Have you ever watched the film This is Spinal Tap? (Oh I do hope you have, it is one of life’s required viewings, especially if you’re interested in music.) Do you recall the scene in which the band are trying to get to the stage, but are lost in the building? Something similar happened this morning on the way to the MTS centre. Now I won’t name names, but a certain UHTC crew member swore they knew the way to the venue and so I followed. The first thing I noticed on our walking journey was that we headed away from Carlton Street; the handy map on the reverse side of today’s production notes clearly shows a red arrow on Carlton Street, a beacon, a signal, a ‘go here’, but for some reason, my traveling companion is ignoring my repeated use of the word Carlton. Along our confused walk which continues to ignore any search for the named street, we took four right-hand turns around a giant building, and still we could not find a big hole in the venue with a truck reversed into it. We ran into another UHTC member who had never heard of Carlton Street, and they are having a similar difficulty: here’s the MTS Centre, but how exactly does one enter it?
Though the glass, a man is spotted, and this man wears a blue polo shirt — surely this man is of vast importance, according to one of my companions, neither of whom seem to be interested in my tiresome utterance of the word Carlton, a street yet to have felt the falls of our feet. But with a tap on the glass, the polo-shirted man sees that we are in some form of distress and lets us in. The man, who had no professional business in meeting us, his accidental placement before our eyes a simple lifeline from the gods, inserted a key into a door and began to lead us over a threshold and down, down, twisting and turning underground, such that the traveler may know no further bearings, their line of sight to the Earth’s sun snipped like a golden ribbon in the wind, down and down into the belly of Winnipeg, among the pipes and wheels of iron, over dusty concrete floors and at last into a familiar place, a large cavern containing our trucks. Hello Winnipeg!
Our first order of the day, some drapery in the green room and Leonard’s dressing room. The affair is brief, breakfast follows, and so does the thumb-twiddling before our truck is emptied. I’m sure you won’t believe me, but I’ll say it — we’re in another ice rink. This is the home of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets who sadly, are not in the Stanley Cup playoffs, apparently for the third year in a row. Hell, Toronto haven’t won since ’67, so I don’t know what the Jets’ Head Coach Claude Noel is upset about. Anyway, at first glance in the arena, I notice an abundance of vertical chains, a continuum of steel stalactites — rigging is quick today, unlike the last few gigs. With ‘dead hangs’ for every rigging point, it looks like the PA and lights are going to be up pretty quick; with three trucks on the dock at once, unloading is also lightning fast and soon enough I have my cases open and I’m changing strings while the world around me is hoisted into the air.
Guitar world is off the floor again, back to its usual place, on a riser, stage left. We’re 21 inches below the performance level; I know this because I am a man with time on his hands today, measuring precisely the geography of my world. For you see, I would have guessed it at 18 inches, but that would have been a mistruth, a horrible, horrible, uninformed lie. Get on with it, you say.
Today’s full-band soundcheck opens with The Partisan and La Manic (one might suspect we are heading to France soon); Leonard then begins a song I’ve not heard before, but the band join in and I find it’s a song named Choices by George Jones, a famous country singer who died only today. After they go over the Jones song, they play Dance Me, Different Sides, and The Future.
When dinner rolls around, band members are called into the green room to assemble the George Jones number — it appears they’re going to play it tonight, a feat we hardly ever see. To pop a song into the set without rehearsing it to a honed, glistening perfection is a rarity, so the crew are curious to see how it will play out. Later, and closer to show time, we notice Choices is not on tonight’s set list, but Different Sides is, so again, we wonder if George Jones will happen.
After the show opened to a warm and generous standing O, and Dance Me was tucked away into the annals, Leonard thanked the audience for coming, apologising for the inconvenience of the rescheduled show. It reminds me, missing home, the tour extended another week, that we in the UHTC camp are not the only ones whose plans needed altering in early March when the flu took down a significant portion of the band. Snapping into the present, Leonard continued, saying he hoped this isn’t a farewell tour, and added, ‘it looked like it might be at the time.’
I mean this in a playful way — there are some nutjobs in the audience; the Winnipeg crowd proffers its share of loud, crazy, almost demonic shout-outs and love-calls, powerful hoots and hollers, entertaining us in the wings. They are free-spirited, and before the end of the first set, a few people took to the aisle, dancing to First We Take Manhattan. At the close of the first half, Leonard took the time to introduce The Winning Team (he does not call us this, I must have words with his people) one by one and we take the stage sheepishly, waving to the crowd who have no idea who we are. That doesn’t stop me from moonwalking away in my two-tone DMs, back into the darkness of the wings.
The second set begins, and we’re zeroing in on the George Jones song. Apparently it will appear in the encores, and until then it’s business as usual. Once in the encores, during the intro to Famous Blue Raincoat, one dude in the crowd shouts ‘I wanna have your baby!’ which causes a few laughs among us, and in the audience. My memory is slightly hazy, but I think after If It Be Your Will, the George Jones number was played, and as you might guess, they pulled off Choices professionally.
When it’s done, we do the usual; packing up, stacking up, folding up, and rolling out until it’s time to walk back to the hotel. Having no clear idea of how I arrived at stage level today, I’m left with a sensation of hopelessness: how the hell do I get out of here? Fortunately I have a sherpa, Bass Technician Chris. He guides me past the trucks, through a giant hole in the side of the building, up a ramp, and onto — Carlton Street, from where I can see our hotel. From now on, I’m in charge in the mornings.