Great Big Sea
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Rating: 4-1/2 stars (out of five)
A distance of nearly 8,000 kilometres separates Victoria, B.C. and St. John’s, N.L., but the two cities felt only a few metres apart on Saturday night.
Great Big Sea, one of the most popular and beloved groups ever to come out of Newfoundland, was at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to kick off its umpteenth Canadian tour, and the stars were most definitely aligned for an epic evening.
The model for success was ready-made, given the key ingredients: Great Big Sea, celebrating its 20th anniversary, playing in a town that likes to party, on the best party night of the week. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the good vibes to kick into high gear.
“Come on, it’s Saturday night,” screamed Alan Doyle, one the band’s three frontmen. “Let me hear you sing it!”
The sold-out audience of 3,803 was in high spirits right out of the gate. The group matched their energy level step for step, setting the stage for a night to remember — not to mention a concert full of highlights.
It was an action-packed concert, with two 13-song sets spanning the entirety of the band’s two-decade career, including hits, misses and a really bad TV commercial from the early ‘90s screened on a big monitor for all the fans to see.
They played more than half of 1995’s Up, but focused on no album for long stretches. The even offered a few unreleased gems, for the diehards.
With a pair of full sets, totalling well over two-and-a-half hours and 29 songs, there was bound to be disappointments. Not on this night, to be honest: In the half-dozen times I have seen the group perform, never have they played with as much power and personality as they did on this night. It was a flawless display of pop songcraft, interspersed with some down-home East Coast personality.
“One of the best kisses I’ve ever had in my life was right here in Victoria,” singer Sean McCann said, giving one of his four shout-outs to the Sticky Wicket pub in the process. “It was 20 years ago, so the statute of limitations has passed.”
The concert chronicled the lives — both the might and the plight — of those who call Newfoundland and Labrador home, including a series of mournful traditionals.
In the world of Great Big Sea, there’s as much reason to raise a pint to a working man’s song like The River Driver as there is to a party starter like Run Runaway. And the band proved there’s few groups better at bridging the gap.
“This is one for the dancers in the house,” Doyle said at the outset of The Night Pat Murphy Died, a traditional the group reworked on its massively popular 1997 album, Play.
Dance this audience did. With occasional sojourns into Black Eyed Peas, Pink, and Stompin’ Tom Connors, it was a Saturday night set. It was perfectly balanced delivered by a group of kin, Doyle said, that hail “from the other island, way on the other side.”
The group, which also features singer and multi-instrumentalist Bob Hallett, was backed on this night by longtime bandmates drummer Kris MacFarlane and bassist Murray Foster, with spot help from University of Victoria jazz professor Patrick Boyle, who assisted on the traditional tune, Penelope, and the original Straight to Hell. Everyone carried their weight; not a single one missed a beat.
“What a night,” Doyle said at the beginning of the second encore. “I wish they could all be like this one.”
Ain’t that the truth.
© Copyright 2013