PLAYING WITH STORY – Northern Pikes, Calgary AB

Deerfoot Casino, Calgary | November 29, 2014

With no pretense of fanfare, The Northern Pikes, in trio format hit the stage running and never looked back. Blasting into one of their biggest hits, “Teenland” and taking the room by storm, they shook and shimmied, casting the story into the crowd and never releasing it. The song, complete with Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” thrown in for variety in the break, along with a few other motifs, showed the band was having as much fun on stage as their audience.

And without pause “Hopes Go Astray” fired up and flowed to the smiling faces. Having learnt a few things over the years, the boys, as one would call grown men who are having so much fun, know that bringing the audience into a state of heightened emotion early is a sure fire way for a good show.

Humour is major element of The Northern Pikes. When guitarist Bryan Potvin’s effect pedals acted up and he lost his sound, Jay Semko, kept the bass rhythm flowing with Don Schmid holding the strong backbeat and showing little concern as Semko quipped, “A perfect time for the jazz bass solo,” as he proceeded to run a number of jazz scales with Schmid right with him. When Potvin regained his sound he merged tightly into Semko’s and Schmid’s little excursion and they returned to end the song as if nothing untoward had occurred.

Bryan Potivin
Bryan Potivin

Confident in the night, they played “Beautiful Summer” a lesser-known track from their greatest hits album. When the crowd responded positively, Semko calmly stated, “Cheques are in the mail.”

Then a pause, a smile or three, and “It’s A Good Life” in all its foot stomping joy; an anthem to living day by day. Harmonies were a little thin, with the absence of Meryl Bryck, but the pure and pleasant energy of the remaining singers more than compensated for the missing layer.

Weaving story after story, narratives full of emotion and introspective questioning; love lost, love gained, and love conflicted, all woven into fine three to five minute gems of rocking excitement, the band sailed through the night.

“Wait For Me” and “Believe,” paired, as tales of absence pain with love lasting through the agonies of relationships, were a perfect balance of pathos and passion. The stories of the songs resonated in the faces of the audience, taking us all back to some point in some relationship where the lyrics were true. By now many were dancing and expressing half-forgotten passions when a good tune was enough to carry one through the turmoil of everyday living.

Jay Semko
Jay Semko

“Place That’s Insane” and “Kiss Me You Fool” flowed into “Dream Away” with frenetic pacing; maintaining emotion energy with clear dynamics and passionate singing. The stories continued to tumble out with “Girl With a Problem” and “Things I Do For Money.” The later with its moody introductory sequence was both haunting and electric, illustrating the band’s love of a layered sound. Potvin, drawing emotion with long sustained notes and heavily pulled strings reminiscent of David Gilmour, struck the balance between hard rocker and nuanced artiste.

Their encore opened with “Blame the Song,” the tongue-in-cheek ode to Potvin’s life story. It’s funny, painful, and the perfect encapsulation of the curious road to becoming a rock musician.

And of course the night wouldn’t have been complete without the rousing and boisterous ender “She’s Not Pretty, which included some impromptu go-go dancing from two women in the audience who jumped on stage, showing that the emotional impulse of the story is easily transferable to men. Unfazed, the band continued to drive the song home while curiously, the room’s security, a little unsure on how to proceed since the women were not physically engaging the band members, took a few moments to collect themselves before gently directing the women to step down from the stage.

Don Schmid
Don Schmid

The song included a pastiche of “Highway to Hell” before its conclusion and thunderous applause from the crowd.

One could argue that The Northern Pikes are a party band, but that would unfairly categorize them leaving out their skills at storytelling. Yes, the melodies are full of hooks that just won’t release you and the rhythms are so danceable that you can’t simply sit still, but the lyrics are where the songwriting truly shines, as the stories burrow into one’s brain and create memories familiar and true.

In any case, the evening was an emotional success, so close the book on that show with the hope the Pikes return with some new stories soon.


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