Caught in the Act
Massey Hall has been home to more than a dozen officially released live recordings, some of which are considered landmarks in the artist’s career (Rush, Neil Young)—or in the history of an entire genre (Jazz at Massey Hall). Two artists boasting storied histories with the Hall have recorded live albums there twice: Gordon Lightfoot, of course (1969’s Sunday Concert, 2012’s All Live), and Blue Rodeo (2008’s Blue Road and 2015’s Live at Massey Hall). Everyone from Tears for Fears to Mark Knopfler to Justin Bieber to Keith Richards has recorded promo material there. Both Canadian prog rock band Christmas and prog pioneers King Crimson released recordings made at Massey (in 1971 and 1974, respectively), as have songwriters Valdy (Family Gathering, 1974), Burton Cummings (2012), Matthew Good (2008) and Pavlo (2007). Here are some career-defining moments that went on to become landmark recordings:
1. The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953)
Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, Max Roach: five jazz giants assembled for one night only, at the invitation of some Toronto fans who failed to promote the show properly—the Hall was half-full—and cut their heroes cheques that would soon bounce. Mingus had recorded the gig, and released the tapes as three EPs that have since been endlessly remastered, repackaged, and eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
2. Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971 (released 2007)
Young’s long-time producer, David Briggs, liked the tapes of this concert so much that he didn’t want to bother heading into the studio to make what would eventually become the Harvest album. Young sat on the tapes for 36 years; when it was fi nally released, it hit #1 on the Canadian charts. In 2011, director Jonathan Demme captured a Massey Hall show for the film Neil Young: Journeys.
3. Chuck Mangione – Land of Make Believe (1973)
The fl ugelhorn player from across the lake in Rochester, N.Y., had an earlier live album nominated for a Grammy. He recorded this live album at Massey with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra; the 12-minute title track, featuring vocals by Esther Satterfi eld, became one of his most popular songs.
4. Bruce Cockburn – Circles in the Stream (1977)
The best live albums mark a transition in an artist’s career. In 1977, Cockburn had released seven records in seven years, his latest one being a shift toward jazzier terrain. This record captures Cockburn as his meditative, mystical best.
5. Rush – All the World’s a Stage (1976)
Playing Massey Hall was a huge hometown coup for the Toronto trio; Geddy Lee had a life-changing experience as a teenager seeing Cream there. By June 1976, Rush had recorded three albums in 18 months, and wanted to capture their momentum in a double-live album that, 41 years later, is still the most raucous and raw Rush has ever sounded. It also marked the first time one of their albums cracked the American Top 40, and eventually sold more than a million copies.
6. Ronnie Hawkins – Let it Rock (1995)
The man who played a crucial role in transforming Yonge Street into a rock’n’roll mecca celebrated his 60th birthday at Massey Hall, with guests including his former protégés The Band and legendary peers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Jeff Healey and Larry Gowan sat in on the monumental occasion in Toronto music history.
7. Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove – Directions in Music (2001, released 2002)
Herbie Hancock has graced the stage of Massey Hall many times, but this time he brought veteran saxophonist Brecker and young trumpeter Hargrove along for a program paying tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The album won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
8. “Weird Al” Yankovic – The Alpocalypse Tour (2011)
Funnyman Yankovic takes his work extremely seriously, which is evidentin the calibre of his band, the production values of his live show, and the fact he chose to shoot his second concert film at Massey.
9. Bry Webb – Live at Massey Hall (2015)
Recorded as part of the Live at Massey Hall series, this subdued document by the Constantines frontman finds his sparse solo material resonating with the echoes of the great songwriters who have stood on Massey’s stage before him.
10. Russell Peters – Almost Famous (2016)
Of all the legendary comedians to have ever emerged from the Greater Toronto Area, Brampton’s Russell Peters is the only native son to sell out the Air Canada Centre—several times. For his fifth concert film, however, he set up shop in the cultural centre of old Canada to satirize the cultural landscape of new Canada.