Bringing their 20th Anniversary tour to Red Deer Wednesday Collective Soul lead vocalist Ed Roland and his band mates rhythm guitarist Dean Roland

Collective love-in

It didn’t take long for Collective Soul’s scorching concert this week at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre to become a virtual love-in for the full-house crowd.

It didn’t take long for Collective Soul’s scorching concert this week at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre to become a virtual love-in for the full-house crowd.

By the time the Georgia-based rock band launched into its second song on Wednesday evening — a new one called Are You The Answer­ — the first female fan was already dancing by the stage.

A throng of young men in concert T-shirts ambled down the aisle to join her during the familiar guitar riffs to Heavy. And more fans congregated at the front as lead singer Ed Roland started playing the familiar acoustic melody of Precious — an audience favourite.

Then it happened: Just as Collective Soul launched into the fifth song, the moody and electric December, most of the 720 people in the venue jumped to their feet and stayed standing throughout the show.

As the stage became flooded with blue light, even some of the self-conscious-looking guys in the audience sang (or at least mouthed along) to the lyrics: “Don’t worry about, don’t speak of doubt … turn your head now baby — just spit me out!”

And Roland played his acoustic guitar with such intensity, his knuckles rhythmically rapped on wood.

The only bigger highlight was hearing The World I Know performed in that intimate setting.

Collective Soul delivered this hymn against indifference with appropriate feeling. As a video of trees and mountains flickered across the background screen and the swell of music expanded through the room, it became a moving collective experience.

Roland, who often closed his eyes and grasped the mike stand with both hands, kept the audience rapt without having to grandstand. It wasn’t his style.

The unassuming singer had previously thanked Red Deer “for inviting us here,” and expressed gratitude for his fans’ patience in listening to a couple of songs they were unfamiliar with. He promised to “play all those songs from before” and didn’t let anyone down during a full two-hour concert of mostly recognizable tunes and hits.

Among them was Compliment and Better Now, which both featured phenomenal playing from lead guitarist Jesse Triplett. There was also Gel — the song that really made the band some 20 years ago.

Roland recounted how the break-out hit, Shine, came from a demo track that he had recorded in the basement. When it was time to put a group together and release a full album, Gel “became the first song we ever recorded as a band.” And its heavy bass line, overlaid with a catchy guitar melody pretty much became the band’s signature sound.

Wednesday’s performance of Gel took on a surreal aspect with the audience’s hypnotic repetition of the uh-huh chorus and a graphic of a whirling tunnel on the video screen.

Collective Soul also served up Sister Don’t Cry, Where the River Flows, Why Pt. 2, Counting the Days, She Said and Reunion. The latter two were powerful solos delivered by Roland spotlighted with his guitar.

Hollywood featured a band jam and a laid-back reggae vibe and the new song Comes Back to You had the audience chiming along. Throughout, the group’s ongoing love of performing was obvious and infectious.

The uplifting and ultra-popular Shine was saved for the encore. Roland took over on the keyboards during this tune, then switched back to an acoustic guitar for the final song of the evening, Run.

As this last ear-wormish melody wound down, all of the musicians — including Triplett, rhythm guitarist (and Ed’s brother) Dean Roland, bassist Will Turpin and drummer Johnny Rabb — came to downstage to greet fans. They reached out and shook a forest of raised hands.

And after all that musical intensity, there was the sense a reluctant farewell was taking place, made the more so by Ed Roland’s, “God bless.”

Before Collective Soul finished its encore, opening act Molly Thomason was invited to share the stage with the band — and she got a well-deserved hug from Roland.

The talented Nova Scotian, whose last album was produced by John-Angus MacDonald of The Trews, is going to be someone to watch for. Sporting glasses, shaggy hair and sensible boots, Thomason came across as confidently androgynous as Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders — which is refreshing in this age of prepackaged, sexed-up singers.

It’s about time another authentic female with a kick-ass voice fronted a rock band — and judging from the crowd reaction to Thomason, a lot of people feel the same.

The energetic performer, who performed as part of a four-piece band, is an original who knows how to write a smart, appealing rock tune ­— so here’s to hearing less golden oldies from Heart and more of her barbed love song to Antigonish on local radio.

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