For a bunch of British chaps, the Rolling Stones sure know a lot about Canada, and Mick Jagger didn’t hesitate to flaunt his wisdom at their Canada Day weekend concert in Ontario.
The frontman for the iconic rock band doled out handfuls of Canadiana on Saturday, pausing to reference everything from the Toronto Raptors’ historic NBA championship win to the “buck a beer” policy of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Standing before a crowd of roughly 70,000 concertgoers, it didn’t take long before Jagger wished a simple “Happy Canada Day” to the receptive crowd, who didn’t seem to mind it was technically two days early.
The concert at Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont., about 30 kilometres north of Barrie, was the only Canadian date on their North American tour. And for many people in attendance, it seemed a miracle that Jagger was even on stage, given his recent heart surgery.
None of that was referenced in the 75-year-old singer’s tireless performance, which included swapping out one glittery jacket for another before eventually donning a hat and T-shirt emblazoned with the band’s famous tongue logo.
Armed with his flamboyant swagger, Jagger zig-zagged across the massive stage — and strutted down the catwalk — for two hours, playing 20 of the band’s greatest hits.
Popular classics “Paint It Black,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Honky Tonk Woman,” were balanced with a selection of fan favourites, including “Before They Make Me Run,” a song Keith Richards wrote in response to his 1977 arrest for heroin possession in Toronto.
And beneath four towering digital screens, Jagger played right into the audience’s hand at nearly every turn.
“What about those Raptors?” he shouted, as the “We the North” logo flashed overhead. He poked a bit of fun at Toronto Mayor John Tory’s famous black-and-gold Raptors jacket, which he’s enthusiastically worn around town for weeks.
“He’s still wearing his dirty blazer,” the singer said to Tory, who was in the audience.
Jagger later introduced the band’s drummer Charlie Watts as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ mascot, seemingly for no particular reason.
He also took a jab at Ford’s “buck a beer” election platform, telling the crowd at one point that “for the next 15 minutes it’s a buck-a-beer — courtesy of Doug Ford.”
The comment elicited some boos in parts of the crowd, and no apparent discounts at the beer tents.
But the Stones’ fans didn’t seem to mind, so busy caught in a moment that would be a little piece of history, and perhaps even a farewell.
Earlier this year, Jagger underwent emergency heart surgery, putting the single Canadian date on hold, and raising questions about whether the British rockers would ever tour again. When the singer got the all clear, the date was back on.
“The heath scare was kind of an indication this might actually be the last one,” said Marc Fielding, who joined about 30 of his friends on a road trip from Toronto.
“They’re such an iconic band, so you don’t want to risk them maybe not coming back.”
For others in attendance, seeing the Stones live came with an extra significance.
Jackie Morin’s father, a longtime fan, died shortly after the Stones most recently played Toronto. So this night was an especially poignant moment.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “Never will you ever see a concert like this — it’s history.”
Dino Bruno landed tickets when his sister-in-law surprised him. He last saw the Stones in the mid-1970s at Maple Leaf Gardens where he said the local news captured him playing Frisbee with police in the street.
“The Stones were the bad boys of rock,” he said. “I wanted to be here because I want to die happy.”
Jayne Sidey first caught the Stones at a Canadian National Institute for the Blind benefit concert over 40 years ago in Oshawa, Ont. It was part of a court-ordered performance for Richards ‘after he was arrested for heroin possession.
She said she was forever changed by Jagger and his buddies and has gone to at least 20 Stones concerts since.
“I saw them three times in the U.K. last year, and we’re booked for two shows on this tour,” she said. “The 2013 show in Toronto was so good we all jumped in a car to Montreal and saw them there.”
Several homegrown acts performed before the Stones took the stage, including Saskatoon-formed One Bad Son, the Glorious Sons from Kingston, Ont., Toronto four-piece the Beaches, and longtime favourites Sloan.
Toronto cover band Dwayne Gretzky played a late-night show of other rock and pop classics, ranging from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The day-long festival marked the third concert on the Rolling Stones tour, which kicked off with two dates in Chicago a week ago.
After the Stones finished their set, they offered a hint of the resilience that’s kept them going for more than half a century.
“See you soon,” the digital screens read, alongside the band’s trademark tongue logo.
David Friend, The Canadian Press