WIDE MOUTH MASON
Where: Wicket Hall, 919 Douglas St.
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. (doors at 6)
Tickets: $25 from strathconahotel.com
When the Saskatoon rock band Wide Mouth Mason was at its commercial peak in the late 1990s, volumes of ink was spilled over the multi-facted skillset of its members, who blended rock, blues and funk in a way few bands from Western Canada were doing at the time.
Frontman Shaun Verreault always drew high praise for his guitar playing ability, which was incendiary, seemingly cut from the same cloth as Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But unbeknownst to many, Verreault, who now lives in Vancouver, never stopped bucking convention, where his guitar playing was concerned.
He explored the sonic possibilities of his playing on every record by the band, starting with the self-titled 1997 breakout — which earned the band a Juno Award nomination for best new group — through to its most recent effort, Late Night Walking, which arrived in September.
“I’ve been sort of reckless in my development as a player,” Verreault said with a laugh. “I’ll throw myself curveballs every couple of years, and be like, ‘You don’t get a [guitar] pick for year,’ just to see what it makes me do. Or I’ll tour without a pedalboard, and plug straight into the amps. When you’re young, you think ‘What can I do?’ But when you get a little more seasoned you think, ‘What should I do?’ ”
This approach is how Verreault developed his “tri-slide” technique, which uses three fingerslides on his fretting hand as opposed to one. He spent years learning to master lap-steel and resonator guitars, and used his new manner of playing as a focal point on Late Night Walking. He still plays a mean six-string electric, but he is wary of repeating himself.
“The people who have added something to the overall conversation of what you can do on the instrument, it’s kind of the way Prince approached using his voice. Which is to say, there’s a foundation you can’t escape, but you want to explore all possible options. That has always been part of what I aspire to as a musician.”
Late Night Walking was produced by former Age of Electric and Limblifter guitarist Ryan Dahle at his Mayne Island studio, with Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson on bass. Though he has toured with Wide Mouth Mason as a member of the group, Johnson will not join Verreault and fellow co-founder, Toronto-based drummer Safwan Javed, for Wide Mouth Mason’s performance at Wicket Hall on Saturday night. Reed Shimozawa of Zuckerbaby playing bass for the Vancouver Island run, which includes a sold-out stop Friday at The Queen’s in Nanaimo.
Verreault and Javed have been looking at new horizons in recent years, but paid some respect to their roots by re-releasing two of their early records, including their self-titled release and 1999’s Where I Started, in September. That era was a heady one for the group, from opening slots on tours with The Rolling Stones and AC/DC to back-to-back Juno Award nominations for rock album of the year.
Despite Verreault’s sonic experimentations, very little of the group’s DNA has changed. Some acts, which otherwise operate as a three-piece, add a rhythm guitarist or keyboard playerg to their touring unit, to help fatten the stage sound. That’s a no-go for Verreault and Wide Mouth Mason, which through all its line-up changes has never deviated from the power-trio format. Cream, ZZ Top, The Police, The Jimi Hendrix Experience are the reference points here, Verreault said.
“Space is a really big thing in a power trio,” Verreault said. “If you leave a hole in something, it becomes a really big event.”