Great big fun from Canada's Great Big Sea at Michigan Theater anniversary show
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As expected, it was a high-energy performance for a fired-up crowd that was on its feet for most of the concert, dancing and singing along. The hardcore fan to the left of me even knew the words to the new songs, not to mention the old ones.
Although the performance was at the Michigan, it was presented by The Ark, where GBS first played here 18 years ago.
With no opening act, Great Big Sea took the stage as a video montage played clips of the band over the years. Starting with “Ordinary Day,” the show’s more than 30 tunes unfolded on a simple stage with a backdrop that included lit-up twin Roman numeral XXs.
“This night has been 20 years in the making,” said front man Alan Doyle, before launching into “Heart of Hearts,” a new song with the appropriate refrain “in my heart of hearts I’d do it all again.”
Great Big Sea got its start in 1993 as a rowdy pub band, and to some extent it still is, only on a larger stage. Doyle, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett (with drummer Kris MacFarlane and bass player Murray Foster) are all solid musicians, skilled in everything from guitar, fiddle and drums to the accordion, mandolin, Irish whistles, concertina, fiddle and bodhran.
But strong musicianship is only half of Great Big Sea’s story. Showmanship also plays a part, and these lads know how to put on a great concert. They have an audience rapport that’s among the best, and it is clear they love what they do and have fun doing it.
Besides the obvious tunes (“Paddy Murphy,” “Consequence Free,” the bodhran-driven “River Driver’s Lament,” “Lukey,” “Concerning Charlie Horse” and the call-and-response “Come And I Will Sing You”), the set list also included the early hit “What Are You At” (used in an old Newfoundland telephone commercial that was played for the audience’s amusement on a video screen at the back of the stage), as well as the lesser-known “Tom White,” “Something Beautiful” and “Scolding Wife.”
Doyle sent a shout-out to The Ark before launching into “Good People,” saying it is “great to have a relationship that has lasted for so long. It doesn’t happen in every town, but it does here.” There was also a bit of banter from McCann about the tasty treats he consumed earlier in the day at the Cupcake Station (“an epiphany”), delivered just after showing off his vocal skills on the lovely ballad “Graceful & Charming.”
A cover of the Pete Townshend tune “Let My Love Open the Door” got the second part of the show off to a good start, and from the there the energy went up considerably from what I thought was a slightly subdued (at least for GBS) first half. Doyle shredded like a rock star on an electric guitar during “When I Am King,” with the harmony-driven “Safe Upon the Shore,” the energetic “When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down” and the first-pumping hockey song “Helmethead” following.
By the time the band got to the lively, fiddle-driven “Mari Mac” the crowd was in a frenzy, the perfect setup for an encore set that included the equally rowdy “Old Black Rum,” another classic. The final song, “Wave After Wave,” was a sway-along tune that was perfect ending for a pretty much perfect show.