Pop & Circumstance – Nick Gilder & Sweeney Todd

Sporting a black jacket and a Van Dyke beard, Nick Gilder strode onstage to the sound of a NASA countdown mixed with a collection of hit song clips from the 70s and 80s, including a few of his own compositions thrown in for added texture, snapping from the sound system. Perhaps this was a way to show the audience just where he has come from and where he belongs; his place in the galaxy of hits from the later 20th century.

And along with Gilder stepped the eclectic Sweeney Todd, in this carnation, a group of visually distinct individuals with extremely competent chops to boot. Great players all, as the night quickly proved, they appeared to have arrived via different bands and ethos; having not quite sorted out what ‘look’ this collective Sweeney Todd would embrace. From the dreadlocked keyboard/guitar player Mike Russell, to bass player Mark Kenny who looked better suited to a hard rock alternative band, to drummer Frank Baker who would not have looked out of place in a boy pop band. Only guitarist Dave Groves seemed pressed from the same band and clothier as Gilder.

Deerfoot Casino, Calgary | November 3, 2012
Photography by: Charles Hope

It was quickly apparent that Gilder’s voice has lost that soft elfish tone of his younger years. In its place was a voice of dark timbre, more foreboding and sinister, which added a deeper colour to much of his material. With this changed voice, his careful melodies wove a new spell, sounding more mature and worldly. Gone was the youthful pop sensibility, having been replaced with a wiser rock edge, solid and earthy. And along with this new found grounding, Gilder sang more confidently, sure of his words and what they meant, and mean to him now.

Using his microphone stand as a baton, he conducted the band through their tight set with exuberance and style. And this confidence was supremely expressed when Gilder and company drove into “Hot Child in the City” four songs into the show. Powerful and moody, this child had grown up, rocking as she saw fit and willing to break a few rules whenever it was expedient; a far cry from the original child whose melody was sweetness and light; Gilder’s mature voice suiting the lyrical content and reinforcing the anguish of child prostitution.

During “Here Comes the Night” the smartphone cameras popped up like tiny periscopes from unseen submarines as he sang intently to three women in the front row. Before powering into a strong cover of Purple’s “Highway Star”, Baker performed an intense drum solo that seemed out of place in the set list, but became a testament of rock sensibility and bravado; regardless of what people might think Sweeney Todd can rock.

And of course they ended the night with a rocking version of “Roxy Roller” that had the crowd dancing in every available space in the room and singing loudly in accompaniment. This was the big hit and the big play of the night. And the crowd played along, perfectly in tune and committed. When the band left the stage, people looked a little lost, waiting forlornly for the conductor to return, but it was not to be, at least not on this night.

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