Recollections from the Toronto Radiohead Experience: The Show That Wasn’t

It is a sad, scary, bizarre Radiohead experience.

There are a couple of carloads of us, and we’re within spitting distance of the show.  102.1 the Edge has recently played Paranoid Android, and I’m hoping they play something else from the band before we get there.  We’ve picked up the final members of our concert caravan.  People are getting pretty darned excited.

It’s a day where nothing can go wrong.

Except is does.  Horribly wrong.

We are just pulling up to Downsview Park when my friend, Kim, texts me to say that the stage has collapsed — she’s inside the venue, working at the vendors station, and all hell is breaking loose.

All of a sudden we start getting passed by ambulances.

We pull up, get out of the car, and find a war zone. Ambulances and fire trucks are wailing in from all directions. Police are appearing from nowhere.

And then the Twitter feed starts going crazy. Say what you will about the disposable information on Twitter, but when shit goes down, it is the best way to find out what is happening.

Our group, Alana, Doug, Melanie, Jeff (and a few others I’ve just met), find ourselves wandering towards the gate. For the most part, we’re oddly quiet. Shaken. It is obvious that something really awful has happened.

And, then, just as we are crossing the road to the gates, the cops turn us back

“The concert has been cancelled!” they shout.  “Go to the Live Nation site for more information!”

None of us are surprised to be turned away.

I mean, we all knew anyway, but… we just kept heading in that direction. No one is really thinking right.  I don’t know that any of us are actually thinking too much at all.  We’re mostly feeling.

We regroup at the cars, and decide to go to Dundas Square to see the NXNE main stage with the Flaming Lips.  I think we’re looking for closure.  Closure, or, in the least, something to occupy our minds.  In our car the conversation is somewhat muted. We’re all feeling a bit strange.  Distracted.  Gutted.

Mostly we’re looking at smart phones and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. We find out that there has been a death.  And we hope that there are no others.

I know Toronto really well — I lived there for a few years — and yet, in that moment, I can’t concentrate enough to give Alana proper driving directions. I have to stop and really think.

But when we get to Dundas and Yonge, things get a bit better. It might be the music. It may be the distance from Downsview. It could very well be the beer… but the mood lightens.

Of Montreal puts on a mind-blowing set. We knock back a knapsack full of camouflaged cheap beer from plastic Gatorade water bottles.  People are dancing — or, rather, bouncing in place.  It’s too packed to dance.

My Radiohead crew are down to just four — our carload from Peterborough: Doug, Alana, Melanie, and myself.  The others have turned back or been swallowed by the crowd.  But we make a good team, the four of us.

During the soundcheck for their set, the Flaming Lips whisper familiar guitar riffs, just barely audible, in snatches. I pick it out as “Knives Out” by Radiohead.

And then they start their show, and make us all forget. Or remember.

Or something.

And before I know it, we’re heading home.

On the 1:30am Highway 115, slightly drunk, reeking of spilled beer and cigarettes, I move between elation from a great show to a discombobulated… I don’t know…

I suppose it is a feeling that something is still not quite right.

All I know is that this is not the way a rock ‘n roll concert is supposed to go.

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