"I think humans can withstand a lot and rise above a lot of things. That being said, I'm not the mother or the father of a child that died last night."
Brendan Canning of the Canadian indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene was on the phone, backstage at Manchester's Albert Hall on Tuesday night. Canning and the band had just finished a concert some would describe as cathartic, others a remarkably intense two hours.
The performance happened one night after a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena killed at least 22 people and left dozens injured. On Thursday, at a vigil held in St. Ann's Square in central Manchester, a crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of Oasis's Don't Look Back in Anger, following a minute's silence.
"You could see there was sadness, you could see there was anger and you could see there was love," said BSS frontman Kevin Drew, who attended the vigil with other band members.
Grande's European tour was suspended following the terror attack at the end of her Manchester show. The understandably distraught American pop star was scheduled to perform two concerts at the O2 Arena in London this week. But if Grande's tour was postponed, other artists have concerts to do. Pink Floyd sang The Show Must Go On. Freddie Mercury and Queen sang The Show Must Go On. It's not just a song – it's an ethic.
"Everyone has a job in life," Canning explained. "You've got to get up the next day, regardless of tragedy. You can't just shut down."
Broken Social Scene uses the same promoter and booking agent as Grande. There was discussion of postponing the BSS concert, but, ultimately, it was decided to go ahead.
"We were prepared to play and we were prepared not to play," Drew said. "It got green-lit, and we went ahead with it. I can't really get my ahead around it. I think it's what you're supposed to do."
The Manchester concert calamity isn't the first such incident. After a night of gun and bomb attacks in Paris on Nov. 15, 2015, left 130 people dead, France declared a national state of emergency.
An assault on the 1,500-seat Bataclan concert hall during a performance by the American rock group Eagles of Death Metal was particularly gruesome, with gunmen opening fire on concertgoers.
Following that catastrophe, the Bataclan was shut down until Sting took the stage at the reopened rock hall, one day before the one-year anniversary of the terror attacks. "That's my job," Sting said, when asked about playing the Bataclan. "We'll honour those who lost their lives, and also celebrate that wonderful, historic venue."
Unanimously, the musicians contacted by The Globe and Mail this week shared Sting's sense of respect and professional stoicism.
"When these things happen, you remember there's a little bit of a mission to this," said Chuck Comeau, drummer with the Montreal rock band Simple Plan. "It's important that we stay resilient as artists and performers and fulfill our role."
As a band that began touring internationally shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Simple Plan has never really known a world without some degree of unease. They've played Manchester Arena and the Bataclan before, and they'll play the latter venue again early next month. What effect do these kinds of tragedies have on the psyche of a performing artist?
"It's impossible not to think about these days," Comeau said. "It creeps into the back of your mind – what if?"
Concerts, big or small, are places of escape and communing. The attacks in Manchester and Paris are invasions into that space. "People were probably leaving the Ariana Grande show high-fiving each other and young girls were probably walking arm in arm," said singer-songwriter Matt Andersen, speaking from Manchester. "It's a moment to remember, and then, in an instant, it goes from complete and utter joy to absolute horrification."
Andersen, a Juno-nominated musician of the burly-bluesy sort, played the Night & Day Café in Manchester this past Wednesday. Asked about performing in a city in the aftermath of a disaster, the New Brunswick native said he took his cue from the Mancunians.
"The promoter told me to carry on, and that seemed to be the attitude the whole city was taking," he said. "There's obviously stuff going on in the background, but the people at my show still want that same escape they wanted when they bought their tickets weeks ago."
Or, maybe they want more.
"Tragedy absorbs the highest orgiastic music," Nietzsche wrote in The Birth of Tragedy, "and in doing so consummates music."
It was the attack at the Bataclan that had instigated a disbanded Broken Social Scene to reunite. "That really ripped close to home," Drew told The Globe in an interview a year ago. "We wanted to be with the audience."
And that's where they were on Tuesday in Manchester, after one more tragedy. As for the performance, it came down to tone. "We just wanted to meet the occasion with the appropriate sentiment," Drew said. "I was struggling. I didn't want to overdo it or oversay anything or overdance it."
The former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr had planned to appear with BSS in Manchester, but he cancelled after the Grande concert. An hour before the show, though, he changed his mind and played on the first two songs, the fittingly poignant Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl and Cause = Time.
After Marr left with a rallying declaration – "Manchester stands together" – BSS carried on. The song Backyards offered gentle condolence that was well received: "It's a hard parade, just be courageous."
"The audience was lovely to us, and we were grateful for that," Drew said. "They came to see us. They saw us. We did our best."