The show started normal enough with the opening act, Ascot Royals, performing as well as any technically proficient sound engineers-turned-band members. Their sound is young and sorry to say but a bit “rich kid suburban problems” sounding. That said, they have Tal Vaisman. Tal plays guitar like Clint Eastwood speaks. Purposeful, to the point and it almost makes you flinch. He seems to be a fairly deep guy with a lot more left to create and he could easily make it solo with his quality vocals. You get the feeling that Vocalist Jimmy Chauveau wants you to like him and his story-telling. He has decent charisma and interaction and can deliver a song and even though he doesn’t have angelic pipes, he pulls it off.
When Ian Thornley and Big Wreck take the stage, I was taken back to the last time we saw them in Kelowna. It was 2002 and they played Flashbacks and blew the lid off the joint. Ian played that axe against poles and damn near broke the stage. Girls were throwing articles of under clothing at him and the world was well. Fast-forward 15 years…
Big Wreck saunters on stage and immediately punched out their new single ‘One More Piece of Me’. More structured these days, Ian is trying to find a maturity of sound. He shows off some insane soloing skills in ‘I Digress’ and many other songs on the set list. Then suddenly and almost out of place, we all heard the familiar intro to ‘That Song’. I look around and see everyone reminiscing on what they were doing when this song came out. All that pain has rarely ever been captured as well as this song and album. As a techie, I love the gear, Soldano sound and big guitars. And I loved Brian Doherty’s double neck sunburst mandolin/guitar . If you don’t know, Brian co-founded Big Wreck back in ’94 with Thornley when he was at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ian was born in Toronto and the rest of them were from the US. They made it huge in Canada with their double platinum album, ‘In Loving Memory Of’.
We were treated with a fat bass solo by Dave McMillan, who even squeezed in some Darth Vader Music and ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ riff. There was great chemistry between him and drummer Brad Park – one of the loudest damn drummers I’ve heard in a decade. Then came another favorite, ‘Blown Wide Open’. Great to hear live again, but sadly, I thought he embellished his vocals too much. I know when you play a song a million times you tend to do this, but it’s in risk of losing the emotion which captured us all 20 years ago. Remember the last time Counting Crows tryed to sing Mr. Jones in Kelowna? In a word, awful. They should have re-titled it Mr. Jaded or Mr Joke.
You can tell Ian takes this stuff seriously. As a perfectionist and technically sound super guitarist-singer-songwriter, he’s anal about his sound and it showed as the boiling point was near the right degree. Ian was visibly flustered at his techs to the point where he stopped after a song intro. He went through the motions and although still great, he couldn’t get his mojo back. Telling off a loud fan and asking the tech for wedges was an indication that his headset wasn’t working so he couldn’t hear himself. And any performer can tell you that if you can’t hear yourself, you can’t sing in key. Ian could only hear himself in the upper register so he tended to stay there too long, but everyone loved it anyway. The fact that he left his guitar volume on when he left the stage so that the feedback was deafening was a middle-finger to the sound guy.
After a lengthy encore call, they returned for one more song which we guessed, was ‘The Oaf’. Just ok, this encore was marred by another glitch or just the rift and it seemed Ian couldn’t wait to get off the stage. Obviously it was an off day and the boss was pissed! I understand the frustration and the reason for all the guitar changes is his intense tone and tuning changes. All guitars have a distinct tuning for different songs and as you don’t want him to re-tune and de-tune, quick changes are needed.
The bottom line is that Ian and company still knocked it out of the park despite tech issues and I’m sure everyone will agree that they enjoyed it thoroughly.