Sheepdogs performance: Undeniably optimistic

It was a grand — some might even say heroic — return to Red Deer for The Sheepdogs.

It was a grand — some might even say heroic — return to Red Deer for The Sheepdogs.

The Saskatoon band’s bassist, Ryan Gullen, scanned the crowd of a couple thousand who caught The Sheepdogs’ Saturday Westerner Days concert at the Centrium and said, “last time we played here was at The Vat to 10 people.

“This is pretty fantastic. Thank you very much, Red Deer!’

It’s been seven long years since the five shaggy rockers put on a show here. And a lot’s happened in that time — most notably, The Sheepdogs beat 15 other indie bands to win a 2011 contest to get on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, received three Juno Awards in 2012, and topped the charts with five singles.

If their goal now is to make a great live impression on audiences across Canada, well, the talented musicians certainly succeeded in Red Deer.

Their one-and-a-half hour concert delivered killer three-part harmonies, duelling lead guitar solos, and even some step/turn/kick rock ‘n’ roll choreography.

Some curious fair-goers who ambled into the Centrium to listen from the stands later moved to the floor to get closer to a group that created a club feeling in the voluminous arena.

The Sheepdogs grabbed attention with a funky instrumental intro, then moved to boogie beat of How Late How Long. This involved some inventive playing, courtesy of singer/guitarist Ewan Currie and Rusty Matyas of Winnipeg’s Imaginary Cities. (Matyas is filling in until the group can replace Leot Hanson, who recently left the band after opening a bar in Saskatoon.)

With the heavier sound of I Need Help, a few of the wackier fans were waving the spoils of their carnival games in time to the music — namely, those large inflatable hammers. And, sure enough, a few came down, Thor-like, on the heads of fellow fair-goers.

Howling guitars and a slower groove gave vent to emotions behind The One You Belong To, but the band soon sped up again with the pulsating, psychedelic melody of Feeling Good, and Gonna Be Myself.

With little kids dancing in the stands, young fans body surfing on top of the crowd near the stage, and a teenager boy spotted skipping across the Centrium floor, there’s something undeniably optimistic about The Sheepdogs’ music.

Maybe it’s the vintage organ, stacked harmonies, or the band’s laidback vibe. But even when bearded Ewan (his bushy hair now shorn) sang I Don’t Get By, Crying, or Ewan’s Blues — a fantastic, wistful song featuring keyboardist Shamus Currie on the trombone — the mood wasn’t a downer.

Southern Dreaming, with its plinky, electric ukelele guitar sound, or the lighthearted Hello L.A. is more indicative of the band’s upbeat spirit, which really is reminiscent of the late 1960s, early 1970s.

A highlight was when the tune Hang Onto Yourself was delivered with the two guitarists, bassist and keyboardist (brandishing a tambourine), lined up at the front of the stage, stepping in synch like a white, somewhat ungainly version of Sly & the Family Stone.

Drummer Sam Corbett stood behind them, whacking his drum sticks together above his head, as the audience clapped along. Another memorable moment was hearing the band’s scorching version of Neil Young’s Southern Man.

The biggest hits Who, The Way It Is, and I Don’t Know didn’t get played until right at the end of the concert. But who cares? The Sheepdogs had us at hello.