They liked Jess Moskaluke fine, and Dean Brody got some keen listeners two-stepping on the stairs
But about 3,800 Red Deer-area country music fans saved their biggest Central Alberta welcome for Calgary boy Paul Brandt Tuesday night at the Centrium.
The black-hatted headliner came on strong, singing I’m An Open Road with his five-piece band, prompting cheering spectators in the floor seats to collectively jump to their feet for the first time that evening.
As the tune built to a crescendo of guitar, mandolin and vocal intensity, Brandt brought Moskaluke back on stage after her lively opening set to share the mic for a couple of verses. And the Shania Twain-inspired Saskatchewan singer, with the new single Kiss Me Quiet, happily lent some of her sassy, soul-stirring energy to Brandt’s song about love and freedom.
Following Moskaluke’s departure from the spotlight, inflatable rubber duckies and beach balls were batted around by the crowd during the next Brandt next number, Forever Summer.
Then the concert got more laid back, which seemed like a good thing — at first.
When You Call My Name and Canadian Man, with its jazzy, lounge vibe, were well received. In between, Brandt spoke to fans with gratitude of his two-plus decades in the music business. “You’ve been behind me every step of the way … this doesn’t get old!”
After delivering his heartfelt hit Small Towns and Big Dreams, which got audience members clapping along, and the tongue-in-cheek Get a Bed, Brandt walked through the crowd to do a medley of slow tunes on a raised platform.
The amiable former pediatric nurse sang That’s What I Love About Jesus, inspired by church songs he grew up with. He continued with the slow-paced Home and Calm Before the Storm. After his strangely off-key version of I Meant to Do That, Brandt obligingly took his time taking a series of selfies with fans’ cellphones, while languidly performing his early hit, I Do.
Just as I was about to nod off, Brandt returned to the main stage and ramped up his pacing for My Heart Has a History and I’m Gonna Fly — which had fans stamping so hard, the stands were vibrating. Hello wake-up call!
Brandt’s biggest crowd-pleasers were Didn’t Even See the Dust and his terrific cover of the 1975 novelty song Convoy, which featured a Volkswagen Beatle-sized rubber duckie carried around the audience — something you don’t see every day …
White cowboy-hatted Brody performed a more evenly paced, high-energy set with his five-piece band.
At his best, the B.C. singer delivered a simmering, pot-boiler version of his Bring Down the House, complete with sexy banjo bits (no, that’s not an oxymoron). It’s Friday was performed as a memorable, Celtic-flavoured toe-tapper, while his opening tune, Bounty, had a haunting quality aided by a lonely train whistle sound.
At other times Brody listeners were required to suppress every ounce of cynicism to appreciate sentimental country fare, such as Little Yellow Blanket, People Know You By Your First Name, and Dirt Roads Scholar.
But the great thing about this artist is just when you think you have him figured out, Brody surprises with less predictable songs such as Wildflower, with a stirring electric violin solo, and the boisterous Roll That Barrel Out, with its Caribbean vibe.
Whether the chainsaw he deployed during his Mountain Man song falls into this category, I can’t say. But you’ve got to love Upside Down, about smokin’ weed. The tune contains traces of yodelling, whistling and is played on the ukulele. Brody said he was taught to perform on the tiny Hawaiian instrument by his eight-year-old daughter, who happens to play a yellow ukulele decorated with a unicorn.
“She taught me three chords and I wrote this song … but she’s not allowed to listen to it until she’s about 17 … or 18,” added the singer, who headed towards a strong finish with his hit, Dirt. In the spirit of country music, the song came ingrained with an acute sense of time passing.