By Keith Sharp
You’ve got to hand it to Johnny Reid for knowing his audience. Call him ` the Justin Bieber of the senior set’, during a two-night stand at Toronto’s Danforth Theatre, this affable Scotsman totally enthralled a packed hall with a performance which combined high energy, Stax-flavoured R&B music (aided by a 13-member ensemble), stylish ballads plus a magnetic ability to connect with his Tartan Army audience. Johnny Reid is the epitome of a total entertainer.
Supported by a solid opening set by Toronto newcomer Jessica Mitchell and an inspired mid-set appearance by Glass Tiger members, Alan Frew, Sam Reid and Al Connolly, Reid epitomized just how far he has come from those days playing country/folk tunes in regional Quebec bars with the type of band set up he has long dreamed about presenting.
The title of his new album `Revival ‘tells you all you want to know about Reid’s current music direction. He is an amalgamation of adult music, blending old style Stax/Motown with contemporary ballads, and yes, judging by his poignant duet with Mitchell on “Whiskey Kisses” he can still deliver a solid country music hit.
What is overall impressive about Reid’s show is A) he understands the demographic of his audience to know that he needs to start his show early and finish it, relatively early. And B) he knows how to connect with his crowd with humorous Scottish brogue dialogue, spinning stories about his childhood, recognizing that the men in the audience were probably there because of their wives and girlfriends and immortalizing a certain Mrs Boone (a long time fan) who became the subject of a running gag line.
But most important of all. Reid knows how to structure a concert. Launching with his full 13-member band he launched into a high tempo set that included new tracks like “Soul Train”, “She Just Wants To Dance” . “Heart Of A Woman” “Memphis” and displayed his melodic qualities with solid ballads like “Every Time I Roll The Dice”, “You Still Own Me” and “A Woman Like You”.”
Completing the first part of his set with an energetic “Fire It Up” which had everyone in the audience out of their seats, he set the stage for a mini set by the Glass Tiger trio of Frew, Reid and Connolly to enter as the full band sang the Intro to “Someday”. Now, in most cases, another band hijacking the set would be verboten but the fact that Reid has just produced “31’, a total remake of Glass Tiger hits, provided a synergy and fellow Scot, Frew didn’t disappoint leading the entire crew through a medley of hits like “Sing My Song”, “Animal Heart”, “My Town” “I Will Be There” and “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” before bringing Reid back on stage for the duet of their latest co-composition “Wae Yer Family” that concluded with a segment of “Flower Of Scotland” that again had the audience dancing in the aisles.
Reid (winner of this year’s Music Express Top Male Vocalist award) then brought the tempo down with an acoustic set featuring long time Canadian band members, Ben Rutz (fiddle) and Yvan Petit (guitar) to play a medley of established hits like “Today I’m Going To Try To Change The World”, “Dance With Me” and “Thank You”
Next came a moving tribute to former guitarist/co writer Mark Selby, a recent cancer victim, with the entire band huddled together to perform “Pictures Of You” (the last song Reid and Selby wrote together) with the audience flashing lights of their cell phones to honour all cancer victims.
And then the big finale with a rousing rendition of Creedence Clearwater’s “Proud Mary”, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and the inevitable Frankie Miller classic “Darlin” before the band finished with an encore of “Let’s Go Higher”
A complete concert performance by the consummate artist. No wonder Reid’s Tartan Army continues to attract new recruits.