Live music galleries: Spirit of the West with the NAC orchestra [2007]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

Spirit of the West with the NAC Orchestra, July 2007

Artist: Spirit of the West performing with the NAC orchestra
When: July 21st, 2007
Where: Orchestras in the park series, Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Context: For the longest time, Spirit of the West was the band I had seen the most times live (that mark recently was surpassed by Stars), not just because they were a Canadian band that toured its own country frequently but more because they have long been one of my favourite bands. The second time I saw them live is also quite memorable because it marked the night Victoria and I got together and the rest of the times I saw them after that, we saw them as a couple. But I’m now talking about the final time we saw Spirit of the West and it was all the more special because they were performing a free show with the NAC orchestra as part of their Orchestras in the park series. The much loved Canadian Celtic folk rock band had released its final album, “Star trails”, three years before and was one year removed from releasing a career retrospective collection called “Spirituality”. That night, though, the majority of the set came from 1996’s “Open heart symphony”, an album they had recorded with Vancouver’s symphony orchestra, because, as they said, they didn’t often get the chance to perform those songs live as they were meant to be heard. However, they did perform a handful of their hits as ‘encore’, like “Home for a rest” and the song referenced below, “And if Venice is sinking”. As a special bonus, if you click on that link below, you can actually watch the performance of it from this very show through the magic of YouTube. Enjoy.
Point of reference song: And if venice is sinking

Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich, and John Mann of Spirit of the West
Geoffrey Kelly and Tobin Frank of Spirit of the West
Vince Ditrich, John Mann, and Geoffrey Kelly of Spirit of the West
Vince Ditrich and Tobin Frank of Spirit of the West – “That’s amore!”
John Mann of Spirit of the West

(P.S. For those of you living in Toronto or within striking distance, I strongly recommend you consider a tribute show being held a week from today at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, in the name of lead singer John Mann, whom many of you know is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Last I checked, tickets are still available here. I would love to go myself, unfortunately, it’s just not feasible.)

Best tunes of 1991: #19 Spirit of the West “D for Democracy (Scour the house)”

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I’ve told this story before on these pages but I’ll tell it again.

“D for Democracy” is the first Spirit of the West song I ever consciously heard. Yes, all of this began while I was watching a special, all-Canadian edition of “Good rockin’ tonite” one Friday night in 1991. They finished the show with this particular video (see below) and I noticed at some point during it that the accordion player, Linda McRae, was wearing a Wonder Stuff long sleeved T-shirt. For those that don’t know, I was a huge Stuffies fan back in those days and didn’t know many others who shared my enthusiasm. Luckily for me, I happened to be video taping the entire episode as I watched it so as soon as it finished, I rewinded the tape to watch the video again. And again. Shortly after that, I also managed to video tape the video for the re-recorded “Political”, for which I also fell hard, and then, decided to buy “Go figure” on cassette tape.

So I guess I came for The Wonder Stuff shirt and stayed for the music.

Linda McRae likely got the shirt when Spirit of the West was on tour in England with The Wonder Stuff and the two bands became friends. They recorded a cover of “Will the circle be unbroken” together and McRae (and her accordion) appears on “Welcome to the cheap seats”. It was actually while on tour with The Wonder Stuff that Spirit of the West decided that they wanted to add more of a rock edge to their sound. To that end, they enlisted a drummer before recording the follow up to 1990’s “Save this house”. Enter Vince Ditrich into the picture. The new sound didn’t sit well with all of their existing fans, some of whom preferred the more traditional Celtic folk direction, but it did win the band more radio airplay and new legions of alternative rock fans.

As its title suggests, “D for Democracy (scour the house)” is a political song, an attack on the Brian Mulroney-led government of the day, as are many of the songs on “Go figure”. Musically, Vince Ditrich’s impact is noticeable here, right from the outset. The drums are flexing their well-oiled muscles but not to be outdone, so are Geoffrey Kelly’s flutes. It’s like the band’s two directions came to a head on the intro to this song. The celtic folk becoming celtic folk rock in one jump up-and-down riot. Of course, the vocals come in and up the ante, John Mann singing loud and clear to “Scour the house, flip the wig, shake the tree.”

Indeed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #30 Dawes “A little bit of everything”

#29 >>

We kickstart off this new series on my favourite tunes of 2011 with a song for those who like their songs with a side of sentimental. Yes. As much as I like my alt-rock and shoegaze, I do have my sappy side, obviously to a point. I enjoy sunsets and walks by the river and romantic comedies. But let’s not carried away.

This particular song stuck out to me when I was listening to Dawes’ sophomore album, “Nothing is wrong”, in preparation for catching them live at the 2011 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest. In fact, I distinctly remember taking the bus home after one of the earlier nights during the festival and “A little bit of everything” begged repeat listens, over and over, right up to the moment I stepped on to my front porch. Indeed, I really liked their sound from the moment I first heard them, despite it not being something I typically invest a lot of time in. They’ve been described as “Laurel Canyon” folk rock, whatever that means. I just recognized a lot of classic rock bands in their songs, some CSNY here, some The Band there. The music is welcoming and inclusive.

“A little bit of everything” is a ballad that starts off with Tay Strathairn’s quiet piano accompanying Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals and slowly the rest of the instruments join in. There are three verses, each laying out a different scenario: a man explaining to a police officer why he’s decided to jump off a bridge, an old man at a buffet line suddenly reexamining his life, and a bride-to-be explaining to her fiancé why she is stressing herself out planning their upcoming nuptials. (It might have been this last that struck a chord with me, since my wife and I had just been married two years prior.) Each of these tales isn’t really a definite explanation, more of a reproach and an embrace of life. It’s a little bit of everything.

“Oh, it’s a little bit of everything,
It’s the matador and the bull,
It’s the suggested daily dosage,
It is the red moon when it’s full.
All these psychics and these doctors,
They’re all right and they’re all wrong,
It’s like trying to make out every word,
When they should simply hum along,
It’s not some message written in the dark,
Or some truth that no one’s seen,
It’s a little bit of everything.”

By the time Goldsmith gets to this final verse, the song quiets right back down to him and the keys just before the drums come back in for that fist-punching, anthemic exclamation mark. Yeah, I know. I just can’t help myself.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.