Grey Eagle Casino, Calgary – Sept. 17, 2016
In honour of The Canadian Legacy Project (http://www.canadianlegacy.org), a charitable organization which offers assistance and support to Canadian military veterans in times of need, Doug Johnson (keyboards) opened Loverboy’s show with a respectful version of “Oh Canada.” Many in the crowd sang, but mostly they just stood quietly swaying.
Immediately afterwards, Johnson picked up a harmonica and played a few notes from “Notorious” as the rest of the band, Mike Reno (vocals), Paul Dean (guitars), Ken ‘Spider’ Sinnaeve (bass), and Matt Frenette (drums) entered with confidence and a little swagger in their step.
Loverboy likes to play live and it is evident in their faces—living in the moment. Sure, their heyday was years ago, but the songs still resonate, although the contexts are slightly different. “Get Lucky” has a different connotation when you’re in your 50s/60s from when it did in your 20s. “I understand that you’re partial to 80s music ‘round here,” proclaims Reno to enthusiastic cheers. He knows the Loverboy fan base very well. “If the crowd wasn’t so responsive,” he reflects after the show, “I might get tired,” of playing the same songs over and over, “but I don’t get tired if the crowd is like this,” as he gestures to the space around him.
The band isn’t trying to be something other than what they’ve always been, an efficient rock and roll band, playing their hits with a clear conscience and no expectations except to please. When asked about the industry, he states with some irritation in his voice, “There is no music industry; it’s live music, it’s selling t-shirts—that’s all there is. Music, recording like it used to be…isn’t happening anymore. It’s these subscription type places and they pay you nothing.”
“Take Me To The Top” was the most adventurous song of the night, beginning with a grooving synth solo which built into a jazzy groove as Frenette and Sinnaeve joined in. They played with the groove as Dean’s focused guitar playing pulled unexpected emotions from the melody with a few tasteful extended solos that transitioned nicely as the song morphed into The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Though they played the hits, one could hear some r&b texturing along with some early rock & roll feel; the songs sounded just a little darker than the recorded versions.
Never known for flash, all members maintained a workmanlike intensity, letting the songs speak for themselves. The audience erupted with “The Kid Is Hot Tonight,” bringing everyone to their feet with a large contingent running to the stage to dance as Reno encouraged them to sing along. After the song Reno, smiled broadly, thanked Calgary as the birthplace of the band, noting that many of the early songs were written in this town. As expected, these comments brought a huge cheer, as I imagine many felt this as a unique connection to the band’s story. “These songs are kind of like DNA,” he muses. “We kind of put them out there like people remember them. That’s the trick…for us…play them like they were recorded. Make everybody remember them the way they were.”
When asked about the difficulty of playing to his hometown crowd he smiles, “No, it’s not tough to play. It’s not tough to play those songs my friend.” His voice strong and clear, both on stage and off—proclaiming, “In my opinion it [his voice] seems to be way better, which is kind of freaky ‘cause usually things kind of wear out.”
“I like it when it feels like a real rock show,” when commenting on the stage and lighting of the hall. “The bigger the crowd, the better for me, “he enthuses, “but tonight was intimate and I really enjoyed it.” He remembers their first big show, backing up Kiss in Vancouver, with the late Jim Clench, who played with April Wine for a number of years. “He was so fresh in the band,” muses Reno, “the keyboards started ‘Turn Me Loose’ and he looked like a deer in the headlights—didn’t know where he was, so I walked over to him and went, ’dun da dun da.’” He laughs. He probably has hundreds of such memories.
“A Night To Remember” and “Hot Girls In Love” appealed directly to the women, whose cheering suggested they were bringing their own experiences of the songs to the forefront of their minds. “That’s the kind of cool part,” as he reflects on watching people in the audience slowly connect with an old memory and then smile to their friends, ’Yea, remember that…remember that…!’ with hands in the air. “I enjoy that!”
A Loverboy show couldn’t exist without “Turn Me Loose,” the opening bass line a surefire trigger for fists in the air and hoots and hollers. Then quickly followed by “Working For The Weekend” to end the show. They returned with ‘Loving Every Minute Of It” and “Jump” for the encore pieces. The crowd ate it up—faces full of smiles and laughter.
The hall was full of memories for everyone.
Brian Stanko with photos courtesy of Charles Hope.