A Link in the Chain

By Tony Dekker

Massey Hall occupies an almost mythical place in the minds of musicians, especially Canadian musicians. Beyond an aspiration, it’s more like a dream. The intangible thing that makes a music venue special — different, electric, spiritual, fabled, maybe even sacred — this place has it. It’s the thing you can’t quite put your finger on, the swirling spirits of the great performers who, over the course of more than a hundred years, have graced its stage.

Great Lake Swimmers headlined there for the first time in July 2014 as part of the Live At Massey Hall series, and we rehearsed for weeks. I expected to be overwhelmed by the prospect of playing to a full house, but what happened was the opposite. I’ve described it to others as slipping into a warm bath. The acoustics were otherworldly, and seemed tailored to our music. It was also one of the few shows where I can say with full confidence that I made no noticeable mistakes. We were firing on all cylinders, and the feeling was euphoric. The room was working with us. It was another member of the band. Collectively we’ve played every theatre, bar and room in the city, but playing at Massey Hall we all felt connected to some deeper history, a link in an important cultural chain. I’ll never forget it.

Earlier this year I saw Nick Cave play one of his sold out shows, and there was something powerful happening with his band, The Bad Seeds, that night. Our fourth-row tickets quickly became front-of-stage spots, and mine was one of hundreds of undulating arms gathered around the charismatic front man as he implored, “feel my heart!” I looked him square in the eyes as he said it, and I knew instinctively that this was no stage show: the howl was real. I couldn’t help but think the hall was somehow conducive to what was happening on stage, and that this particular performance couldn’t have happened anywhere else.