The Stones rock 450,000 fans in T.O.

JANE STEVENSON, JIM SLOTEK AND MARY DICKIE
Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

TORONTO -- Mick Jagger was the undisputed host last night of SARS-stock, or as he called it "the biggest party in Toronto's history!"

"You're here and we're here, and Toronto's back -- it's booming," proclaimed the 60-year-old rock icon at Downsview Park.

But by the time the Rolling Stones got started at 10 p.m, about 15 minutes later than scheduled with Start Me Up, the crowd seemed ready to wind down.

Standing in a large field under the blazing sun for 12 hours -- gates opened at 8 a.m. and the sun didn't really start to go down until 8 p.m. -- will do that to you.

Still, Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood and drummer Charlie Watts, eventually warmed to the task of reviving the masses with such classics as Brown Sugar, Tumblin' Dice, Ruby Tuesday, You Can't Always Get What You Want, It's Only Rock And Roll and Sympathy For The Devil.

And, eventually, the audience responded. Or at least those who weren't fleeing the grounds in droves trying to avoid the crush of the crowd once the Stones left the stage.

"It's a fantastic night, it's a fantastic time," Jagger said. "You've made us feel really welcome tonight. You've always made us feel welcome in Toronto.

The Stones interrupted their European tour to come across the Atlantic and play in the city where they've rehearsed for three world tours and often played surprise club shows.

The first real surprise of last night was the presence of Justin Timberlake on Miss You, although The Toronto Sun yesterday had exclusively reported the duet would occur.

Unfortunately, Jagger and Timberlake didn't really mesh in terms of style, particularly when Timberlake inserted the chorus of his song, Cry Me A River, into the Stones' disco-inflected chestnut.

Another strange twist was when Richards -- "Unexpected visit, huh?" were the only words I was initially able to make out -- took over lead vocals on a cover of the standard Nearness Of You.

Richards did much better on Happy.

"It's good to be back," he said. "It's good to be anywhere!"

The only other guest to join the Stones -- although U2 frontman Bono was reportedly sighted on the grounds -- was AC/DC guitarist Angus Young who returned to the stage for a cover of B.B. King's Rock Me Baby.

Young's brief appearance was enough to re-energize the crowd and sustain them through three more Stones classics Honky Tonk Women, Satisfaction and Jumpin' Jack Flash.

FANTASTIC, SAYS MICK

Not all the politicians were in the VIP section. Some of them were booked to play. Case in point, ladies and gentlemen, your headliners, the Rolling Stones.

"Welcome to Canada!" Mick Jagger yelled cheerfully to the backstage crowd of press, unleashing a string of "fantastics" in a fleeting meeting just before the Stones' headline set.

"I saw the crowd from the back of the stage and it looked fantastic," he said. "One of the most fantastic things we've ever seen. It is the biggest crowd we've ever played to, so it is a fantastic event."

But historic? "Well, in terms of numbers," he said. "But I'm not writing history. You have to do the day first."

For his part, Keith Richards (Charlie Watts and Ron Wood contributed little but bemused smiles) summed up his emotions thus: "I'm just waking up, and it feels great! It's a big day for everybody."

Jagger allowed as to how one or more of his daughters had made their way to the wings to watch Justin Timberlake. Asked for details of the clan in tow, he said enigmatically "We have tons of family everywhere! They're all here!" he said, indicating the carpet of humanity not far away.

Hard to argue with that.

RATING: (3.5 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (7out of 10)


AC/DC

It took an Australian rock band to really kick the biggest rock concert in Canadian history into high gear during the evening portion of SARS-Stock.

Not surprisingly, it was ballsy veteran rockers AC/DC led by full-throated singer Brian Johnson and boys-school-uniform-wearing guitarist Angus Young.

Leading off their 70-minute set with Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be, the bad boys from Down Under hit their stride quickly with fan favourites Back In Black, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Thunderstruck.

It was hard to top the classic rock moment of Back In Black and the sight of Young wailing away on the guitar during his signature solo, although later tunes You Shook Me All Night Long and the encore number Highway To Hell came awfully close.

"Hey, Toronto, thanks for bringing us here," yelled Johnson, whose enthusiasm inspired clap-alongs on more than one occasion.

Other highlights included Hells Bells, complete with the video of a bell clanging in a ring of fire, and The Jack, which featured Young's well-known striptease. This time, though, the latter ended with Young pulling down his shorts to reveal red-and-white boxer shorts decorated by a Canadian maple leaf.

Helping AC/DC get the audience's support was the fact that by the time they took the stage, the sun had gone down to allow two huge video screens on either side of the stage to really flicker to life.

So you could see them as well as hear them.

RATING: (4 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (9 out of 10)


RUSH

Everybody has a lot of respect for hometown prog-rock veterans Rush.

And even if you weren't a fan, the Toronto trio of singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart easily won over the crowd at Downsview Park with an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black.

"Thanks for coming to our hometown," Lee acknowledged at one point during their 35-minute set.

Sandwiched between Rush's own Closer To The Heart and The Spirit Of Radio, the Stones' classic didn't come a moment too soon.

Their polished if challenging rock music wasn't exactly what the doctor ordered after a long, long, hot day in the sun.

And from three-quarters of a mile back -- where the music reviewers "front of house" compound unbelievably was set up -- it was even harder to appreciate.

Most reviewers watched from the back of a fenced-in compound.

From there, they could view the action on a big screen with a speaker that managed to broadcast sharp, crisp sound.

Otherwise, the alternative was a riser that gave a clear view of the stage but it was so far away the group was almost impossible to see.

Rush kicked off their show with the oldie but goodie Tom Sawyer, but the energy level wasn't kept up as they slid through other songs like Limelight, YYZ and Freewill.

'STANDING UP FOR OUR HOMETOWN'

On the one hand, Rush had claimed to be taking a year off after touring last year in support of their album Vapor Trails.

So their appearance yesterday was above and beyond the call of duty.

On the other hand, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson both considered it somewhat of a walk in (Downsview) Park.

"We're used to playing three-hour sets," Lee said. "Believe me, 30 minutes is refreshingly short for us."

"Plus," said Lifeson, "it's a local gig, so you can take a cab."

In fact, when the call came to join the show, says Lee, "Alex was mixing the DVD of our last tour and I was in the south of France with my family. We were all doing different things. But we wouldn't miss a chance to stand up for our hometown."

"All I can say to the health-care workers is 'Bravo.' I don't think people realize, they have no clue what the health-care workers in this city have been through."

RATING: (3 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (4 out of 10)


GUESS WHO

SARS-stock got a major Can-Con injection from '70s rock veterans The Guess Who, whose appearance at Downsview Park last night spurred some major Canadian flag waving among the crowd.

Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman and singer Burton Cummings, joined by drummer Garry Peterson, rhythm guitarist Donnie McDougall and bassist Bill Wallace, were a nice contrast coming after pop heart-throb Justin Timberlake.

But it was a Bachman-Turner-Overdrive song, Takin' Care Of Business, and not a Guess Who number, that got the biggest reaction as the highlight of the band's five-song set got the first clap-along of the five evening performances.

It also inspired Bachman to insert a little bit of the national anthem, O Canada, into his guitar solo.

Still, the group followed that nicely with The Guess Who's American Woman, featuring yet another electrifying solo by Bachman.

Although the band was scheduled to have an encore, they didn't return after the last song, No Time, which featured Bachman, Cummings and McDougall rocking in tandem with their guitars at the front of the stage.

BACHMAN BEEFS UP ON PRIME CUT

In the words of Liberal MP and concert organizer Dennis Mills: "We've got to sensitize people to eat more beef!"

And he could find no better spokesman than Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman.

"Pretty much all I eat is salmon and beef," said Bachman, who has lost 150 pounds on a low carb diet (and was the only member of the band not sweating after their early evening set.)

Ever the lyricist, Cummings had his own take on what it's like facing a crowd of nearly a half a million.

"It's incredible," he says. "Your point of view from the stage is that the horizon meets the crowd."

Bachman also gets the award for best networking, getting his daughter to slip Justin Timberlake a demo CD of a song he wrote with Justin in mind.

The handoff occurred in the special train that took the talent from Mimico to Downsview.

"He said 'Thanks man,' " Bachman said.

For his part, Timberlake was gracious about the demo.

"I'll definitely listen to it. I'd love to sit in a studio and pick his (Randy's) brain. Who knows what we'd come up with?"

RATING: (3.5 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (6 out of 10)


JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

Booing concert goers might have thrown water bottles on stage when Justin Timberlake came out to perform.

But he's no fool.

He knew as the only young pop act on yesterday's 11-hour, SARS-Stock bill he should 'fess up really early in his jam-filled 20-minute set as to the real reason why he was on stage at Downsview Park.

"I think I'm here for the same reason you are all here," the 22-year-old singer told the crowd at the dinner hour. "And that's to see the Rolling Stones."

It was reported exclusively yesterday by The Sun that Timberlake would be singing backup on the Stones' Miss You, which he did.

Clearly, he didn't fit the evening rock-and-roll bill.

The former NSYNC star performed just three songs from his solo debut, Justified, opening with a lengthy version of the breaking-up-with-Britney tune, Cry Me A River.

An unnecessarily long keyboard solo introduced the tune as Timberlake addressed the real reason 450,000 people had gathered on the former military base.

"What's up, Toronto?" said the baseball cap-wearing performer.

"Are we here to put the city back up after SARS? This will be over before you know it!"

Earth to Justin. The SARS crisis passed a long time ago in the city.

It's now just a perception thing, thus yesterday's marathon show.

Timberlake remains in town tonight to play the second show of his Justified/

Stripped tour with Christina Aguilera at the Air Canada Centre.

JAGGER'S DAUGHTERS ARE FANS

"If I came to see AC/DC, I probably wouldn't want to see me either," Justin Timberlake told the press just after his tug-of-war with a largely booing audience.

Probably the most talked-about act on the bill after the Stones themselves, the former NSYNC heartthrob admitted "when I saw the bill, I felt most of all like a fish out of water. So to see people dancing at the end of the set was really cool. It was much cooler at the end, versus at the beginning."

Selling out the Air Canada Centre was one thing, "but to play my songs for people that probably wouldn't be able to hear them otherwise, well ... years from now they'll say that's something you did in your career for all the right reasons."

Timberlake, who made the trip to Toronto with "my mom, my friends and family," was particularly gratified to hear Mick Jagger's daughters took in the act from the wings. "I was told afterwards, and that's just indescribable," Timberlake said. "I'm as big a fan as anybody in the crowd of the Stones and AC/DC."

CP reported that a small white utility vehicle zipped Jagger and family back to their pre-show quarters after Timberlake's set.

RATING: (3 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (3 out of 10)


BLUE RODEO

Blue Rodeo are the hometown heroes of SARS-stock, and were greeted as such by the thoroughly sun-baked but happy crowd. Even so, the band was limited to the same short 15-minute set as everyone else in the first half of the show. And, like most of the other bands, they played old favourites rather than new material.

They began with Jim Cuddy's evocative voice singing the opening bars of Trust Yourself solo, which soon was filled out by the remaining band members and the full horn section they've been using lately.

Following that was one of their best songs, Hasn't Hit Me Yet, on which Greg Keelor brought forth tantalizing images of snow and cold December nights through the sweaty Downsview haze.

They finished with another oldie, Lost Together, which used the horns to full effect. It had to be the shortest Blue Rodeo show ever, just a sweet taste of their usual marathon set.

KEELOR A LITTLE SARSCASTIC

The more acerbic of the Blue Rodeo duo of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, Keelor met the press solo after their set with a somewhat trenchant view of putting Toronto back on the map.

"Was it ever off the map?" he said. "I suppose it (the show) is a good thing if it takes the hype out of SARS."

Then he turned to the subject of health care workers. "I think the health care workers should've gotten the money that the (Tragically) Hip and Sarah McLachlan got for their SARS benefit." That would be the ACC/SkyDome gig in June. "It's my understanding," he went on, "that there's a substantial amount of money here that's going to be allocated to a SARS foundation."

Keelor and the band flew in from Vancouver for the show, "and it's been a very pleasant experience to go up and play for all those people.

"But I have a feeling my greatest moment of the day hasn't happened yet," he said as The Guess Who started up.

RATING: (3.5 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (7 out of 10)


ISLEY BROTHERS

Sass Jordan may have been sweating to her oldies onstage, but The Isley Brothers soon proved they can teach not only Jordan but all the other SARS-stock performers how to keep old songs fresh and exciting.

The Isleys, who have been playing together for four decades now, trotted out classic hits like Sly & the Family Stone's I Want To Take You Higher and their own It's Your Thing and Sexy Lady, and performed them as if they were brand new.

Ronald Isley's amazingly supple voice and his brother Ernie's funky guitar playing were backed by a super-tight band, which made hips shake in the heat. The Isleys finished with their signature song Shout, which upped the energy level on the field by several notches. Too bad they played such a brief set.

LIKE OLDER BROTHERS TO THE STONES

Believe it or not, there are bands that predate the Rolling Stones.

As of Tuesday, it was 44 years since the Isley Brothers recorded their signature hit Shout, original member Ronald Isley reported backstage yesterday. And when the Rolling Stones crossed the pond in the '60s and toured with the band, Jagger latched onto Ronald for R&B mentoring.

"Mick was always asking questions like 'How many pairs of shoes does James Brown have?' And 'How many people fit into the Apollo?' " Isley said.

"We go back some years and we're friends. It would be nice to do more dates with them."

In the meantime, Ronald and Ernest Isley are set to record an album with Burt Bacharach.

As for the cause of the day, Ronald said, "I haven't heard anybody cough or anything. Whoever hasn't come here should come."

RATING: (4.5 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (7 out of 10)


SASS JORDAN

Sass Jordan has got to be the comeback kid of Canadian rock, bursting out of semi-obscurity with her current job as a judge for Canadian Idol and her best-of album in the stores this week.

Jordan, who had her major hits back in the '80s, and her band played their workmanlike blues rock for the crowd.

They started with the old hit High Road Easy and continuing with spirited versions of You Don't Have To Remind Me and the new song Brand New Day.

Then Jordan brought guitarist Jeff Healey up to help her out on her early hit Make You A Believer.

It was proficient but hardly exciting.

TV CRITIC LETS US BE THE JUDGE

She's a cold-eyed critic these days as a judge on Canadian Idol, but Sass Jordan summed up her set with newlywed Jeff Healey with 10 starstruck words.

"If my 14-year-old self could see me now!"

Sure, she admits, people have the knives out for critics who perform, "but when you're a performer, you're a target anyway," she says.

"There are going to be people like you and people who hate you.

"As for the kids on the show, what we do is the mildest criticism they're going to get."

These are heady days for Jordan, the more veteran of the two women on the bill. Canadian Idol is down to the final 11 contestants (it's shot live Mondays and Tuesdays), she has a new album out "and I'm shooting a video tomorrow. I think I'm gonna die.

"Thank God for my J.Lo glamour glasses," she said, pointing to her red-eye camouflaging shades.

Fellow Idol judges Farley Flex and Jake Gold (who has since become Sass' manager) spent time giving high fives in the crowd.

"It's amazing how well known we are all of a sudden," said Gold.

He was watching the show and keeping his critical faculties intact, having agreed to give an Idol-like critique of the band's on a Winnipeg radio station.

RATING: (3 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (6 out of 10)


FLAMING LIPS

Now this is showmanship!

The Flaming Lips presented a wild rock-'n'-roll spectacle as they came on stage, with singer Wayne Coyne dressed in a plain white suit and everyone else -- band members as well as numerous dancers -- dressed as giant furry bunnies, ducks, frogs, zebras, smiling Sunshine figures, even Santa Claus.

During their first song, Race For The Prize, Coyne tossed a giant balloon in the air, and eventually burst it, to the delight of the crowd.

But ultimately it was the appealing melodies of the songs and Coyne's good-natured, enthusiastic singing that proved to be the most pleasing aspect of their performance.

PLAYING AT 'THE SECOND COMING'

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said his band was just looking for an excuse to play Toronto when they were invited on the SARS-stock bill.

"It's one of those great places to play and we hadn't been here since we did a show with Beck (last year). So when we were invited to open for the Rolling Stones, we said sure.

"And little by little, it turned into the Second Coming."

"It's very much Canadian news," he said, "although I did hear some ads in Oklahoma City, touting the 'Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Oklahoma City's own Flaming Lips!' "

The band ended up conscripting Kathleen Edwards' and Sam Roberts' entire bands to dress up as giant plush animals for their set -- a band tradition since the day a friend showed up at a show "after having taken two hits of LSD and came dressed as a giant rabbit."

"People in weirdo bands know who we are, and there are about 100 of them backstage now."

Among past participants: Justin Timberlake, who played bass with the band last January on the British series Top Of The Pops, dressed as a giant dolphin.

RATING: (4 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (6 out of 10)


TEA PARTY

The Tea Party's dark and mystical musings seemed a little out of place in the searing sun of Downsview Park, but the Windsor trio made a concerted effort to get their message of doom across to the partying crowd.

They opened their set with Temptation, and then moved right on to their hit Heaven's Coming Down, which at some point was melded into Hendrix's All Along The Watchtower.

Singer Jeff Martin then asked for, and got, some "audience participation" for the eastern-flavoured Sister Awake. "Watch the drummer!" he shouted, and many fans obliged, following the lead of drummer Jeff Burrows and clapping along with Martin and his acoustic guitar and later bongos. The song eventually became a showcase for Burrows as he pounded away on the drum kit while Martin exhorted his "sisters" to join in. Some even did.

TEA PARTY ON THE BOILING POINT ...

"I definitely picked the wrong wardrobe," said a moist Tea Party lead singer Jeff Martin, clad in black leather pants, black suit jacket and black shirt. "It is really, really hot out there."

Though the name Doors is usually invoked alongside their name, The Tea Party had shown themselves to be true Stones fans, finishing their set with a cover of Paint It Black. Asked what he'd like to take away from the experience, Martin said "Mick's belt buckle."

"I'm experienced with crowds," Martin said, "but this is a whole different psychology. There's no precedent for this. I'm still shaking."

Ironically, the band had been booked to open for the Stones in Toronto and Montreal in 1995. The T.O. date was cancelled because of Mick's sore throat, and the Montreal date was nixed because part of the roof at the Big O fell in. "We ended up playing the Reverb," drummer Jeff Burrows said. "Sadly the Stones didn't show."

RATING: (2 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (5 out of 10)


LA CHICANE

La Chicane was by far the least-known of the bands to perform at SARS-stock, but the crowd of well-behaved Torontonians and guests listened politely as the band from Val d'Or, Que., ran through an energetic set of French songs from their Ent'nous Autres album.

Pony-tailed Boom Desjardins sang passionately and bravely to a curious audience, as his band played a mixture of folk, bluesy rock, Latin and reggae sounds decorated with honking saxophone and smooth harmonies.

TATTOO YOU

Their English is a work in progress, but Val d'Or, Que., rockers La Chicane found a graphic way to express their admiration for the headliners.

The night before the show, keyboardist Eric Lemieux -- already the possessor of a sizeable amount of body decoration -- got a Rolling Stones "Lips" tattoo on his left bicep at a Queen St. parlour.

"It's permanent," he said. "That's how big a fan I am."

With more than 200,000 records sold in Quebec, but virtually unknown in English Canada, "we were worried, about our spot on the show and how the crowd would be," said lead singer Christian Legault. "But we feel we gave a good rock show, and they appreciated us."

RATING: (3 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (3 out of 10)


SAM ROBERTS

Montreal singer/ songwriter Sam Roberts and his band, which includes bassist Dave Nugent, drummer Corey Zadorozny and guitarist Eric Fares, played just three songs -- his hits.

Nevertheless, Roberts managed to light up the crowd with enthusiastic encouragements to make the most of this "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," with great songs, with energetic stage moves and with his attractively hoarse singing voice.

People close to a mile back in the rutted fields and decrepit runways of this former air-force base were soon singing along with Roberts' catchy pop/rock songs.

'I'VE NEVER BEEN SO NERVOUS'

Beer in hand, Sam Roberts met the press after his set and held forth on the axiom that you shouldn't drink on an empty stomach.

"I ate beef twice today and yesterday, too. You're doing yourself a major disservice by depriving yourself," he said, plugging one of the concert's major causes.

After emcees Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi warmed up the crowd with their Have Love, Will Travel Revue, Roberts was the first act of the day.

As for his set, Roberts said, "I've never been so nervous since my early violin recitals -- which convinced me that I'd never be a violinist. But, then, I get nervous in front of 50 people. It's not natural to play music in front of people."

His favourite band going in? The Flaming Lips.

"But I saw AC/DC do their sound check, and I'm convinced they're going to blow everybody away."

His main job over, Roberts said he'd been hanging around in the wings, "trying to get an impromptu jam session organized. It's a mysterious place, a lot of strange things happening back there, a lot of which I can't talk about. I'd be breaking the code. I will tell you there are a lot of people eating steak."

RATING: (4 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (5 out of 10)


KATHLEEN EDWARDS

Kathleen Edwards, one of only two female acts performing at SARS-stock, introduced herself by saying, "I know you don't know who I am ..."

But it soon became apparent that a surprising number of people in the crowd did actually know who the alt-country 'It' girl is, and they enjoyed her music.

The Ottawa singer/songwriter was addressing a few more people than she's used to performing for in the folk-festival and club circuits. But Edwards' sensitive, soulful songs, such as One More Song The Radio Won't Like and the single Six O'Clock News -- about an ex-lover who came to no good -- went over well.

And her band -- bassist Kevin McCarragher, drummer Joel Anderson and guitarist Colin Cripps -- added a professional sheen to her otherwise raw, sad tunes.

DANCING GIG

"It was really dull," Ottawa country-rocker Kathleen Edwards said dryly about her experience. "I'm looking forward to getting back to the Horseshoe."

"I did see a lot of breasts," she went on. "It's amazing to hold a mike in front of 400,000 people. It's the most people I'll probably ever play to, which means it's all downhill from here."

The highlight of her day?

"Getting this pass," she said, showing off her plastic. "With it, I get to be a dancing stuffed animal in the Flaming Lips' show. I can't think of anything that could top that."

RATING: (3.5 out of 5)

CROWD METER: (4 out of 10)


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