Tuesday, March 19, 2013

That Night in Toronto... (A Tragically Hip Tale)

For a brief, crystalline moment about eight years ago, I found myself faced with a snarling Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip:

Mr. Downie glares at me mid-song

It was November 26, 2004. Friday night. Twenty thousand boisterous fans inside the sold-out Air Canada Centre were rocking out behind me, while I stood in the gap in front of the stage, jostled by security, a pack of professional media photographers, and a film crew.

Lucky Contest Winner
The Tour Poster
Three days prior, I’d received an e-mail from The Toronto Star, informing me I’d somehow won their Tragically Hip Photo Pass Concert contest—the prize for which consisted of ‘two tickets to see the Hip at the ACC, their complete discography, and one photo pass for one person to photograph the band for the first three songs from the "pit."’

Sign me up!

At the time the Hip were perhaps the hottest live act in Canada. Their In Between Evolution tour was selling out venues across North America, and the band had gained a hard-earned reputation for raucous concert performances. So it was an easy choice to go. Without much difficulty I corralled a friend of mine to accompany me (yay Kat!), and Friday night eventually rolled around...

The Air Canada Centre was jammed.

That Night in Toronto
We arrived at the packed ACC and settled into our assigned seats. The opening band was the Joel Plaskett Emergency, but to be honest I didn’t pay much attention because I was too excited. Who wouldn’t be?

After JPE finished their set, a short intermission followed whereupon I was escorted by a gentleman from Universal Music up to the narrow moat in front. Unfortunately I had to leave Kat behind in our seats, as the pass only allowed one person to go. Once up front, I flashed my badge (pictured) to a burly security guard, who waved me gruffly into the off-limits area.

My front stage area pass (left) and my ticket

My Little Sony
The thing is, I’m not a photographer. I didn’t own a film camera. Back then I only had those crappy 24-shot disposables (remember those?!), so I decided instead to bring my digital camera. I’d acquired it from my Silicon Valley employer as a reward for doing online course-work:

My Sony Cybershot S75. Mouseover to see reverse.

Even though it’s a bit ridiculous looking today (check out the viewscreen on the back!), it was a decent model then. I had outfitted it with a whopping 64mb MemoryStick, allowing me to take about 60 shots total.

Naturally, I wasn’t the only person snapping away. A contingent of newspaper and media pros was also present:

The ‘competition’ with real cameras and lenses
Finally, there was a film crew, shooting the band as they performed. Footage from that evening would be released in 2005 as the Hip’s first ever live concert DVD, That Night in Toronto -- the name comes from a line in the Hip song, Bobcaygeon.

I’m a confident guy in most respects, but when you’re standing there and every cameraman has a bigger lens than you... it’s a joke that writes itself.

As a matter of fact, you can occasionally snatch a glimpse or two of me from the recorded footage:

Still from That Night in Toronto, about 6:30 in.

I managed to take three photos that looked all right, in my opinion. When you don’t know anything about photography other than pressing down the shutter button, you have to luck out somewhat. For the initial image in this post, Mr. Downie had noticed me with my dinky consumer apparatus and—judging correctly that I was not a professional like the others in the moat—deliberately struck and held a pose mid-lyric so I could take the shot. Class!

The other two:

Downie belting out Vaccination Scar 

For the first couple of songs I stood off to the side, stage right, rooted to where I’d placed myself, but for the third song I felt emboldened and wandered over towards the middle.

Fully, completely in the moment

The rest of the photos were disappointingly what you’d expect of a non-photographer: blurry, out of focus, ill-composed snaps taken not quite at the right moments. It turns out concert photography requires skill. View: the whole gallery.

If you’re a geek, you can examine the EXIF data and, based on the time-stamps, you can play the DVD and figure out approximately when during the concert each photo occurred.

Here’s a photo of me taking a photo (is that too meta?):

Mouseover to see me take the shot...

All too soon, the three songs were over, and I was ushered back to my seat to re-join my friend. The concert, not counting the opening act, wound up lasting two rollicking hours, covering the major hits. Like so many other Tragically Hip performances, it was a blast for those in attendance.

The set list that evening. Photo by The Tragically Hip

Thanks in retrospect to Nicolas Casimir at The Toronto Star, and to Andrew Patton & David Lindores of Universal Music, for organizing the contest! It was great.

Context for this post & bonus links
I was cleaning up my hard drive when I stumbled across these photos and I thought, why not share them? Kinda belated, but...

[LINK: The Tragically Hip performing ‘Bobcaygeon’ during That Night in Toronto]