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Concert Review: Big Country at The Venue in Vancouver July 2, 2013

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Like most, I am skeptical of reunion tours, especially those with a minority of original members, even more if the minority doesn’t include the lead singer. I was a massive Skids fan back in the day, and I kept the faith post-breakup, following Richard Jobson, the Armoury Show, and obviously Big Country.

The closest I came to seeing any Skids’ offshoot was Big Country warming up for Hall and Oates in Toronto, which they fortunately bowed out of, and saved me from going and a Big Country festival gig in Montreal that unfortunately got rained out.

41YK50NHCFL._SS135_SL160_Fast-forward 12 years: original guitarist Bruce Watson recruits his son on second guitar, who – along with original drummer, journeyman Mark Brzezicki, bassist Derek Forbes, a Scot from the Simple Minds’ formative years, and singer Mike Peters from The Alarm – resurrects Big Country and the group releases their first fresh material in over a decade in the form of their new CD, The Journey.

Brzezicki alone is worth the price of admission. His work with various editions of the Who(res), Ultravox, The Cult (on Love) and Frida from Abba makes the man a living legend. Aside from the Stone Roses or Canadian fountainheads Rush, it’s not often you attend a gig expecting to be transfixed by the drummer. Mark is an octopus, and with the aid of well oiled octopads, he created a polyrhythmic foundation which mesmerized and humbled the 200 or so curious enough to attend.

Filling the kilt of dearly departed singer/songwriter Stuart Adamson is a gigantic task. Big Country was Adamson’s baby through and through. Where the Skids’ material saw him as a part of a partnership, the Big Country albums were driven chiefly by his vision and passion. Single-handedly, he innovated the guitar as a bagpipe wall of sound.

Having seen Peters with The Alarm and as a solo artist, I was unconvinced that he could pull off such a daunting task as fronting Big Country. However, truth be told, while it was the rhythm section of Brzezicki and Forbes that brought me out on a quiet Tuesday night in Vancouver, it was an overwhelming collective that cemented a stellar evening that toasted Adamson’s legacy while forging a renewed beginning, one rife with vigor, passion, and hope.

Like Adamson, Peters conveyed a steadfast earnestness and conviction in his delivery. The set was heavy with material from The Journey, which resonated surprisingly well with the aged crowd, as it seemed to pick up from where things left off. The band paced the set skillfully with aplomb and sprinkled the older material in at the appropriate moments.

“Harvest Home,” “Chance,” and “Wonderland” shone even more brightly against the backdrop of the current era. Set closer “Fields of Fire” was a definite anthem that buoyed us into the night, well after the last notes of the predictable, yet still infectious encore of “In a Big County.”

Notable by its absence was material from sophomore album Steeltown, which now, post-Thatcher, carries ample gravitas and poignancy. Similarly, the evening, while verging euphoria in many moments, could have been catapulted to an even higher echelon with a complementary nod to The Alarm, say “Strength,” or early, bass-heavy Simple Minds, circa “Premonition.” It felt like an opportunity missed, because how often do you get such seasoned and diverse talent together in your city?

Granted, these are peddling complaints against what was a solid repertoire that was given both justice and its due. One can only hope that this is just the beginning of a long “journey.”

–Chris “Gutter” Rose

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