By JOHN AUSTEN
Special to Rick Keene Music Scene
Three names invariably come up in discussions about which Canadian rock group deserves the label ‘Best of All Time’. There are legitimate arguments to be made for the Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Rush – with a few pretenders sprinkled in for good measure. It’s no accident that Randy Bachman is a founder and major player in two of these three super groups.
The legendary guitarist brought his new Power Trio (plus 1) to a small but appreciative audience at Montreal’s Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre last Thursday night. The show came on the heels of Bachman’s new album release ‘ Heavy Blues’ which had dropped two days earlier. The album is a very strong release which features guitar solos from Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Randolph and the late Jeff Healey.
While the Winnipeg native played a few excellent tracks from the new disc (Wild Texas Ride and Confessin’ to the Devil stand out), the evening belonged to the hits. Ah yes, the hits – those songs forever etched in our collective music memory, creating the soundtrack of our lives.
Roll these song titles off your tongue: These Eyes, American Woman, Undun, No Time, No Sugar Tonight, Shakin’ All Over, Takin’ Care of Business, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Let it Ride, Roll on Down the Highway, Lookin’ Out for #1… you get the idea.
He played them all with a fervour rarely seen by any musician nowadays – much less one who will turn 72 in September.
Bachman’s strength is in his superior guitar playing and song-writing ability. He’s never been a strong vocalist, but can you imagine a rock anthem like Takin’ Care of Business being sung by anyone else?
His new crackerjack band consists of Dale-Anne Brendon (drums), Montreal native Anna Ruddick (bass) and Brent Knudsen (vocals, guitar).
Brendon doesn’t just play the drums – she attacks them! Her prowess even caught the eye of The Who’s Pete Townshend during a 2013 theatrical performance of the rock opera Tommy in Stratford, Ont. He told Bachman, who was sitting next to him at the time, that she reminded him of The Who’s late great thrasher, Keith Moon. High praise indeed.
Highlights on this night included two of BTO’s softer ballads – Lookin’ Out for #1 and Blue Collar. Bachman’s stellar jazz-influenced guitar work and simple, but profound lyrics resonated with the aging, but appreciative audience.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was having Montreal-based guitar god Steve Hill perform with him on stage for a few songs. The two traded riffs on Hill’s song The Collector, before launching into Bachman’s Heavy Blues (title track of his new album), American Woman and Takin’ Care of Business.
As the crowd stood and cheered, Bachman described Hill as the next Jeff Beck. Not too shabby.
One song that didn’t work was a rocked up version of the Guess Who classic Undun, which Bachman proudly introduced as sounding like Led Zeppelin. He explained that the original version wasn’t quite what he wanted because ex bandmate Burton Cummings insisted on playing a flute solo in it. Well, the new version was a mess. It didn’t really sound like Zep, and quite frankly it could have used Cummings’ flute and off-the-chart vocals.
However, that was simply a minor glitch in an evening of otherwise fantastic power rock and blues, interspersed with Bachman’s gifted storytelling. There’s something about seeing a rock concert with no laser light show, no background dancers, no explosions and no Autotune. What you got was a night of stripped down rock and roll, delivered to perfection by a Canadian icon – the way music is supposed to be played.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS.