In late May early 1994 the streets of Toronto felt different somehow to me somehow much more alive. The Rolling Stones had arrived for rehearsals for their upcoming Voodoo Lounge Tour. The first sighting and public picture in the Toronto Sun was Mick giving the finger from the backseat of a limo window as he left Harbourside Studios where the video Love is Strong was being filmed. Next Ronnie and Keith are seen at bar 606 on King Street near Bathurst. I go check out the bar the next day walk in for a drink just to see where Keith may have sat when he ordered a toolbox. (not just a screw drive – the whole toolbox) Again Mick is seen at Milano on King Street. I meet my then girlfriend Lynda there for lunch the next day.
Soon I find out the band has commandeered the Greenwood Private school on Bayview Avenue for rehearsals. Man its tough, the school is set way back on the property and all I can really see are security guards walking around and windows covered with brown packing paper. This doesn’t me stop from hopping a fence and trying to get closer to find out if I can hear anything. I even consider at 1 point maybe climbing up on roof of the school and hiding out so I could listen to rehearsals but I retreat knowing this borders on insanity. Nope. No luck and the best that can be had is watching the town cars arrive late in the day. Rumour has it Mick signs once in awhile at the front gates but they are pretty close to a busy road so I know this will not happen much if again at all.
I kept my nose to the ground and asked around eventually it becomes known that the band has taken over an Air Canada hangar out at Lester B. Pearson to build a stage. Yep, I drive out there and check around and I eventually find the hangar off in the distance and guess what with binoculars I can see right inside the doors and view most of the stage. For the most part no one really wants to come out there with me and check out the stage so for a couple of weeks I occupy my spare time heading out there and watching the progress. I likely was one of the very first fans to catch the Voodoo Lounge stage videos. I befriend the security guards in the shack that guard the entrance to this area. He tells me Mick and Charlie come by occasionally and there are plenty of crew going back and forth which I talk to when I can as well. It pays off big time!!In mid July the 19th to be exact I went out to the airport early @ 8AM on my day off to maybe catch some one arrive etc. I wasn’t there 5 minutes and one of the crew guys I had been talking to occasionally stops and says “what are you doing here they are playing RPM tonight”! Bam! I run to my car and fly out of there and literally race from the airport to RPM located at Lower Jarvis and Lakeshore. The trip is a good 25KM. I made it there in like record time. I mean just crazy driving. I hit one curve on the 401 at 160KM and I thought I was going to lose it right there. I know I can time the lights on Bathurst so I take the Allen raceway and Bathurst Street down to the lakeshore. All the way checking local rock stations to see if the news is out yet. I didn’t hear a thing until I was almost there and when I did, it was still unconfirmed. I scream into a parking lot across from RPM slam my car door, fly past the kiosk (who cares if they tow it away) and run to the area outside the RPM entrance that has been fenced off. I am like the 5th person there. Beautiful! It is now maybe 9:15AM. I notice a sign being put out. It is a yellow rental sign with black letters. ROLLING STONES across the top then Tonight Regular Cover $5! Yes the GLIMMER TWINS $5. I’m in!! Not since the El Mocombo in 1977 have the Stones played a small club in Toronto. Almost 20 years!! Rock history is about to be made once again.
I have made it to secret locations and locations announced last minute for special shows quite a number of times and it’s always fun watching other people arrive. This time it is a bit of everyone. The Bay Street dudes running in suits, cabs dropping people off, others running into line from around corners, cars and trucks dropping people off and horns honking. Inevitably everyone that arrives does a count of those people in front of them and then will ask around about the venue size then rejoice when they realize they fall within the guaranteed group that will be getting in. There is plenty of the opposite reaction as well when people arrive too late. I would say it took a good 2 to 3 hours before the line was in the 1,000 range. This was a workday…but does that really matter!
Once there were significant people to fill the club wristbands were placed on us and we were moved inside a gated area. July 19th 1994 was hot and water was at a premium. Small bottles were going for five bucks or whatever people would pay. Lots of people still had to make calls and let someone know they will not be arriving for work, home, and daycare pickup. There were some pricks charging $5 for a brief cell call. Hotdog vendors were doing a brisk business. There were interviews being done, the media circus was hard at work. News teams with live eyes on site and lots of trucks with tower antennas. I recall photographers on the roof of the building next door. Nuts!! Those without wristbands to get tickets were busy trying fandangle something with someone. The downside (not really – there was no downside) of all this was that once you were banded and lined up you could not leave. There was zero in out privileges. So we happily waited.
I guess around 7PM we were let in. It could have been earlier or later. Time wasn’t that important anymore. We gladly paid our $5 (which went to a local charity) and in we went. I went directly to the stage and slightly right of center – Keith’s side. I was against a metal fence barrier and the stage was pretty high. Man the hum inside the club once it was full was crazy!! RPM is a good-sized place and I guess you could probably get 1,100 in. Not just a nice small venue to see a great band, but a nice small venue to see maybe the greatest band!
Opening the show was Jeff Healey. (Very appropriate that I am writing this today Mar. 3rd, 2008 as Jeff died yesterday) If you haven’t seen this guy play it truly is amazing. First off he is blind (I know you know this) and plays a very different style of slide-guitar when he sits and an over the top kind of thing when he stands. Jeff ripped through several tunes, but his set list and show is for another review another time.
The anticipation is almost unbearable. I have been here waiting for the “event” for almost 12 hours now I guess and I don’t feel a bit tired. I am zooming on pure adrenalin.
There is the change of gear between bands but this isn’t just anyone’s gear getting set up! Charlie’s familiar Gretsch drum kit the guitars off to the side. Mic stands all around. Keyboards…nice. There is no calm before this storm just a very loud humming / buzzing. The sounds of expectation! Kind of like your getting ready to leave on the trip of a lifetime!! And the legendary Rolling Stones are flying the plane.
Michael Cohl comes to stage and says something along the lines about the start of the Voodoo Lounge tour…. Ladies and gentlemen The Rolling Stones!!
The bass line of Live With Me is perfect …it has to be this is the first show without Bill Wyman and Darryl Jones is the new man in town…Jagger wearing black pants, white t-shirt, black shoes…hops and grab the mic …Charlie’s drums slammin’… guitars zinging…”I got nasty habits…” What a start! Everyone is happy, very happy. There is such a sense of surreal-ness when you see a band as historic and celebrated as The Stones up close. Just awesome!! Keith looks good playing, smiling, smoking…crouching here and there…nails the strings arm up high! For some strange reason I remember his green running shoes.
The Voodoo Lounge album hasn’t been out very long at all and the song You Got Me Rocking sounds pretty damn good and people seem to know it and love it…Tumblin’ Dice. …playing the fields of green…. that awesome unmistakable guitar sound. …keyboards by Chuck Leavell…. Lisa backing up…you gotta to roll me…Bernard Fowler augments Mick voice perfectly…then Jagger strutting, pointing, pouting his way through Shattered …..Shidobee…. more Exile representation with a hard driving Rocks Off Ronnie and Keith switching off leads. …… Another new one Sparks will Fly… they are and they do as we head into Monkey Man…the way Mick trails off the lyric …I’m a monkeeeeeeey MAN….lots more Lisa…No Expectations is such a gem. …slows it down nicely…gives everyone a much deserved breather …. its still very much I can’t believe this is happening…kind of thing going on for me! The new tunes come across nicely. Love is Strong has a bluesy feel more horns…probably the best new tune for me at the show…Brand New car is really nice… if a lot of people don’t know the new ones you couldn’t tell… the songs are fueled by the excitement of being in such close proximity to rock icons. “I need more cow bell”…Honky Tonk Woman…Everyone Goes Wild ….I Go Wild ….then Start Me Up…this isn’t the stadium opener anthem Start Me Up….this is Start Me Up in your friggin’ basement with The Rolling Stones – Keith and Ronnie dropping ashes and spillin’ drinks on your carpet…and you love it!!
The horns are all over Brown Sugar. The crowd loves it Yeah, yeah, yeah, whew! I’m yelling at Bobby Keys between songs and get a nod….at the conclusion of Brown Sugar Charlie threw his sticks.
Charlie never throws his sticks! It was like one of the sticks was on a rope it came directly at me and I caught it. Just like that. No bounce, no scuffle right in my hand. Almost like it I knew it was going happen…. Sometimes you have good rock & roll luck!! Sometimes you make your own rock & roll luck!! A bluesy Al Greene tune finished out the show. This was the encore though I can’t remember if the band left the stage. I don’t think they did but I know Jeff Healey came out to help with Can’t Get Next to You. I recall both Keith and Ronnie talking in Jeff’s ear before the song began.
This was the last song played, the band left the stage amid deafening cheering. When house lights and music came up I jumped up and over the barrier and peeled the set list up from the front of stage. This wasn’t just your average 8 by 10 typed sheet this was a large bristol board sized hand written monster with 2 pieces of black tape stuck to it. Beautiful! I was offered $200 as I walked out with it. I have seen it since in a couple of Stones books and it is clearly visible throughout the bootleg DVD of the show. It was really wild to be walking out just soaking wet with sweat carrying a Charlie Watts Vic Firth and a huge set list. When the band came back to Toronto to rehearse at the Masonic Temple for the Bridges To Babylon I eventually got everyone to sign it. Ronnie Wood signs twice for some strange reason!! The Masonic rehearsals are another story in itself.
Were you there? Relive the memory with this video and leave us a comment below.