Mile One Centre in St. John’s is a hockey rink. Fortunately for Dan and I, monickered as Team Pipe & Drape by Nicky, there isn’t much dressing up of the dressing rooms today. It’s an American Hockey League (AHL) house, as opposed to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) houses we’ve visited of late. I’m guessing there’s a little more money in the AHL because the dressing rooms here are just a rung up the ‘spiffy’ ladder than what we’ve found recently. The St. John’s Maple Leafs used to play here; they were the farm team for (or ‘affiliate’ of) the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs — the National Hockey League (NHL) is the premier division of North American ice hockey. In every rink we play, be it the home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames or the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, the home team always locks its dressing room doors, which, are usually more ornate than all others in the back-scene realms. Not surprising, being of visitor status, we get rein of the visitors’ sacred spaces. As stated, the Leafs of St. John’s no longer play here; in fact they don’t exist as such anymore, having relocated to Toronto and become the Marlies. But while the Leafs have no business in St. John’s, their ghosts remain in the visitors’ dressing rooms, our temporary shelters. The St. John’s home team nowadays is the AHL’s Ice Caps, but the Maple Leafs’ ghosts exist as emblem cutouts in our dressing rooms; beneath bench seats, little lights shine behind silhouettes of the iconic 11-pointed leaf, reminding the visitors who hosts them… or whose house it used to be… oh, it’s all confusing.
As a side, I used to think it must have presented a bit of a logistical hiccup, for Toronto to have a farm team in St. John’s — if a Toronto Maple Leafs player was injured, they’d call up one of the better St. John’s players from over 3,000 kilometres away to fill in for the injured party. So it must have come as a practical relief to Toronto’s Maple Leafs when the St. John’s Maple Leafs moved practically next door. Perhaps the people of St. John’s were sad to see their own Leafs go, but they now have another AHL team: the Ice Caps are a farm team for the Winnipeg Jets. So now if Winnipeg need someone in a hurry, they have to cast a line of around 5,000 kilometres for a spare. It might interest the reader to know that the Ice Caps are playing the Marlies in Toronto tonight (Saturday) and again on Sunday, the final game of their season.
It’s cool, but it’s fuppin’ humid today; when the equipment rolls off the trucks and the cases are opened, the moist air attacks everything, forming droplets before our eyes. When everything is in, the venue’s loading door shuts and the climate control kicks in, slowly evaporating everything’s skin of water.
Guitar world is on the floor again; actually, we’re on insulated panels covering the ice; quite why the rink is iced beneath us is, at the time of publishing, a small mystery — it seems the Ice Caps have no chance of getting a league playoff spot, so no matter the result in Toronto, it looks like there won’t be any further relevant contests here in St. John’s. Perhaps it’s a superstition — you never let your team’s ice melt while they’re still playing. (Meanwhile, Toronto’s Marlies seem to have clinched a playoff spot, how delightful!)
Today’s stage is five feet above guitar world on the ice but I don’t mind employing the same strategy as the other night, trusting instruments to remain in tune on stage with a little less fussing. In fact, being on the floor makes taking pictures a bit more interesting, but with my Ixus out of action I have to rely on my phone’s ability to capture the moment. Fortunately I have a G10 at home and although it’s larger than the Ixus, it takes better pics… Well, ‘better’ being relative to its operator, that’s certain.
We’re running late today, short some hands, thus understaffed. Rigging was slow and that affects everything to happen on stage; soundcheck is delayed slightly, but it doesn’t cause any serious problems. Leonard and the band jammed some Feels So Good as a blues thing, then played, straightforwardly, La Manic, Dance Me, The Future, Different Sides, and Can’t Forget.
During the show, it’s easy to say one thing: what a crowd! I think Newfoundlanders have been the most lively of the tour, and it’s not surprising, given the European link; as I’ve said before, European audiences join in more, sing along, and have a certain joviality you don’t see often in North America. On stage, Leonard said he was glad to be back in St. John’s and recalled a memory of the little auditorium we played almost five years ago. The people here also in attendance that night applauded their second helping of Cohen. Leonard thanked everyone for their support; to think — five years ago, it was all a new beginning. One of my favourite moments in 2008 is Leonard explaining to an Atlantic audience that it had been over a decade since hitting the road; the last time he had toured he was around 60 years old — ‘a kid with a crazy dream.’
I’ll admit, getting close to the end of this tour, scribbling copious notes is difficult. It takes discipline to not cast ahead and dream of crossing my own threshold in Larne. So in abbreviated summation, tonight’s gig went as they usually do, streak-free. The audience liked to stand — either the seats were uncomfortable or the music was good. Manhattan gets an ‘O’ in the first set, and the crowd are up and down, up and down, clapping, cheering, and hollering; one enthusiastic woman, a faceless voice in the ocean of thankful people shouted ‘You’re beautiful, Leonard!’
Newfoundland isn’t called ‘The Rock’ for nothing; from what little of it I saw, tough spikey trees and ground scalped of its soil by wind, the people here are self-sufficient, living remotely. The cost of living is high, and if you’re touring ‘Canada’, St. John’s is the end of it all — there’s nowhere to go but back, unless you get a ship to ‘away.’ Being remote, not every touring act wishes to come here, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a trek getting equipment all the way over and back again; it’s expensive to bring a production to St. John’s, and I think Newfoundlanders know this, and are ecstatic when someone like Leonard comes to town. Indeed, there is such a thing as Feast Of Cohen, in which local artists get together and cover Leonard’s songs annually, so to host the man himself must be a real treat.
The real treat for me: the hotel is a five minute walk away, and when the backline is packed and stacked, and Nicky’s Niceties are folded away, we can literally walk away from it all.
So now what? As many of you might know, tonight’s gig was meant to be the last in North America, but we have unfinished business in Winnipeg (the Jets are 9th in their division right now and it seems the Leafs have clinched a playoff spot) and Regina. As of publishing on the 21st, we have four days between now and the ‘Peg, but we’ll rest in Montreal in the meantime, and head to the prairies when the time is right. Unless something spectacular happens, there will be little to see on No Ideas, but drape your fear with muslin cloth restless reader, this is not the end; but it is for now; adieu maintenant.