Published Jun 20, 2013Saskatoon rockers the Sheepdogs' sudden success after winning a contest to be the first unsigned band on the cover of Rolling Stone may have been the result of years of hard work, but they were also quickly thrust into the inhospitable gears of the music business.
In telling the band's evolution from playing half-filled rooms to North American arena tours while interstitially returning to the recording of their important 2012 self-titled album, documentary The Sheepdogs Have At It can't help but feel like it's part of that big machine.
Despite the artificial packaging, the group's '70s Southern blues-rock sound and down-to-earth personalities emerge as the genuine article. The members all look and act like they've walked out of that bygone era, one where big riffs and loads of hair were practically prerequisites for acceptance. Through interviews with them and their parents, it takes some time for their individual personalities to emerge and even then, there's little beyond a surface exploration of their dynamics.
As the Sheepdogs tour their first album, the lo-fi Learn To Burn, to growing audiences on the heels of winning the Rolling Stone contest, the true story behind their big break emerges. As one might expect, this wasn't just a case of a group slowly building an audience over time via word of mouth, but instead a matter of befriending the right people in the industry who could then get the proper push with media and radio stations to put the Sheepdogs over the top in the contest.
If they were forced to play the game in order to reap the rewards, it's more a cruel reminder of how the industry works than an indictment of the group's savvy ability to capitalize on an opportunity. It's clear, especially in the scenes showing the group recording their newest album (with Patrick Carney from the Black Keys among the producers) that their focus is clearly on the music and that they are all aware of how quickly things can vanish if they were to let up for even a moment.
With catchy hit singles like "I Don't Know" and a talent for extended, scintillating jam sessions on stage, it's still encouraging to see someone playing gimmick-free rock'n'roll like this find an audience in today's musical landscape.
If only you couldn't hear the voice of some executive commissioning the making of this documentary as yet another prong of an intense, ongoing marketing blitz. (Indiecan)