Trust The Trews to shoot an arrow straight into the frilly heart of Valentine’s Day.
Romance came with a jagged edge on Sunday night at the Memorial Centre when almost 700 fans of the Nova Scotia group gathered for a boisterous, foot-stomping acoustic concert that was (lyrically, at least) also full of emotional turmoil.
“This is one for… the cheating hearts, the confused and the philanderers,” said lead singer Colin MacDonald before launching into Man of Two Minds, a tune about a guy in love with two women.
“Sometimes you send up with neither one because you tried to be with both,” he added. “What were you thinking?”
The mostly unplugged band —including Colin’s brother John-Angus MacDonald on lead guitar, pork-pie-hatted bassist Jack Syperek, drummer Gavin Maguire, and keyboard player Jeff Heisholt — got the crowd swaying along in front of the stage to the tune about “selfish fear and foolish pride.”
If that wasn’t a spiky enough valentine, there was also I Can’t Stop Laughing (I’m not even happy).
It was written from a line provided by late, great Newfoundland songwriter Ron Hynes, who once asked Colin to trade a drink for a lyric. “I thought it sounded like a fair trade,” Colin recalled — and the result was the most rollicking tune ever written about a guy getting stinking drunk after being dumped by his girlfriend.
I Can’t Stop Laughing, with Heisholt playing the accordion and John-Angus on the mandolin, got a huge reaction from the Central Alberta crowd — especially the fans who took advantage of the rousing dance beat that’s so comically at odds with the song’s heartbreaking lyrics.
But the thematic misery didn’t stop there: The Trews also delivered Power of Positive Drinking, When You Leave, Hope & Ruin, Poor Ol Broken Hearted Me (which left listeners clapping along), So She’s Leaving, and Den of Thieves, described as a song about a Canadian Bonnie and Clyde, who go out on a bender instead of a hail of bullets.
All of these melodies were so upbeat — often involving Heisholt’s barrel-house piano playing and Maguire doing triple duty on the shakers, drum kit and bongos —you’d hardly know the tunes were about hurt and despair.
The tempo did slow for the most moving song of the evening — Highway of Heroes, written for a female Canadian Forces soldier from Antagonish who was killed in Afghanistan. The chorus of “True patriot love/there was never more” was absolutely spine-tingling.
But music from The Trews generally isn’t about moping in your beer. This rock band celebrates the resilience of ordinary people through songs like Ishmael & Maggie.
When Colin sings “We’re all broken hearted here,” he gives universal comfort to anyone suffering the pain of being human.
The Trews musicians, dressed in suits, were such talented and engaging players they held the audience spellbound over two sets and more than 2 1/2 hours of playing, even though the five sat planted on stools for nearly the whole time.
Other favourites were Hollis and Morris, which finished with a fantastic drum solo, as well as John-Angus’s interesting guitar riffs on Yearning. The band also played What’s Fair is Fair, Sing Your Heart Out, and In the Morning, for which the raspy-voiced Colin capably handled both parts of the duet he recorded with Serena Ryder.
As an encore, The Trews performed Tired of Waiting and Not Ready to Go.
You could say the last song was most appropriate, since there’s no way the audience was ready to go.