The band is just about to get started, so throw the switch, it’s rock and roll time.
Over the Neptune
It’s been awhile since I reviewed a CBC Radio 2 Concert on Demand, so I thought I’d take some time to check out Gord Downie‘s recent performance with The Sadies. This show promises to be a mixture of tunes from a variety of sources. Gord Downie is well known as the frontman of Canadian icons The Tragically Hip. The Sadies are a well traveled alt-country act. They are probably best known for backing up Neko Case, whose recent work has garnered critical and popular acclaim. Thanks to a very nice commenter I now know that this show was part of a longer deal on a program called Fuse. The show took place in Ottawa, at the Studio 40 Broadcasting Centre. Without further ado, on to the show!
The show kicks off with Gord Downie’s Over the Neptune. This is a very short little song that gets us warmed up for what’s to come. Already though the energy is apparent.
The next song begins before the previous one even ends. This is a cover of Robert Pollard’s Figment. He is known for leading Guided By Voices for over 20 years, and being one of the most prolific songwriters of the last couple of decades. Downie sounds a lot more raspy than im used to so far, but that could be a function of the song. If you are used to The Sadies as Neko Cases band then this absolute bit of rocking will be a little surprising. The guitars are masterful, and the outro bit of this song is fantastic.
The group immediately shows its Canadian allegencies by playing Too Far Gone by the immortal Neil Young. I think the CBC has a rule that if you play one of their recorded concerts you have to cover Neil Young, since his songs have shown up in previous installments. This is a fun little cover, and to hear Downie, who is one of Canada’s most distinctive voices, taking on Neil Young’s melody is quite nice. Once again we are treated to a nice little solo. It’s reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I like that. Neil Young is actually the ideal song writer for The Sadies, because he was alt-country before it had a name.
The First Inquisition is a Sadies’ tune. I’d quote some lyrics for you, but Downie is usually difficult to comprehend when he sings live. Should you live for yourself, or die in his name. If you are familiar with surf music then you have probably heard a lot of the mushy guitar tone from this show. The use of distortion and reverb create a guitar sound that combines dirty water with a little sinkholes.
This whole show is being played up tempo, but Flash, another Sadies’ song, cranks the speed up even more. The solo is almost too fast to hear, but still fits into this bluesy country song. The show has the feel of a high school dance or friend’s basement show. I don’t mean that the quality is bad, in fact the musicianship is great. It’s that this doesn’t feel slick and commercial, rather it could be a big party for a few friends on a Saturday night. It’s hard to argue with fun like that. Every musician gets a moment or two to shine and the crowd gets to rock along.
Without even checking I instantly know the next song is by Johnny Cash. Downie is doing is best impression, and the distinctive guitar and bass parts (you know the rhythm that seems to dominate every Cash song) is on full display.
Fire In The Hole starts out like a U2 song with generous bits of echoed guitar. Downie, who has been on from the word go, is in his element here. Another great solo, a little understated but still grand, leads to a musical breakdown around the middle of the song. I bet the crowd left this show feeling energized and exhausted all at once. There is no let down through the first 7 songs I’ve reviewed.
Almost on cue we get a mellower track. A cover of Roky Erickson’s I have Always Been Here Before, is a bit obscure for me. The song is only a few years old, but the man has been making music on and off for 40 years. Til the devil’s clock strikes midnight. This seems like a song that grows out of a lifetime of ups and downs during turbulent personal and societal times.
What better way to finish a mostly country-ish set then to pull out The StoogesSearch and Destroy. No other song in the online version of this set even remotely matches this one. It is punk through and through. Somebody gotta save my soul.
This concert quickly ends almost as soon as it begins. In less than half an hour Gord Downie and The Sadies have gone from Neil Young to Iggy Pop without missing a beat or even slowing down for a drink. This is one show that is definitely worth a listen. Gord Downie has been increasingly branching out in recent years with much success, and The Sadies are an accomplished backing band. In some ways the show is a reminder of how music used to be in clubs and bars all over the Western world. Musical men with big personalities like Ronnie Hawkins put together highly talented backing groups to belt out their own work as well as recognizable covers for an audience that loved a good time. You will get that and more with this recording.