Deerfoot Casino, Calgary – February 15, 2015
It’s been over 30 years since Messrs.’ Sadler, Gilmour, Crichton, and Crichton have stood on a Calgary stage. More’s the pity since it was quickly evident that the band has not lost its direction and perform with the same intellectual intensity that defined them early in their musical journey. With relative newcomer, Mike Thorne on drums, the band immediately unfurled their sails with “Don’t Be Late” followed immediately by “Someone Should” and “You’re Not Alone” which defined the course of the evening.
Though confident, the band was testing the waters of acceptance by playing songs from albums 30 years previous–songs that the audience would know. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a set list of material from their later career might have been too extreme for anyone who hadn’t been following the band intently. There has to be a willingness to meet at some common area of interest, to nudge rather than forcibly direct. Given that the band was only playing three shows in Canada on this very short tour, one in the East and two in the West, I expect they were assessing the interest level of fans and whether it would be prudent to focus their attention elsewhere. That being said, and regardless of their set list of choices, the band was energized and optimized, giving everything they had to make this night special.
Many in the audience were singing along with Michael Sadler’s operatic vocal styling’s, which in all their intensity and power were quite accessible and fun to hear. Though he is a force to be reckoned, he never allowed himself to hold all the attention. With gestures both grand and subtle, he directed our gazes to all members of the band during “Ice Nice,” “Wildest Dreams,” and “Humble Stance” because he felt it was necessary for the audience to see the collected members as a band, a complete entity, that he was not alone in the spotlight. And in response, the others acknowledged this attention with smiles and laughter; the rapport between them genuine and natural.
Often a band forced onto the confines of such a tiny stage look uncomfortable, overly sensitive to their lack of space and palpably irritated by the proximity of each other, but not Saga, not tonight. With each song, even the more progressive pieces, they remained connected and cohesive. The band was enjoying the experience as much as the audience.
With “On the Loose” the audience truly ignited, singing the chorus with gusto, much to the amusement of the band. The Crichtons, Ian on guitar and brother Jim on bass, presented their formidable talents with ease and grace. Ian’s crunching chords were as edgy as any metal guitarist leanings and his artful weaving of melodic lines layered superbly with Jim Gilmour’s keyboard runs and flourishes. Working in contrapuntal balance, the three players served the structure of the songs and never lost focus on the core of each piece. Crichton’s bass lines anchored the material and held the good ship Saga steady on course throughout the evening; his calm demeanor and wry smiles attesting to his awareness of all that was happening on stage.
Though keeping with a set composed mostly of earlier material, they did play a number of tracks from their latest album “Sagacity,” illustrating to all that they are still a functional recording band. The new songs were well received though it was obvious that many had not heard them before. This writer would have appreciated a few excursions from other recent outings “20/20,” “10,000 Days,” and “Trust,” but that was not to be the case.
Before the encore, a member of the Calgary Stampede brought the band on stage to be white-hatted, a tradition of offering visitors to the city a white Stetson, and in this case, having the members recite the cowboy creed. Though apprehensive at first, the band played along and repeated the creed with good humour and much laughter. The audience lapped it up and gave the band a huge round of applause. As kitschy as this honouring can be, it does express a sense of hospitality and good spirit and eliminates the barrier of separation between artist and fan, showing that we we’re all here to have fun. “Wind Him Up” and “The Flyer” took on new perspectives as the band performed with Stetsons firmly in place. After the show, the representative from The Stampede was seen getting autographs from the band, which left a warm smile on the few stranglers who noticed.
On the inside cover of “Sagacity” there is a definition of the word: “the quality of being discerning, sound in judgement, and farsighted; wisdom.” One hopes that in their farsightedness, Saga envisions a return to a healthy touring schedule in Canada. They have tested the waters and found them welcoming.
Photos by Charles Hope.