Coasting on his sheer, over-the-top niceness, Johnny Reid showed his tartan army of 4,500 Central Alberta fans some crazy kind of love Saturday night at Red Deer’s Centrium.
Subtlety was not key to Juno Award-winning, multi-platinum-selling Reid’s behemoth What Love is All About concert.
Featuring a brief appearance by fiddler Natalie MacMaster, and a duet with Senegalese Montrealer, Elage Diouf, the show started with such sentimental sentences as: “Love is the greatest gift we have to give… a warm embrace on a cold day” projected onto a scrim.
It wound down nearly 3 1/2 hours after the opening acts, with a (what the…??) dancing peacock mascot shaking his tail feathers centre stage.
In between was a Las Vegas-style variety show with Reid’s crack eight-piece band, two powerful, thigh-shaking backup singers, columns of billowing coloured smoke, a lava-lamp light show on ruched curtains, and last, but too-memorable-to-be-least: Reid’s impression of a Brazilian man speed-walking in Speedos.
The affable, energetic singer kicked things off with My Heart Beats Like A Drum, off his new What Love is All About album. This entailed him criss-crossing the stage and bringing a couple of young, kilt-wearing Highland drummers out to join the two musicians in his band already playing bongos and a drum kit.
With this plethora of percussion, when the lyrics said, “My heart goes Boom! Boom!” it certainly did.
Reid was greeting audience members and handing out pictures during When the Sun Goes Down. “We love you Johnny!” screamed one of Reid’s diehard female fans — and Reid answered by doing a lone waltz centre stage and showing us his jazz hands.
The mostly mature crowd was full engaged by the third song, clapping along for an extended version of Fire It Up that involved fiery curtain projections and Tina Turner-like moves from the backup singers, who also got to showcase their exceptional voices. The performance was a highlight.
“Good to see ya!” Reid later told cheering fans. “Thanks you for spending your hard-earned dollars to see us!”
The Scottish-born, Toronto-raised entertainer was in a chatty mood during this return engagement in Red Deer. He singled out various audience members, such as a fan who just lost her 52-year-old husband, the 97-year-old woman who came up from Lethbridge to catch his concert, and a little girl who got through a harrowing hospital stay with the encouragement of the Bead of Courage program, a charity he’s supporting on this tour.
He cracked jokes about Oil of Olay, Fisherman’s Friend throat lozenges, and Tetley tea.
And Reid told sermon-like inspirational stories: about his hard-working father who started delivering coal at age 12, and still refuses to retire; about the speed of life and a picture wall in his house, and about how Reid came to do what he does. He stated: “A long time ago, God gave me some talent…The Johnny Reid thing, it’s just a name on a billboard. It’s much bigger than me.”
“Music is a vehicle, unity is a destination,” he added. “We’re here because we believe in something bigger than ourselves.”
The crowd went wild with each pronouncement.
Tucked somewhere amid the chitchat was more music — including A Woman Like You, which caused hundreds of cellphones to twinkle, and the inspirational Today I’m Going to Try to Change the World. Reid boldly asked audience members to go “ape s—t” over his new song, A Picture of You — and they complied. The poignant tune has all the makings of a radio hit.
Sprightly Nova Scotian fiddler MacMaster, made a brief but laudable appearance to do some Irish dancing while playing a Celtic instrumental. Reid kicked up his own heels to joined her.
Later, he sang the bilingual Just One Day with Diouf, with fans chiming in on the chorus.
Reid also performed the more upbeat Honey Honey, Peacock, his successful cover, Darlin’, and the title -track of his new album, What Love is All About.
Cynical minx that I am, I couldn’t help thinking that more music and less cloying commentary would have been made a better show. But what do I know?
By the time Reid had woven his way though the audience, hugging seniors ladies and dancing with little girls, the concert was officially a love-in. And 4,500 tartan fans can’t be wrong.
The evening opened in the capable hands of Alberta country artists Aaron Goodvin, of Spirit River, and Red Deer-born Calgarian JJ Shiplett, who sang songs about whisky and dancing — as well as love.