How do you thank someone for providing you with fifty years of entertainment? What’s the recipe for that? On Saturday night Michael Wrycraft paid tribute to the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World with a concert at Hugh’s Room in Toronto! OK, it’s true that Mick and Keith, Charlie and Ronnie (not to mention Brian, Mick and Bill) couldn’t be there to see it, but that doesn’t mean it was any less meaningful or wonderful for those of us who did turn up! Holy cow!
Wrycraft called it Get Yer Ya-Yas Out which was the name of one of the Stones’ finest live albums (one of the best live albums ever, really). And I have to say, if anyone had any YaYas left in ‘em by the end of the night I feel sorry for them! (Come to think of it…maybe the chatty woman at the back was stiflin’ her YaYas, maybe that was her problem). The rest of us sure had a great time getting ours out! YaYas that is!
Now I should tell you that Michael’s Tribute Shows tend to be a bit laid back sometimes. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. Of course, his shows have tended to be tributes to the great singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carole King, Roger Waters. ROGER WATERS?!? Thassright, Pink Floyd! He did host a Pink Floyd show last year. It was awesome! Totally mind-blowing! But the Stones? The Stones require volume, and energy, and…volume. And a drummer, of course. You want to be able to turn to the audience at some point and say, “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he!?” You could say that about all the drummers on Saturday night, each one adjusted the kit for themselves, and each one provided just the right amount of boom-boom-boom combined with appropriate tshh-tshhh-tshh!
Right off the bat we got rolling, with Samantha Martin and the Haggard’s take on “Gimme Shelter”. You’d’ve thought The Stones themselves were there as the familiar guitar riff kicked off, and then when Samantha opened her mouth…you thought, “Geez, who needs Mick?” A blues drenched “Love In Vain finished their set. Things calmed down a bit when Wrycraft introduced Jadea Kelly accompanied by the great steel guitarist Burke Carroll. They did “Angie” and “Dead Flowers” and Jadea’s vocals were sweet, but the steel guitar was even sweeter. Aaah!
Next up Roxanne Potvin on guitar and vocals blew the roof off the place with a sizzling “Ventilator Blues” and an amazing take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. What a performance. What raw courage! Whew! Her power could be a reason why Scott McCord seemed to be working so hard in following. His renditions of “Sway” and “Happy” were solid, and the Bonafide Truth Horns blew up a storm, but we were just exhausted by what had come before. The intermission was a welcome break, to catch our breath, and buy a CD or two.
The second set opened with guitar master Michael Occhipinti and saxophonist/singer Lester McLean jazzing it up on a Sonny Rollins tune. They were celebrating Rollins’ 80th birthday because Rollins had played the sax solo on “Waiting On A Friend”. Then they did that song with McLean tackling Mick Jagger’s high pitched “oohs” perfectly. Between this tune and their incredible rendition of “Emotional Rescue” (including the ‘I’ll be your knight in shining ahhr-mour…’ part, done in McLean’s most fey-Jaggeresque style) the mix of sax, processed guitar and amazing singing added up to a real highlight. But then O Susanna came on stage and said she didn’t feel like herself tonight, and invited us to see her as “a real @#$%in’ @##hole…Mick Jagger”. You know what? She sold “Under My Thumb”! I bought it. She was Mick, prowling, strutting, posturing. And the band (which included two members of Blue Rodeo) rocked out beautifully. “Shine a Light” was a surprise second track, well done!
I was looking forward to hearing from Gurf Morlix, because he had been a key part of Michael’s Beatles’ Tribute a while back, and also because I just flat out love this guy’s music. He stepped up onto his stomp boxes and provided his own percussion for emotive takes on “Wild Horses” (with backup vocals from O Susanna) and “Let It Bleed”. The guy is good.
Then it was almost over. Just one more band, Hamilton’s own Harlan Pepper. They’re like twenty years old, but they’ve been together since 2008, and gigging hard ever since. Fresh from the Daniel Lanois Greenbelt Picnic, and having opened for Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and Lee Harvey Osmond these guys know their way around a stage. And they know their way around a Stones song too. They captured the essence of the greatest rock’n’roll band with fiery versions of “Beast of Burden” and “Midnight Rambler”. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the thrill of watching and hearing these young fellas as they rocked the joint! On their last note they were awarded with a spontaneous standing ovation. Maybe the ovation was really for all that had gone before, but Harlan Pepper deserved it!
All the performers came back for a“glorious trainwreck” version of “Sweet Virginia” but since Gurf and Samantha knew the song and led it off this was one of the best-sounding conclusions to a Wrycraft show I’ve ever heard. This was Michael’s fortieth show, paying tribute to a fifty year old band. It was AWESOME! I look forward to another forty shows.
photo by Robert Saxe