The cliché that musicians get paid not to play music but for the other 23 hours in the day is true. After the stress of getting up at 4 am in Regina and then almost missing what may have been the most important gig of our career because of a delayed flight, it was a relief to perform at Live 8 in Barrie even if our first song was a tone too low and the second a tone too high.
With no time for set-up, we played without instruments. Our drummer, Kris, doesn't sing the a cappella stuff, and so, liberated from his drums, he spent our 10 minutes of fame running back and forth across the stage bawling non-existent harmonies into my ear. We finished our two songs, the crowd roared, and we left the stage.
We wandered back to our trailer to drink a beer and commune with our exhaustion. Then Kris and I headed to the musicians' compound, a U-shaped arrangement of little one-room condos that served as dressing rooms. Each door had a band's name on in it, and most of them were standing just outside their rooms. It made for an interesting visual: Blue Rodeo standing beside a sign that said "Blue Rodeo" and Mötley Crüe standing beside a sign that said "Mötley Crüe." It was a Simpsons moment, a museum of bands.
What's most striking visually about bands taken out of their context is their ordinariness. When you spend a lot of time around famous musicians you start to see past their fame. With the Tragically Hip, for example, once you get beyond the stardom what you're left with is just a bunch of fairly ordinary guys. The overall effect at Live 8 was that instead of looking at the cream of Canadian music I could just as easily have been watching a beer ad shot at a cottage party where everyone's holding a Molson Canadian.
There were two exceptions to this: the industry people and the non-Canadian bands. The non-Canadian bands stood out like Yao Ming at a jockey convention - Jet decked out in suede jackets and pointy boots, and Mötley Crüe throwing off so much capital-f Fame that it wouldn't have mattered if they'd been in bathrobes.
But the truly glamorous people backstage were the industry people, the managers, promoters and publicists, who know that cool sunglasses, perfect breasts and the ability to charm strangers are nothing more than the tools of the trade.
It's hard to know what people imagine goes on backstage at something like Live 8. Some might think it's a huge jam session: Jim Cuddy pulls out a guitar and starts doing a Neil Young song, but he gets the second verse wrong and Neil has to correct him, and then everyone feels embarrassed for Jim, etc. But that's more of a late-night hotel room thing, after the gig's over and the bar's closed and the mini-bar's been terrorized.
What backstage at Live 8 felt like was closer to a high school reunion, a bunch of friends and acquaintances standing around catching up. You had the nerds, the posers, the artsies, the class clowns, the stoners, just like high school. You had people with wild reputations who you stared at wondering if it's all true. You had the popular people and the loners. Of course, at a certain point the high school metaphor breaks down. After all, Neil Young is still Neil Young.
After the finale, people said goodbye and trickled off. There were no grand gestures and no big moments. Gord Downie didn't hop up on a cooler to deliver an impromptu poem about poverty, Steve Page didn't lead us in prayer. It was all very Canadian, like the Barrie Live 8 show itself.
And even after taking part in such a massive event, it's still hard to say what our role in ending poverty actually was or is. We played Live 8 because it was fun, because we were asked to and because it was the right thing to do. And maybe that's the way to think of it. Faced with such an overwhelming problem on such an inhuman scale, what you do is what you can.