Flying to Rio

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Flying to Rio

Post by Ogg » Fri Nov 21, 2003 4:19 am

Some may have missed this...

Rain had threatened all three of the Brazilian shows, but only hit us during the second one, in Sao Paulo. And I mean hit us; the wind drove the rain straight onstage, into our faces, all over us and our equipment, and it's a good thing we had wireless microphones and transmitters, or... we could have been killed!

During the show, the three of us exchanged an occasional look, a wry expression of shared bemusement at this bizarre scene. The Sao Paulo soccer stadium held 60,000 people, by far the largest audience we had ever played to as a headliner, and despite the rain, they carried on singing along with every word, every note, and every beat. From behind my drums, I looked out at the raindrops caught in the spotlight beams, solid three-dimensional cylinders and cones of pelting drops, moving slashes of red, blue, amber, and white. My cymbals shimmered with beads of water, and when I hit them, fountains of spray erupted into colored light.

It was dramatic, all right, even beautiful, in a surreal way, but while it may have looked good, it was tough on the equipment. My electronic midi-marimba, which triggered all my keyboard percussion sounds, as well as a host of effects throughout the show, lost its midi-mind that night, and there was no assurance it would work the next night, in Rio de Janeiro. Even as I played through the show that night in Sao Paulo, looking out at the rain and the vast crowd and working around all the missing sounds as well as I could, I was already thinking ahead to the next night's show, preparing a new "map" of my performance-especially my solo-on the fly. Bad enough on any night, but especially when we were facing the very last show of the tOur, which is supposed to be a triumphant finale, and, in this case, the one and only performance of the tour to be captured for posterity.

While the last chord of that Sao Paulo show still echoed in the damp night air, we ran offstage and into a van, and were driven straight to the hotel (to escape the traffic of 60,000 people). Toweling away the sweat and rain, we watched the impressive choreography of our motorcycle police escorts, and talked a little about the show, more or less shaking our heads in disbelief-and a good measure of relief, too. We hadn't been sure we were going to get through that one, but we had made it.

Now there was just one concert left. Our Vapor Trails tour had stretched from June to November of 2002, sixty-six shows altogether-and that was about enough! During early discussions, I had proposed a maximum of forty shows, over three months, which perhaps demonstrates the extent of my influence. However, in fairness (the fairness of love, war, and touring), the itinerary seemed to expand as it unfolded: one struggle, one surrender, one show at a time.

Offers came in for more North American dates, and we agreed to push back the end of the tour to play a few extra shows around the East Coast. Europe continued to hang like an unanswered question, for we hadn't toured over there for ten years, and there were a few "hands in the air" from parts of Canada we hadn't played for even longer, but regrettably, we just couldn't do it all.

We were offered a chance to play in Mexico City in mid October (during what was supposed to have been a ten-day break), and I had to think about that for awhile. As a general thing, I like traveling to unusual places and "developing nations," but not to work in them. However, after several motorcycle rambles through the entrancing country of Mexico, I had come to love that sad and beautiful city (perhaps despite itself). We had never played there, or anywhere in Central America, and I finally had to agree to that one. I could only hope it would be a good experience for us all, and the other guys would like it there too. It was, and they did. We played in a soccer stadium before 20,000 very enthusiastic fans, and had a great time after the show as well, a whole bunch of us sitting around a big table in a restaurant with great food, excellent live mariachi music, and a steady flow of tequila.

We also had an offer to go to South America for the first time, to play three shows in Brazil in late November, and we didn't know what to think about that. For one thing, we were supposed to have finished touring by that time, and be at home (remember that place?). And for another, did anyone want to see us in Brazil? We had been told we were fairly popular there, and had sold a respectable number of records through "official" channels, but presumably a certain amount of piracy and bootlegging had spread our music much wider than we knew, for no one was more surprised than this humble Canadian rock trio when we played to more than 125,000 people over those three shows, way beyond any numbers we had attracted before, anywhere. In Porto Alegre (a city we hadn't even heard of), 25,000 people came to see us; in Sao Paulo we had a staggering 60,000, and for the final show, in Rio de Janeiro, we played to a roiling throng of 40,000 very animated, vocal, and enthusiastic young Brazilians.

To put those numbers in perspective, our average audience on the Vapor Trails tour, in an American or Canadian arena or amphitheatre, was something like 12,000, and the largest audience we had ever played to as a headliner had been 20,000, at The Gorge in Washington state, on our Test For Echo tour, in early 1997.

Even more than the Mexico City show, the Brazilian concert environment was like nothing we had experienced before-bigger, wilder, crazier, and more intense. Historically, we had been an arena band for more than twenty years, only recently making the transition to outdoor amphitheatres, mainly on the Vapor Trails tour. We had tried playing the big American venues a couple of times in the early '80s-the Cotton Bowl, the Astrodome-but never felt comfortable. One thing about an arena, when the lights shine out on the audience, you can see every face, every little circle of "personhood," way up to the nosebleeds, and when we lose that element of what passes for contact, however tenuous, we feel too alienated from the people we are playing for.

However, when you're onstage in a teeming, steaming soccer stadium in South America, you can forget about those niceties. We looked out across one big heaving, waving, singing, dancing, sweating mass of humanity, and gave them our best, as always. For the final show, in Rio de Janeiro, it seemed we summoned an extra surge of adrenaline, knowing that this was the last one, and that it was being recorded and filmed.

All through the tour there had been talk of filming the Vapor Trails show, for the first time since A Show of Hands, in 1988, but the arrangements seemed elusive, and finally it was put off until the very last possible opportunity. Certainly that was a bit risky, and indeed, after a series of technical hurdles that our crew had only barely overcome, a primitive recording truck that had the recording engineer, Jimbo, chewing his nails, and the further attrition of that rainy Sao Paulo show, it was looking pretty chancy.

Rain came and went during setup on the afternoon of the Rio show, and the trucks arrived so late from Sao Paulo that the crew didn't start loading in until six or seven hours later than usual. Toward what should have been soundcheck time, Geddy, Alex, and I wandered around, or sat under a threatening sky in the bleachers above the stage, watching rainjacketed technicians scrambling about, trying to make it happen.

With 40,000 people waiting to get in, there was no question of holding the doors, and we had to accept that there would be no soundcheck. At least the monitor board was working (unlike in Porto Alegre), and my drum tech, Lorne, reported that the midi-marimba seemed to have recovered from the previous night (though I was still mentally preparing to work around the missing sounds if I had to). The sky remained dark and gloomy, and the prospect of going onstage without a soundcheck was unnerving just as a missing part of the show-day ritual-never mind the last-show, grand-finale, captured-for-posterity stuff. There would be no run-through for the recording truck, no test for the camera crew; we were all going to have to wing it. Flying blind in Rio.

As the stadium lights went down and a mighty roar went up, we ran onstage to the Three Stooges theme and launched into "Tom Sawyer," our thoughts a little frantic and our emotions bound up in anxiety. The whole Vapor Trails tour had been very emotional for the three of us, right from the first night in Hartford, Connecticut. After five years away from live performance, and all we had been through in those five years, it really felt like a triumphant return. A few times during the show we looked at each other and shared a quick smile, an eloquent expression that stopped time for an instant and conveyed so much understanding, so much relief, and even a little joy. Our hearts were in our smiles.

Unusually for a first night, we had played really well, and the production side went smoothly too. That was our reward for weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse in Toronto, and more weeks at a small arena in upstate New York. It was also our reward for simply carrying on. Songs in the set like "One Little Victory" and "Bravado" had fresh resonance for us that night.

Even during rehearsals I had felt the three of us gradually begin to transcend our individual parts, becoming both submerged and elevated into a separate entity, the synergy of a touring band. After that first show, I said to our manager, Ray, "I have to admit, it would have been a shame if that had never happened again."

The set had changed a little through the tour, as we alternated a few pairs of songs we hadn't been able to choose between, or tried to play something different if we returned to the same area, and we had a surprise just before we went to Mexico City. Apparently our most popular song there was "Closer to the Heart," and we weren't playing it that tour (the periodic rest some older songs require). The three of us talked about it, decided we didn't want to disappoint the audience by not playing our most popular song for them, and agreed we could relearn it pretty quickly. After playing it through a few times during our soundchecks leading up to Mexico City, we added it to the show for that one night.

Only to learn that the same was true in Brazil: apparently "Closer to the Heart" was our most popular song there too (though we were told "Tom Sawyer" was used on Brazilian television as the theme song for "McGyver").

(That's what we said, "What?")

So, we stuck "Closer to the Heart" back in the show for the Brazil dates as well, and it got a very excited, very vocal response from the audience.

Though everything did, and somehow the show, and the whole tour, seemed to reach a natural climax in Rio de Janeiro. Watching the footage of that night, accom?panied by the excellent recording Jimbo Barton managed to capture in such difficult, primitive conditions (though after many hours of painstaking "rescue" of the occasionally ragged technical quality), it feels like the triumphant finale we wanted it to be.

Watching that show now, from so many angles I never see from the "hot seat," and with the luxury of not having to work at it, it is clear that audience had a synergy of its own, a unified, intense, pulsing energy, a force of nature, animating that soccer stadium with electricity and vitality. That night's show had 40,000 stars.

The three of us had a pretty good show too (and I certainly don't always say that), but no doubt we were inspired and elevated by that amazing audience, who gave back so much excite?ment, energy, and volume. Just listen to them singing along note-for-note with "YYZ"-an instrumental- and you realize this is no ordinary audience.

Extraordinary they were, and we dedicate this performance, then and now, to them.

Back at the hotel, we gathered in the bar with our wives and colleagues and ordered many rounds of the powerful national drink, caipirinhas. We were bone-weary and drained, only starting to feel the relief of knowing it was over-the long, hard show, and the long, hard tour. As the recording and film people reported in, it seemed safe to trust that at least one of those sixty-six Vapor Trails shows would not fade into the ether, like an ephemeral jetstream of echoes and memories. Our stalwart crew had prevailed against all obstacles of weather, technology, and time, and that final show had been captured as a moving souvenir for those who were there, and for those who were not. We ordered another round of caipirinhas and drank to all of them, and to each other, feeling better every minute.

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Post by FerrariF1 » Fri Nov 21, 2003 7:42 am

Last edited by FerrariF1 on Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by wcp » Fri Nov 21, 2003 8:41 am

Neil is God

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Post by awip2062 » Wed Nov 26, 2003 2:27 pm

Craig, that is not a berry RC thing to say.

Now go and say twelve Red Barchettas and sixty repetitions of The Fountain of Lamneth!
Onward and Upward!

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