12:58 p.m. to 1:12 p.m
Some hail the Sam Roberts Band as the next Beatles. They're not, but the comparison is not completely invalid. During a three-song set, Mr. Roberts displayed a handy package of crunchy pop-rock (on Don't Walk Away Eileen), moody eighties Brit-pop (on Brother Down), and a very Let it Be-era Beatles angle on Where Have All the Good People Gone?, with a familiar descending bass line.
The three songs, all tunes from Mr. Roberts's debut EP The Inhuman Condition, went over solidly with a crowd that may or may not have known much about the Montreal native. Combining an indie spirit with a pop flair, Mr. Roberts may never reach Beatles stature, but Sloan status is within reach.
On Brother Down, Mr. Roberts, a short, hairy young man, put down the guitar and stalked the stage while half-rapping the vocal line, "I think my life is passing me by." Not today.
A versatile musician, Mr. Roberts fell in love with the violin at age 4 and took violin lessons until he was 20.
From Mr. Roberts: "I think we have time for one more song," right before he was told it was time to leave the stage.
1:21 p.m. to 1:36 p.m.
Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards qualifies as Canadian content by passport, but she reached the big Downsview Park stage on merit. Displaying a refreshingly casual manner, the rising star recalled the languid grace and vocals of alt-country rocker Lucinda Williams. She also displayed some belligerence and a rather salty vocabulary.
Her offhandedness was probably to be expected, given that her lone album, entitled Failer, includes the song One More Song the Radio Won't Like. The singer-guitarist and her three-piece band rambled solidly through the allotted three-song slot, including the set-closing Six O'Clock News.
The performance was able enough; more noteworthy was the remarkable poise Ms. Edwards displayed. No awe in sight. From Ms. Edwards, "This is a lot like the Calgary Folk Festival."
Ms. Edwards fell in love with showbiz during her 1999 trek across Canada in an '88 Chevy Suburban, when she busked and opened for artists such as Hayden and Jane Siberry. She was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of 10 new artists "who will make your world a better place in 2003."
In the melancholy tune Hockey Skates, she sings: "I am tired of playing defence, I don't even have hockey skates."
1:53 p.m. to 2:05 p.m.
Going in, I knew nothing about Quebec's La Chicane. Going out, I know little more. The five-piece band's bland, generic jazz-rock sound went relatively unnoticed by the crowd. To be ignored by about 400,000 people is something, I suppose. The language was French; the music was pure lounge-rock and made for filler.
When it was announced that other artists would precede the Stones, there was the understandable assumption that at least one Québécois act would be on the bill since the federal and Ontario governments were putting more than $6-million into the event. But why La Chicane (French for "petty quarrel")? The group has been a staple of the Quebec music scene for at least a decade, but has virtually no resonance in English Canada.
It was probably because the band records for DKD Disques, which is owned by Donald Tarlton, a former promoter and business associate of Stones tour promoter Michael Cohl.
Band members Martin Bédard, Daniel (Boom) DesJardins, Christian Legault, Eric Lemieux and Alain Villeneuve formed the band in 1994. They played festivals and bar gigs for years before recording an album.
2:25 p.m. to 2:41 p.m.
Tea Party, formally of Windsor, Ont., now of Montreal, are mystic retrorockers of the first order, drawing on elements of The Doors and Led Zeppelin, as well as Middle Eastern and Celtic notions. After the non-substance of La Chicane, Tea Party was welcome meat, indeed.
Opening its set with the Eastern-flavoured Temptation, singer Jeff Martin grunted his way through indiscernible lyrics, encouraging the crowd to participate. On Heaven Coming Down, a song with similarities to something off of U2's Joshua Tree, Mr. Martin asked us to "watch the drummer," to work along with band.
A strong request, given the sightlines involved.
The band dropped in the familiar riff of the Stones' Paint it Black to Sister Awake, a musical blurb that fit well with Tea Party's Indian-bazaar, snake- charmer business. The music wasn't slight stuff, a bit heavy, perhaps, for the high heat of the day's afternoon, but it was pulled off with precision.
Band members Mr. Martin, Jeff Burrows (drums and percussion), and Stuart Chatwood (bass, keyboards and mandolin) played in bands together during high school.
From Mr. Martin: "Is this the best crowd in rock 'n' roll history?"
THE FLAMING LIPS
3 p.m. to 3:16 p.m.
Despite being allotted only a three-song set, Oklahoma progressive-pop outfit The Flaming Lips spared none of their standard props and hoo-hah. A guitarist donned a fuzzy, pink, animal costume; hired dancers on stage did the same. Giant balloon spheres floated above the platform. Show business.
The Lips were hurt more than most by the short sets. All three songs ( Race for the Prize, Fight Test, Do You Realize??) are grand, sweeping, majestic pop pieces, but they did not show well in the big field. This band needed to be under lights, and their afternoon slot did them an injustice.
Despite strained vocals from frontman Wayne Coyne, the Lips did as well as could be expected -- better, even. Mr. Coyne is a showman, and this was, after all, quite the show.
From Mr. Coyne: "I hope you live a long, happy life to the end of time."
The band was formed in 1983, when Mr. Coyne allegedly stole a collection of musical instruments from a church hall and persuaded a couple of guys to start a band.
On stage, the band is as theatrical and outrageous as its music; it made its live debut at a transvestite club.
SASS JORDAN/JEFF HEALEY
3:32 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Montreal power-crooner Sass Jordan first turned heads a decade ago with the hit single Make You a Believer. Judging by her set, she hasn't matured into anything we'd want to have a second listen to, but she still has those pipes.
Starting with the riff-rocked High Road Easy and continuing with an undistinguished metal ballad, Ms. Jordan likely appealed to the AC/DC contingent of the crowd. She redeemed herself a bit on the lazy, southern-style Brand New Day, driven by piano and harmonica. A spirited run-through of Believer, with guest Jeff Healey on first-chair guitar, ended things on a high note, of sorts.
From Ms. Jordan, "Did you see my nails?"
Some wondered how Ms. Jordan made the lineup when her heyday was a decade ago. Donald Tarlton (aka Donald K. Donald), who used to be a promoter and business associate of Michael Cohl, the Stones's tour promoter, owns Ms. Jordan's label, Aquarius Records. With perfect timing, the label released a Best of Sass CD the day before SARSstock.
Ms. Jordan, 41, has most recently appeared as one of the judges on Canadian Idol. She began her solo career in 1985 and recorded an album of Stones-inflected tunes in 1992.
THE ISLEY BROTHERS
4:08 p.m. to 4:22 p.m.
Although long-time funk/R&B act The Isley Brothers began their set with Sly and the Family Stone's Want to Take You Higher, the band took us back, as well. Back to 1969 for bouncy funk number It's Your Thing; back to 1973 for the disco-era hit (Who's) That Lady and back even further for frat-rock classic (You Know You Make Me Want to) Shout!
Decked out in a white jacket, hat and cane, singer Ronald Isley pleaded his way through the bass-popping, tribal funk of It's Your Thing. On the extended take of That Lady, brother Ernie Isley took a page from the book of Jimi Hendrix, playing guitar behind his head and later with his teeth.
(During a 1964 tour with the Brothers, a young, little-known guitarist named Jimmy James was recruited to back the group. He made his first recording with the Isleys and later shot to fame as Jimi Hendrix.)
The large band was augmented by a female stage dancer (not from the crowd; she was on-staff talent) but likely distracted, as well. By the time the band got to Shout, the huge crowd seemed distracted, too.
From Ronald Isley: "I wanna take you back to 1969."
4:40 to 4:55 p.m.
If the super charge of the Isely Brothers failed to move the crowd, Blue Rodeo didn't bother trying. The shortness of the early sets prevented any sort of momentum any band could generate, and the light of day framed the artists poorly. So heartland-rockers Blue Rodeo, from Toronto, simply did their thing, most notably on Hasn't Hit Me Yet, a beautiful acoustic number sung by Greg Keelor that never fails to move me.
But then, with the crowd swelling in numbers, movement of any type was not really an option. Added by a horn section, including jazzer Richard Underhill, a version of Trust Yourself, sung perfectly by Jim Cuddy, was only slightly made heavy by brass. An organ-heavy and sentimental Lost Together finished off the set.
From Mr. Keelor:, "We'll see you on the road."
Band members Jim Cuddy (vocals/guitar) and Greg Keelor banded together in 1978, and were joined in 1984 by Bazil Donovan (bass), Glenn Milchem (drums), James Gray (keyboards) and Bob Egan (steel guitar) to play twangy folk-rock that alternated between sunny pop and soulful balladry.
Blue Rodeo's song Rage on The Days in Between is a plea to an angry, drunken musician who used to perform regularly at Toronto's Cameron House.
5:36 p.m. to 5:57 p.m.
Justin Timberlake, it seems, is no longer a boy-band wonder. The former member of 'N Sync has bet his career on the hard switch to serious artist, releasing solo album Justified in 2002.
His set drew exclusively from that release, starting with the full-bodied funk of Cry Me a River. Though Mr. Timberlake's vocals and style have been compared with Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, on River he recalled more closely the brilliant Terence Trent D'Arby. The vocal harmonies of seventies-era Stevie Wonder were detected at the song's close.
Unshaven and wearing a ball cap, Mr. Timberlake and band ramped into the brassy, Latin-tinged Senorita, ushered in by some Rhodes organ work. Mr. Timberlake took up duties on another keyboard and did no harm. His vocals here now came closer to a pre-weird Jackson, and the song closed with a small snip of Queen's Another One Bites The Dust. The final song, a structureless, meandering version of his current single Rock Your Body, started poorly and ended with some of that mouth-and-mic, mock-DJ business. A poor final impression to flank a promising start.
From Mr. Timberlake, "I think you're here for the same reason I'm here -- to see the blankety-blank Rolling Stones."
THE GUESS WHO
6:13 p.m. to 6:43 p.m.
What Mr. Timberlake and the others could not do, The Guess Who managed, shaking the sun-induced malaise from an unfocused crowd.
Opening the first of the four extended evening sets with Hand Me Down World, the Canadian classic-rock band was paced by the high-register, quivering voice of Burton Cummings. Sparkling lead work by guitarist Randy Bachman stood out. A rather perfunctory rendition of medley No Sugar Tonight and New Mother Nature led -- finally -- to some music with momentum with the opening boogie-woogie chords of the classic BTO workingman's anthem, Takin' Care of Business.
"See you havin' fun, just a-lyin' in the sun," sung by Mr. Bachman triggered a response from the crowd, many of whom were arriving from work themselves. The audience was asked to clap hands, and responded, sparking the first crowd-performer connection of the day.
The band finished with No Time, with no surprise guest appearances, which was odd given all the hubbub about secret guests and big-name drop-ins. Also missing was the stream-of-consciousness rap from Mr. Cummings during the band's rousing American Woman. The song was, and has always been, an instant crowd pleaser, even for Americans who fail to notice the song's sarcastic tone.
7:07 p.m. to 7:42 p.m.
The three members of Toronto prog-rock giants came from three corners of the globe to make it back to the show, and given their trademark display of artful precision, the trip had gone well.
Beginning with Tom Sawyer, the trio wove their way through similar-sounding classic rock standards. The instrumental Yyz, Freewill, Closer to the Heart and closer Spirit of Radio all showcased each player's virtuosity, with Geddy Lee doubling on bass and synthesizer. The chunky Yyz featured Neil Peart's near-unrivalled talent, while Mr. Lee and Alex Lifeson soloed on Freewill, mostly in the same direction.
Mr. Lee's squirrelly vocals take some getting used to, but this crowd was hardly unfamiliar with the band's formidable three-way craft.
The lighter, chiming Closer to the Heart normally would cause an outbreak of Bic lighters, but the night was still too young for that tradition.
The band, formed in 1968, with guitarist Alex Lifeson, vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and former drummer John Rutsey played Toronto clubs before releasing a cover of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away in 1973. Mr. Rutsey soon was replaced by Mr. Peart, who took over songwriting duties and turned the band in a more progressive direction.
From Mr. Lee: "Thanks for coming to our hometown."
8:09 p.m to 9:18 p.m.
Now we're getting somewhere. As Australia's finest export took the stage, the volume was upped considerably and the crowd's enthusiasm followed. Kicking off with Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be, AC/DC served notice that Downsview Park wasn't such a bad place to be, either.
Since this concert was announced, rampant news-media coverage and interest has focused on the Rolling Stones, to the exclusion of a formidable roster of other acts. The market here for the Stones may be saturated at this point. And with the abundance of black T-shirts on hand, I'd say this was an AC/DC crowd, not a Stones one.
Fronted by singer Brian Johnson and guitarist Angus Young clad in trademark school-boy garb, the band followed with Back in Black, the title track to the 1980 breakthrough album that marked the replacement of dead singer Bon Scott by Mr. Johnson.
The band powered through a full set in rapid fashion. An accelerated version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, with full crowd participation on the titled chorus, was followed by Thunderstruck, a repetitive bruiser. Then came If You Want Blood, Hell's Bells and a slow, blues shuffle, The Jack.
From Mr. Johnson, after a set-closing Highway to Hell: "Thank you Toronto. You showed your true colours."