Musici at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Just so peeps don’t go around saying I got no ‘culture’ and am unwilling to try new things or something, I did attend a real classic concert once. Hey! The ticket was free. Not what I expected. Not bad but too slow for the Maestro.