Stage lights at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre dimmed as The Trews began playing the familiar intro of a song that’s come to epitomize Canadian duty and sacrifice.
Highway of Heroes, the band’s stirring single that was certified gold this week, was inspired by the 2006 death in Afghanistan of Capt. Nichola Goddard of Antigonish, N.S. But this fall, “this song takes on extra meaning,” said the band’s singer Colin MacDonald during Thursday’s concert.
He was referring, of course, to the recent murders of two Canadian soldiers on home soil.
As the mournful sound of synthesized bag pipes melded with the song’s militaristic drumming and wailing guitars, MacDonald’s high, raspy voice filled the theatre: “Carry me home down The Highway of Heroes. … People above with their flags flying low. …”
It all made for an electrifying moment — or would have, if not for the unusually expressive interpretive dancing going on in front of me, and the loud jabbering of the selfie-snapping fans sitting behind me (when they weren’t making for the beer line).
But, I guess, that’s par for the course at a Trews concert. …
Is there another Canadian group that so successfully straddles the divide between producing beer-hall party music and tunes that capture, so poignantly, life’s disappointments and heartbreaks? If there is, I can’t think of it.
The 700-seat theatre was also nearly full of rapt (and far better-behaved) Trews fans. Dozens of them hung onto the band’s every lyric, often singing the words back to the musicians. Fans stood, four deep, in front of the stage for much of the concert, swaying to melodies, whistling and cheering — and even leaping up in applause midway through to show their appreciation.
The Trews inspire a fervent, headlong devotion — and deservedly so, for the Nova Scotia band puts on an amazing live show.
One of many highlights from the concert was a rousing rendition of Yearning in the first acoustic set. Just as the song’s melody was starting to fade out, the musicians picked up steam again and climaxed in frenzied playing by lead guitarist John-Angus MacDonald, keyboardist Jeff Heisholt, bassist Jack Syperek and drummer Sean Dalton.
The set also included the drown-your-sorrows break-up song The Power of Positive Drinking, and also When You Leave, Ishmael and Maggie, the torchy Hope & Ruin, Oblivion and infectious, harmonica-driven Sing Your Heart Out — which involved the audience doing just that.
The mood turned several shades bluer with 65 Roses, written for the band’s late agent, Paul Gourlie, who died at age 38 of cystic fibrosis. “You can borrow time, but you still run out of days,” sang Colin MacDonald, reinforcing the rarity of a rollicking band that can write that sort of heart-catching lyric.
I Can’t Stop Laughing was a huge favourite that got everyone clapping along, while the funky Hollis and Morris featured bongo drums, as well as an impressive keyboard solo.
The band continued serving up hits in the electric second half, including Not Ready to Go, Paranoid Freak, Tired of Waiting and Poor Ol’ Broken Hearted, which became another audience sing-along with some barrelhouse keyboard playing and unusual percussion. (Colin MacDonald remarked that a Red Deer theatre has never heard so much cow bell and he might well be right.)
There was the new Trews single What’s Fair is Fair, and some trippy psychedelic instrumentals on Hold Me In Your Arms — especially a phenomenal prolonged guitar solo from John-Angus MacDonald, who made his instrument wail, howl and scream before he held it triumphantly over his head.
The show ended (appropriately enough) with People of the Deer — as well as So She’s Leaving.
For most of the concert, Colin MacDonald was too busy singing and playing his heart out to do much chit-chatting. But he did note how long it’s been since his group last played in Red Deer (about four years, since The Trews last performed at the 2010 Central Music Festival).
Let’s hope for a sooner return visit.