Emerson Drive heats the house on frigid tour

For a band that was dogged throughout Western Canada by Arctic cold fronts, Emerson Drive was smokin’ hot in Red Deer.

For a band that was dogged throughout Western Canada by Arctic cold fronts, Emerson Drive was smokin’ hot in Red Deer.

More than 600 cheering, clapping fans jumped to their collective feet on Wednesday night at the Memorial Centre, giving the country group a standing ovation for a job well done. Like a relentlessly entertaining Energizer bunny, the Grammy-nominated six-man band spent the previous two hours belting out hit after hit — including the massive No. 1 single, Moments.

Emerson Drive’s lead singer Brad Mates not only motored through nearly 20 of his own tunes, but just when you thought there was nothing left to play, the group formed in Grande Prairie came out for an encore performing other people’s hits.

These included energetic versions of the Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody and The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.

And just in case that wasn’t enough music for the most rabid fans, Emerson Drive closed the show with a brand new song the group had written especially for the tour. (Now that, my friends, is what you’d call a work ethic.)

Earlier, Mates joked about how the musicians heard at every tour stop that they’d just missed above-zero temperatures by a couple of days. “We decided to go on a tour of Western Canada in February and March. Some would say we’re not the smartest boys in the country . . . others would say we’re insane,” he added.

Regardless, the near full-house crowd seemed happy to have braved the -30C windchill to hear the band play.

Emerson Drive is a coterie of immensely talented musicians — Danick Dupelle on guitar, Mike Melancon on drums, Dale Wallace on keyboards, David Pichette on the fiddle and touring bassist Arlo Gilliam. Together they produce an intense, highly textured, acoustic/electric sound that can pack some emotional punch.

Mates told fans he regularly gets emails from people who say the song Moments, about a homeless man who gives a suicidal stranger something to live for, helped get them through a rough patch in their own lives.

“It’s really connected with people,” said the singer, who performed the hit under dimmed stage lights and a golden glow.

Another inspiring tune, When I See You Again, was written about the suicide of the band’s former bassist Patrick Bourque three years ago. Mates said the song took two and a half years to write because “the emotions were hard to explain.”

Emerson Drive also played a lot of upbeat songs, including Good Man, Sleep It Off, Waitin’ On Me, The Extra Mile, Fall Into Me, My Kind of Crazy and the euphoric Countrified Soul, which featured fiddler Pichette jumping on a chair arm and performing in the audience.

Several reflective tunes with lovely melodies were played as well, including November, If You Were My Girl and That Kind of Beautiful — proving that Emerson Drive is not only talented and hardworking, but versatile.

The concert opened with Ridley Bent, a Nova Scotia singer/songwriter playing along with another guitarist.

Bent is a true original, who performs atmospheric ballads about sordid deeds done in seedy taverns — kind of like a cowboy singing version of the poet Robert Service. He’s been dubbed a “hick hop,” or country rap artist for his unique stylings on songs such as Suicide Winder.

Bent sure deserved better than having at least a half-dozen audience members tuning into their iPhones or Blackberries instead of his stage performance.

Not only are all the glowing lights distracting for other audience members, but it’s pretty much the equivalent of taking a book and a reading light with you to the concert. In other words, it’s insulting to the artist, so quit it.