Big Wreck

Jeremy takes me to the best concerts.

You’ve already heard about some of the others. This one was one that I hadn’t been really prepared for. The last time I’d been at the Palace, I’d had to leave because of a burning stabbing from the overly-loud sound, and that was for a band that I knew and loved. I only vaguely knew of Big Wreck (mostly through Jeremy) and didn’t know what to expect. Not going, however, was not an option.

I met him in front of the Palace, Calgary’s turn of the previous-century theatre that has seen many different revivals over its life, and remains one of the smaller “club” venues for concerts. It’s not the best sound in town, but it is one of the nicer atmospheres. I arrived shortly after he did and we took our place in line and waited for admission. We wanted to be early enough to get a decent place to watch the show.

The last time, Jeremy, Duane, and I had pinned ourselves right at the front, which was a difficult experience given the drunks around us. This time, Jeremy and I were out of the pit, pressed into a low counter that kept us from being pushed about, but afforded a view over the pit’s occupants.

Two bands were on the ticket that night: Big Wreck, and their special guests, Texas King, both Ontario (Toronto-ish) bands. Big Wreck’s been around a long time, though, and while some of their lineup has changed, they’ve done enough touring to know who the great musicians are. And so there was an unofficial third act, Daniel Greaves, the lead singer of the Winnipeg band The Watchmen who had a number of albums back in the 90s.

Jeremy had told me that The Watchmen had appeared during Big Wreck’s visit to Winnipeg a couple of weeks earlier and there were talks that they’d come along for the ride. And yet, I totally forgot this until Daniel came out on stage to a number of cheers, sitting at a small electric piano at right angles to the stage front, and played only the lowest third of the keyboard. And yet, utterly captivating, playing a quiet version “All Uncovered” that I almost didn’t recognize. He might have also played “In My Mind”, but I’m not entirely sure, because it sounded so different. He did play Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”, which he said he’d “written on the bus ride here”, which sent Jeremy laughing, though I didn’t recognize it until the chorus.

Greaves would leave shortly after to quite a lot of applause, returning only during the end of Big Wreck’s performance to add some vocals to an otherwise instrumental interlude in The Oaf.

The earplugs went in before the special guest took the stage. I’d learned my lesson with Big Sugar, tested with Our Mother Earth/The Tea Party a couple of weeks ago. It’s muted, I won’t lie, I do miss hearing the power, but after what Gordie’s lack of volume control did to my auditory nerves, I’ve chosen to play things more carefully. Colin James didn’t need earplugs, or did I want to miss a single nuance, but the others? Yeah… yeah, they did.

Texas King I’d never heard of, and that’s a real shame, because they knew how to perform. There are bands that can take a stage and wow an audience with the technical proficiency – Big Wreck absolutely falls into that definition – and there are bands that can capture an audience’s attention through their presence, and that’s Texas King. Great music, make no mistake – not a single tune I’d heard of before and I’d be challenged to identify any of them in hindsight – but if they were playing again, I’d go see them without a second thought. Tight and loose all the same time, loving the energy of the crowd and giving that much back again.

There was a break and the roadies moved things around, Texas King self-roadie-ing their own equipment, and Big Wreck’s hired guns (lead by two very wisened pros) moved out the starring lineup.

Big Wreck, true to Jeremy’s word, came on hard. Jeremy reminded me that we’d seen the rhythm guitarist a few months earlier when he was touring with Colin James; the rest were new to me. As was most of the music. Jeremy reminded me that, as a Canadian band from the 90s, we were exposed to them thanks to CANCON, not necessarily because they were mainstream. There were songs that I knew, even if I didn’t know the name or what album they came from.

Not that I was there to sing along. Although I will admit that it’s been a while since I’ve heard that strong an audience compared to the band. It was either That Song or Blown Wide Open, but there was a couple of verses where the band didn’t need to sing, the audience was that loud. It was pretty impressive. It might have also happened with Hell For A Basement when Big Sugar played The Palace almost a year ago, but my ears were so shot by that point that I could barely hear myself.

But I will say: there’s nothing like a great band in a smaller venue. I would love to see The Arkells play The Palace, but they can pack a lot more people into the Saddledome, even if it is a shitty place for a concert.

There was one encore, and only one song: The Oaf, which was a 15-minute (or so) rendition where Ian Thornley (who is a scant five days younger than me) showed, as he had throughout the concert, that he is the single most underrated and underappreciated guitarist in Canada. (This is the point where Greaves returned for a wordless vocal contribution.)

The show thus ended. It took another half hour to leave, as the line to get to the coat check was a bit ridiculous. (The coat check is my only serious complaint about The Palace, tucked away in the basement, along with the toilets, on a far-too-narrow set of stairs.) Jeremy and I parted ways shortly thereafter.

Not sure what the next concert will be. I’m facing a few months of very tight resources and I’m already two concerts in debt to Jeremy. But there will be something, I’m sure…

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