Flames Central, Calgary – November 21, 2014
Honesty in any form of musical expression is challenging. One wants to stay true to an artistic vision while maintaining a hold on reality and, slim though it may be, make a living from one’s art; the balance between making yourself happy as an artist and your audience happy to support you.
Opening with “Rise in the Wake” from their recent release, and the name of their tour, it appears that The Trews have found that balance. Dressed much like their fans in the audience and moving around the stage with gleeful abandon, they resembled the often raucous cousins who blow into town from time to time to turn any family festivity into a party. Their fans, welcoming them with warm smiles and hands aloft, greeted these wayward cousins with love and admiration.
Continuing with “What’s Fair Is Fair,” and an effective, though perhaps overwhelming light show, the band found their groove as Colin MacDonald, lead singer, guitarist, and pre-ordained head of this little family, welcomed the crowd into the show, with intense expressions and grimaces as he began the process of pouring his heart out on the stage and leaving it there for all to see. Opening his arms along with his guitar in a large embrace, he brought the room into the show.
Eager to share the emotion, he prompted the audience to sing along on nearly every song to accompany the already full harmonies of brother John-Angus on lead guitar, real cousin Sean Dalton on drums, and with no apparent familial connection, Jack Syperek on bass.
Working hard and true, and building emotion through each song, the band played and teased the audience, beginning “So She’s Leaving” with a brief interlude of the Rolling Stones’ song “She’s So Cold.” A simple homage to their influences and an acknowledgement of the debt owed to the bands that have come before.
The influences continued to shine with a Beatlesque reference in “Sing Your Heart Out” where Colin Mac added harmonica to the blend. Holding his microphone to individuals in the front to sing the lines while waving for the rest to sing loudly, then commenting, “Beautiful singing Calgary.” A little later he mused that the band felt like citizens of the city since, “we’ve been here often enough.” A true sentiment? Difficult to know, but MacDonald’s earnestness compels one to believe the remark.
The honesty prevailed when he introduced “Highway of Heroes” as an ode to a soldier he knew in Antigonish who lost her life in Afghanistan. Though these types of songs often maintain a brittle sentimentality, the band’s performance elevated it beyond the ordinary and powered the sentiments with a sense of all the losses that one death can bring.
The acoustic guitars came out for “In The Morning” as they brought to the stage a local woman to sing a few lead lines and add a lighter texture to the harmonies. More guests appeared for “Poor Ol’ Broken Hearted Me” which turned into a hootenanny at the end of the song with dancing and stomping and spinning craziness as the tempo nearly doubled in the final bars.
“Paranoid Freak” began with an energetic piano run from the additional member on stage, whose name was undecipherable when introduced (apologies here). Unfortunately, the keys were often lost in the mix in most of the show and the added texture found on the studio albums was not heard.
“Hold Me In Your Arms” included an extended and highly rhythmic guitar solo by John-Angus where he proceeded to walk the barrier wall between the floor and the next level. While his playing was frenetic, his steps were careful, a contrapuntal expression, as people eased back to give him the space to walk and the band stepped to the rear of the stage to give his playing the same courtesy. He returned to the stage with the audience cheering wildly.
Before the encore Colin cried out, “Calgary, we’ve always loved you,” with such passion that there was no doubt it was true. There is truth and there is passion in The Trews. And if MacDonald belts this sentiment out for every city on the tour, it doesn’t matter, because it is the truth that he believes in the moment of utterance. And every audience member in every city will believe it as well.
Trews photos by: Charles Hope, www.hopephotography.com