Ian Tyson, Corb Lund: Two Prairie poets, one great night

What: Ian Tyson and Corb Lund
Where: Royal Theatre
When: Tuesday
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

It was a cowboy kind of evening on Tuesday as Alberta favourites Corb Lund and Ian Tyson kicked up some dust for a Royal Theatre audience. The sold-out concert was a showcase for the considerable talents of Lund, 46, and Tyson, 84, country and folk favourites decades apart in age but closely aligned in mindset.

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They sat side by side on a pair of stools during their two-set, co-headlining show, weaving humorous and heartfelt tales into a tapestry of classic Canadiana. And they did so with zero frills.

A mix of songs and stories was the nature of the night, and the two delivered with one winning stroke after another.

Ornamentation is hardly necessary when the draw is a songwriting legend like Tyson. His croon is much rougher these days, the result of near-fatal heart surgery and throat polyp surgery, but a considerable spark remains.

To be sure, the Victoria-born, Alberta-based icon was in fine form, banter-wise. He introduced Someday Soon with a Hall-of-Fame quip (“This song has paid a lot of alimony, I gotta tell ya”), and generally held court throughout.

His songs, often about cowboys characters from a forgotten segment of North America, spoke volumes when his voice could not.

The night featured stellar accompaniment from bassist Kurt Ciesla and guitarist Russell Broom, but it was Lund who did the heavy lifting musically.

That was to be expected going in, as the Taber, Alta., native is arguably at his peak as an artist and showman.

“I like to keep my eye on up-and-coming singers, and there’s a guy from Victoria I’m going to bring out in a bit,” Lund said at the outset of the evening. “I think you’re going to like him.”

The pair made sweet music on Lund’s Buckin’ Horse Rider, a plaintive ode about the life of a man who rides broncos for his hard-earned living, and duetted nicely Navajo Rug and other songs from Tyson’s vast cowboy catalogue. Lund — a former rodeo champion — plays a brand of country he jokingly calls “ag-trag,” which is short for agricultural tragedy.

He spun a true-life tale of farm-life woe about growing up the son of a farm veterinarian.

That led to the very Bob Dylan-like — and very funny — Talkin’ Veterinarian Blues, the night’s highlight.

As the night went on, Tyson’s voice grew hoarser and less effective, but the adulation for his presence only increased.

If he’s planning to call it a day any time soon, he’s going out in grand style.

The pair left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation, proving that far too often concerts like this one skip Victoria unnecessarily.

For once, it was nice to have two Prairie poets in our midst, if only for a few hours.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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