SameDiff BNL

The Music Of Love

Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page performs with Bruce Cockburn during the Music Without Borders Live in Toronto Sunday. By KIERAN GRANT, Toronto Sun, October 22nd, 2001.

Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Sunday, October 21, 2001

It's been an unprecedented couple of months for concert fundraisers in and for the United States Of America.

But when Alanis Morissette encouraged a sold-out crowd at the Air Canada Centre last night to "send love to a country and culture that needs love right now," she wasn't talking about her adopted U.S. home.

She was talking about Afghanistan.

Along with The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, Our Lady Peace, Bruce Cockburn and Toronto rapper Choclair, Morissette was part of the roster of A-list Canadian musical talent assembled for Music Without Borders Live.

The concert was set up to benefit the United Nations' Donor Alert plan to raise an estimated $650 million to aid those caught in the current crossfire in and around Afghanistan.

All proceeds from ticket sales went to the appeal, with concert promoters, IATSE stage crews, security, and food services staff all donating their time free of charge.

With tickets priced at a relatively low $35, the show drew a capacity crowd of 20,000, putting the amount raised at $700,000 Cdn. Donations were also taken by phone, with MuchMusic broadcasting part of the event live and CBC airing it in its entirety later in the night.

Guests such as Vince Carter, Peter Mansbridge and Jason Priestly were on hand to introduce the acts.

The Tragically Hip, knocking out favourites Grace,Too and Music@work, acted as de facto headliners of the straight-forward show, closing with a 40-minute set that ended just before midnight. That top status was confirmed as the heavy Hip contingent in the audience erupted when Gord Downie made his first appearance to introduce Morissette earlier.

Glimpses at the crowd — a "Canada (hearts) USA" banner, for instance — suggested that some fans were concerned with showing added solidarity with our American cousins.

Still, there was little jingoism, pomp and/or circumstance as the performers got down to what the crowd had paid for.

Our Lady Peace weighed in with hits like Superman's Dead, Naveed, Clumsy, and some suitably earnest commentary.

Much of the audience was filing in earlier when, following a 15-minute spot by Choclair, Cockburn performed his sombre half-hour turn on acoustic guitar, throwing in a new song and his fitting classic Lovers In A Dangerous Time, performed with the Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page.

BNL provided the night's levity, romping through a truncated performance with the kind of mugging enthusiasm expected from them. Oddly, it was Page and BNL drummer Tyler Stewart who were the most outspoken and incisive during a pre-concert press conference earlier in the day, outlining the difference between Music Without Borders and the many charity rock shows held on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border in the wake of the Sept. 11, such as Saturday's star-studded Concert For New York City at Madison Square Garden.

"This is in some ways a more difficult concert than (the Concert For NYC)," Page said. "That had a direct focus on celebrating the heroes of Sept.11 and mourning the losses of that day. What we're doing here is about Canadian artists banding together to try and help the citizens of Afghanistan get the food, shelter and health care that they need.

"You have to peel away a lot of issues here to get to the basic sanctity of human life. We have to put a lot of our ideologies aside and try to help people.

"There's been a lot of talk about collateral damage, which is a euphemism for innocent people dying. We would like to help prevent that as much as possible. I think most Canadians would agree on that."

Stewart upped the ante, pointing out that the U.S. is, with Canadian support, delivering humanitarian aid while at the same time "bombing the crap" out of Afghanistan.

"A lot more innocent people are going to die, and the reasons for them dying aren't carved in stone," he said. "It's important for Canadians to remember that we have a luxury in that we're next to the biggest, most powerful country, but we have our own tradition for humanitarianism. Mr. Bush said, 'You're either with us or you're with the terrorists.' That doesn't leave much room for alternative ideas.

"This is not anti-American," he stressed. "It's pro-human life."

United Nations Association in Canada executive director Steve Mason told reporters that an estimated 7.5 million Afghan civilians — about a third of the country's population — will require humanitarian aid. Funds from Music Without Borders will be divided between UN agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF.

An additional 20% of the money raised last night will go to War Child Canada, which assists child victims of war around the world.

"People who pay for tickets tonight will be able to go to a Web site and see where a portion of that money is going," Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida said. "It's important to show that a small Canadian charity can make a difference."