When we arrived at our seats on the top Massey Hall balcony, the Rheostatics were already playing at their last concert EVER (sob!). Maybe it's just because I've been writing about my past anxiety, maybe I'm just more aware of it, and more aware that I would never have gone to Toronto, eaten dinner, and ridden the street car to go to a concert with a stranger just a few years ago. Whatever the reason, those old minions of panic trotted across my mind as soon as I squeezed myself into the seat: vertigo at how far down the band was and how near I was to the railing, visions of the balcony collapsing after like 100 years of not collapsing, visions of me getting up to pee and tripping and plunging to my death, feeling trapped by the people between me and the aisle escape. I was comforted by the fact that Sage already knew about my history of anxiety so that if I needed to stand by the door, I wouldn't have as much explaining to do. By the second song though I'd talked myself down and was absorbed in the music.
They played Me and Stupid early on, which was really great, and I'd forgotten that in the recorded version they sampled Al Purdy... more evidence that the Rheostatics is the best Canadian band ever. Dave Bidini mentioned Al, and pointed in the audience, and I imagined dear departed Al up in the balcony, tolerating the ruckus like he did when I saw the old poet at the Albion. Thinking of people who have left reminded me of my grandma, and how the last time I was in Toronto, I was just around the corner at the Elgin, just hours after the last time I saw her, when I said goodbye and that I loved her. The small melancholy I felt at seeing the end of the Rheostatics grew to a moment of overwhelming sadness that people have to leave us, except they never really do, with Al and my grandma watching from up in the rafters.
Thursday night, someone from Toronto came to my request list from a blog search for Rheostatics. I like to think it was one of the band members (Tim, is that you?), just keeping an eye on what the blogosphere has to say about their concert at Massey Hall and subsequent breakup. Judging from their playlist, I think it must have been one of them. They played 9 out of my top 13 choices, which I think is pretty kickass, considering that they have 13 albums to choose from.
So I have to say that I most certainly did not have beer goggles on when I came on (or tried to anyways) to Tim Vesely, like, almost a decade ago (gah!). I spent most of the concert trying not to drool on the person in front of me, whose head was virtually between my knees. That man(Tim, not the one in front of me) is FINE, and the stage lights really accentuated his lovely cheekbones. AND, he was wearing brown pants. I couldn't tell for sure way up in the top balcony, but I'm pretty sure they were brown cords, and nothing weakens my knees like brown cords (well, ok, maybe it was just the seatback in front of me digging into them). It only made him hotter in my eyes when he asked where his kids were. AND, Sage said she thinks she knows where he lives, she's seen him doing yard work (I imagine him shirtless on a hot sunny day, biceps bulging). Swoon. She didn't volunteer where though; I guess just in case I'm some kind of Internet stalker. Can't blame her really.
Sugar Daddy has a pair of brown cords but has stopped wearing them because they're ripped. But I think I'm gonna have to ask him to put them on around the house... and maybe I'll get him a guitar for Christmas, because there was something REALLY sexy about Tim playing his bass laying on his back on the stage at one point. I don't think it would matter that Sugar Daddy can't play...
King of the Past wasn't on my list, but only because I never owned Whale Music so I didn't know all the song names. It was fantastic. I thought that that song would be the highlight of the evening, but then they played Northern Wish with their old drummers Dave Clarke (who, with all due respect, TOTALLY looked like a South Park character with his toque, glasses, beard and pale blue tuxedo -- in fact I'm gonna "draw" him just to prove it) on the drums and Don Kerr on the cello, which became the highlight.
THEN they played Aliens... and I swooned as they sang the bit about "give me a deep kiss I've been longing for distraction," and I didn't think it could get any better. But it did. After the first fake ending, which I suspect served primarily as a pee break because they decided not to have an intermission so they could play more music, except it wasn't THAT kind because there were no beverages of any kind (for us anyways), and the seats at Massey Hall are very hard and small. I gotta give the guys credit: they played for 3 1/2 hours straight, and lasted way longer than my knees and ass.
It was a tremendously nostalgic evening... not only because it is the end of the band, but more personally. I haven't followed them for the last few years, so for me they're very much a part of my youth -- the same adolescent who adored Kids in the Hall and smoked cigarettes for the first time and drank beer around bonfires. On the one hand, it's really kind of sad that they never made it really big, because they are so talented, but on the other, I think it makes us fans feel smart and part of a select group. Actually, it felt more like regret than nostalgia, regret that I hadn't seen them in concert more when I had the chance, regret that I'd let them go like all the old friends I've lost touch with.
I couldn't help but think about how talented they all are. They all sing, they rotate instruments, and they always seem to be experimenting and having fun, while still keeping some special spark that is their own unique, identifiable sound. I love how they sampled Al Purdy reciting a line, how they created a whole album inspired by the Group of Seven, and how they collaborate with so many Canadian artists. And how they all also write or paint... they're marvels. Here they are, barely halfway through their lives, and they already know (I hope) that they will leave this place richer than they found it. That said, at one point Tim said something about opening for the Barenaked Ladies in Winnipeg, and I'm sorry, but that is just SO wrong.
They put on a great show, but those cramped seats made it feel like I was rockin' out strapped into the car, music booming and wanting to get all overcome but all I could do was bob my head in time. I felt that same mildly-pathetic-but-resolute-that-I-will-ROCK-IT feeling I do in the car on a summer day sometimes. The seats were too cramped even for chair dancing, so I just kept bobbing my head with the best of them. Dave Bidini had his signature fedora on, which contrasted jauntily with his Patio Lanterns rock star leaps, which I can just imagine him practicing as a 15-year-old in some wood-panelled basement with orange shag carpet.
There was one song that I didn't really recognize. Well, there were more than one, but one that really struck me. It was Self Serve Gas Station, which Martin dedicated to his parents and his sister, who was seeing him perform for the very first time, and that the song was only a little bit true. The lyrics punched me in the gut:
Another trucker stumbles up the steps into my kiosk for directions,
too wasted to see the map I'm showing him.
He wanted to bust the glass... 'cause I wouldn't give him gas -
I said, "You shouldn't be driving,
just take a nap until the morning-time and hit the road."
I wish I had a pistol just to take him down with myself;
who's to tell?
No one said this would be easy... but no one said this would be hell.
Their rendition of Horses, updated with snazzy 21st-century electronic references and effects, was positively apocalyptic, and I thought THAT would be the highlight of the evening... but no.
After Horses, they left the stage. I was deflated. They hadn't played Record Body Count, and I really didn't feel like leaving until they did, despite the cramps in my knees and my numb bum. I wondered if maybe Martin's voice just couldn't do it (poor guy, he was sick and his voice was pathetically, but movingly and appropriately hoarse at crucial moments). But they came out again after another standing ovation (which provided considerable relief to my old body), and Dave Bidini picked up his acoustic guitar and they all sat down on the edge of the stage, legs dangling. They talked for a moment, about nothing really, then played Legal Age Life and we all sang along. Dave Clarke came out again, and directed the audience in some fun backup "singing."
After the song, they walked into the middle of the audience, and Bidini spoke. He said that he didn't really feel emotional about the breakup unless he was talking to someone about how they grew up listening to the Rheostatics, or started a band because of them, or sang their songs when stuck in the wilderness.
Finally... finally, I recognized the first notes of Record Body Count. Bidini played quietly, and Martin sang hoarsely, the house lights golden dim with a bright spotlight on the Rheostatics, and it felt like a huge bush party around a camp fire, singing. I wondered if maybe this was why they'd chosen the beer-less Massey Hall, for a vision of this campfire moment with all their loyal fans singing with along all our might, as if our voices could keep them together, keep them from leaving us behind... I think maybe they had that moment planned all along. I wondered how the last lyric would hang in the great open space above us, the line about "Joey stepped up on the block of ice, put a rope around his neck, fell asleep before he died." It's an awfully morbid ending, but Martin deftly added a Tom Green sort of IEECE accent and a yo-yo-Homey hand gesture for comic relief, and those morbid last words floated painlessly in the air.
* * *
After such a brilliant culmination of their career, we left and took the streetcar home. I've never ridden a streetcar before, and I expected it to be kind of retro with wooden seats, but no. It's just like a really long bus. Anyways, around Spadina, it stopped suddenly, and everyone started looking to one side. Being nosy, I did too, and watched a big black SUV back up across the road, hit a parked car and drive away. We waited for the streetcar to start moving again but it didn't. Finally we went up to the small crowd around the driver. Apparently the streetcar hit that big black SUV when it had its nose in the middle of the street, and the SUV proceeded to hit that parked car not once but THREE times. Someone speculated that the SUV driver must have been drunk.
It suddenly struck me that I could have been killed (not really, but theoretically), that a drunk driver could prevent me from getting back to Swee'pea and Sugar Daddy, that other children say goodbye to their parents thinking they'll see them in a few hours and never do. The streetcar was broken I guess, so we got off and took a cab, which was also a bit hairy. At one point, we were stopped at a light for a long time, and I noticed a woman sitting on a big black garbage bag, another one beside her. She was smoking a cigarette and looking around, enormous bruise-coloured circles around her eyes, which suddenly rolled back in her head. She blinked and her eyes were normal again, but she was clearly out of it. And I found myself wondering if she had kids, somewhere out there, wondering where she was, and I wondered about what experiences exactly separated us, that I was in this cab looking at her, and she wasn't noticing. I felt very disturbed, wondering what her life was like.
But I got home to Swee'pea and Sugar Daddy safely, and dreamed of Tim Vesely and Martin Tielli, their songs playing in my head all night long.
* * *
Thank you Sage. The night will linger in my memory like the music in my dreams last night, maybe even as long as the indents in my knees.