We moved during the pandemic. And, because it was the pandemic, for a while, it didn’t really hit home how far east we moved. But, you guys, let me tell you, when you have to go to Ontario Place for a concert and you live in the east end, it’s far. It’s so far we actually took the Go home. Seriously. Anyway…
As you know, this is not my kind of music. But it is Jenn’s, which is why we went. We got there after the opener and actually timed it really well as they came on just as we were sitting down. I knew the crowd would be mostly women, but I wasn’t really prepared for the ratio: it was close to 90% women, or at least it seemed that way to me. At one point Jenn joked it was the musical equivalent of taking your husband shopping, as most of the men present seemed to have been dragged along by their partners.
It was also, as she quipped, the whitest crowd in Toronto outside of a curling tournament. A huge percentage of the crowd had brought along plaid and cowboy hats, and many were wearing cowboy boots. I understand that the crowd at metal shows has an outfit too, but it is a little weird to see a whole bunch of otherwise normal-looking people dressing what they imagine is “country.”
I have been to a fair number of shows in my life but this is arguably the biggest band I’ve ever seen. Nothing could have prepared me for the roars that greeted just the hint that the show was about to start. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been at a show with so much crowd noise. Sports events, yes. (The Raptors, TFC, an AFL game, probably one of the NFL games I’ve been to.) But not a concert.
One of the most fascinating parts of the show was the sounds played before they walked on as well as while they moved things around on stage: snippets of their hits mixed with found sounds. Some of it was basically musique concrete, not that anyone in the crowd knew that. It seems that, the longer you do this, the more open to stuff like this you get and the more willing to tolerate it your audience is.
The show was backed by a series of photos, usually highlighting the group’s politics, often in time with the music. It was clear a lot of thought was put into it.
I knew maybe 5 or 6 songs total. Which is to be expected. The crowd knew nearly every one. During “Landslide” (which I had forgotten they covered) I think nearly every person in the audience was singing along, completely in sync with their slight variations to the song. The crowd was also singing along during “Wide Open Spaces,” “Not Ready to Make Nice” and, especially, “Goodbye Earl.” Much of the crowd was extremely drunk by the end and it was a little weird for to see dancing during the protest songs.
For me, the most enjoyment I got out of it was when they delved into bluegrass. There were a few songs where multiple members of the touring band soloed in addition to the Erwin sisters soloing on most songs, and literally every member got at least one moment. (Yes, there was a brief bass solo and an even briefer drum solo. At a country show. That’s different.) One of the touring band is Maines’ son and, if that doesn’t make you feel old… Anyway, the musicianship was impeccable. I may not particularly like what happened to country in the last 30 years, but I can’t deny that they can play.
They played for nearly two hours. There was no encore, we suspect in part because multiple previous shows had been cancelled due to issues with Maines’ voice. She appeared to have no trouble on this evening, though.
Aside from the high quality of the musicianship, I was fairly impressed by the spectacle. And, seeing them on the day that the US Supreme Court overturned a nearly 50-year-old court decision regarding women’s bodily autonomy, was also a unique moment. Much like 20 years ago, Maines had something to say. This time, it did not turn into a giant boycott of their records. (At least it hasn’t 12 hours later.) Though I don’t want to commemorate this milestone as it’s awful for so many people, I will say that it felt somewhat momentous being in the audience of a show by the brave women from Shut Up and Sing on the day that this happened. The crowd was entirely receptive of what she had to say, which does give me a little hope for humanity. (I know, they were preaching to the crowd. They long ago lost the people who would be mad about this.)