Ten bewitching Toronto concert photographs of Lady Gaga, Kurt Cobain and Rush

Ten bewitching Toronto concert photographs of Lady Gaga, Kurt Cobain and Rush

If you’ve attended a major rock concert in Toronto at any point over the past 35 years, then you’ve probably seen Richard Beland. Or, at least, the back of his head. Since 1986, the veteran photographer has been a stage front fixture. He’s captured music’s biggest names in action, while also being granted exclusive access to the inner sanctums of notoriously secretive bands like Rush and The Tragically Hip.

With over 3,000 shows under his belt, Beland is opening up his archive this month to display 55 images at a career retrospective at Yorkville’s Liss Gallery. Here, he tells us about the stories behind 10 of his most striking snaps.


Kurt Cobain

November 1993 at Maple Leaf Gardens

Ken Tizzard rang me on my birthday—this is before he was the bassist for The Watchmen; at the time he was working for Canadian Musician magazine. I was in my second year at Fanshawe studying photography and his sister Paula was in my class, so we made a connection. Ken knew I was keen on photographing bands, and he asked, “Do you want to go to Toronto to shoot Nirvana tomorrow night at Maple Leaf Gardens?” And I said, “Absolutely!” This was the only time I photographed the band; Kurt died the next April. To be able to photograph them at their peak was very exciting, and this photo really captures the energy of the early 90s.


Mick Jagger

October 2002 at the SkyDome

Getting a good photograph of Mick Jagger is no easy task because he never stops moving. This one is from the first few minutes of the concert, right when he comes on stage. It doesn’t take him long to get that jacket off.


Gord Downie

December 1998, behind the Horseshoe Tavern

I was shooting a Chart magazine cover story at the Horseshoe about the Hip going on the Phantom Power tour with By Divine Right, and after we finished the job inside, I said, “Why don’t we just go out back and do some more shots?” There was a beige wall, and I was using natural light while Gord was getting ready and fixing his toque. It wasn’t a planned photograph—I was just testing my camera to make sure the shot would work. Then, Shelley Stertz and Jake Gold—from the Hip’s management team—called me up and asked for usable photos for an upcoming tour. It’s such a weird shot. I cropped his wrist off; it breaks every rule that I teach. But they ended up using it for all kinds of things. It’s probably my most known photograph of Gord.


David Bowie

August 2002 at the Molson Amphitheatre

This is one of those moments I’m often looking for—something dynamic. You’re waiting a lot of times for that moment. If I would’ve photographed Bowie one second before or a second later, it wouldn’t have been as cool a photograph. But I got the moment right before the action.


Lady Gaga

July 2010 at the Air Canada Centre

Normally, you’d shoot a grand piano in landscape, but this whole scene just lent itself to being vertical—the fire’s reaching up, and her hand’s reaching up. When my kids were younger, I told them a story: Lady Gaga’s piano was on fire and she was waving for the fire department to help her.


The Police

July 2007 at Air Canada Centre

A few people have asked if this is really my photograph. There’s a photograph similar to this one from the ’70s, but I can assure you this is my photograph. There was a bit of luck and serendipity with band members Stewart Copeland in the background and Andy Summers off to the right. But I will also give myself some credit, because I could just feel that Sting was about to launch himself.


Keith Richards

July 2003 at SARStock

Keith’s pose, here, has this natural S-curve that leads the eye subtly through the photo. And he’s just the epitome of cool—who gets to walk around without their shirt done up and still look cool?


Neil Peart

January 2005 at Metalworks Studios

I’ve always been a massive Rush fan and seen every single tour since Grace Under Pressure in 1984. This was right after the 2004 tsunami and my friend and photographer Andrew MacNaughtan was directing the video for the Canada for Asia benefit show. Rush was recording “Closer to the Heart” with Bubbles (a.k.a. Mike Smith from Trailer Park Boys) and Ed Robertson out at Metalworks. Andrew needed a still photographer to cover the day, and in this particular moment, Neil is looking at Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Bubbles, and Ed—they’re horsing around and joking. I was sitting right beside Neil, observing him observing them, and discreetly snapping photographs.


Robert Plant

July 2008 on the Molson Amphitheatre grounds

Robert Plant, Allison Kraus and T Bone Burnett were scheduled to do a press conference at Molson Amphitheatre. I went down early and was alone in the press tent. Robert came in and sat down, and he was just looking at me. I brought my camera up to my eye, and Robert kept looking. I thought, if he’s not cool with this, he’s going to turn his head or he’s going to walk away. I took five or six photos and then quietly put my camera down. He nodded at me when I was finished, almost as if to say, “Thank you for not being obnoxious.”



September 2009 at the Rogers Centre

I’ve probably shot every U2 tour since 1987, but it’s very difficult to get all of the band members together in one shot. Especially when they’re playing stadiums. This moment didn’t last very long, because The Edge and Adam Clayton were going to take off at any moment, and it’s always hard to get a drummer with the drumsticks in the air. Everything coalesced, here, for me.