When he isn’t singing, Big Wreck’s Ian Thornley is a man of few words.
Perhaps wisely, he let his guitars do most of the talking at Monday night’s near sellout rock concert at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre. And it turned out the six-stringers the frontman regularly traded off (one per song, in every colour, as if guitar-making elves were busy backstage) had a lot of fascinating things to say.
Thornley and fellow Big Wreck guitarists Paolo Neta and Brian Doherty coaxed indelible sounds from their endless parade of different instruments. From the Celtic-flavoured melody for Albatross, created with a double-necked electric number, to the echoey, atmospherics on Blown Wide Open, achieved with more standard guitar, the concert was a very cool, visceral listening experience.
Certainly the 600-plus Central Alberta fans who attended thought so. Many were up on their feet by the second tune, That Song, waving their arms and rock fingers in the air.
Meanwhile, purple and blue stage lights swept the band as Thornley repeated the familiar refrain: “I really love that tune, Man, I loooove that song, I really loooove that song. …”
Despite some sound-system distortion, the performance underlined that Thornley’s other most powerful instrument is his distinctive, acrobatic tenor voice.
He used it almost operatically on songs like I Digress, about jealous insecurity, which involves a painfully howled “ooooh” preceding “I’m the one for you.” On Wolves, Thornley sang “bleeeed out your heart (if it’s still beating for someone else)” as if the words are actually being drained out of him.
His big voice was cast like a net over the audience during the tunes My Life and Ghosts, roping us in with such lines as “If these ghosts let me go, I would set fire to them all. …” The latter song also included that rarest of beasts, an innovative guitar/bass duel between Thornley and McMillan,
It became very evident that Big Wreck is made up of five immensely talented musicians — including drummer Chuck Keeping, who helped create a darkly hypnotic and building beat, starting with a throw to Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall and finishing with an intense version of Big Wreck’s Ladylike.
For the record, Thornley did do some talking: He threw out a “How’re ya doing?” to the crowd, apologized for forgetting the second verse of a song (he said he should just write two first verses in future and be done with it), and admitted he can’t stand to be around smokers since quitting a couple of months ago.
But let’s face it, his music spoke louder.
By the encore, a quarter of audience members had left their seats and were crowding around the stage as musical chameleon Neta sang Highway to Hell (doing an amazing job of channelling AC/DC, by the way). Thornley later took back the mike to close the show with Big Wreck’s early hit, The Oaf.
As he finished singing “My luck is wasted,” Thornley launched into an otherworldly guitar solo that was haunting, strange and indescribable — a fantastic way to end an unforgettable concert.
The night opened with another talented band, “rock ’n’ roll mammoth” Royal Tusk. Edmonton’s bearded rockers have good sense of a catchy riff, as shown in such songs as The Letter and another that curses the weather, ‘‘cause we hate it when it rains.” Singer Daniel Carriere can also play a mean harmonica.