The Sheepdogs' penchant for classic rock — bluesy, guitar-led, riff-heavy, heard-stompin' jams — is well-known. Over five studio albums and with three Juno Awards under their well-worn belts, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan band have proven that their retro tendencies are no gimmick.
If a further case needed to be made, though, it was secured at the first of the group's two sold-out shows at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom on Thursday night (February 18). Currently in the midst of a tour in support of their latest release, Future Nostalgia, the Sheepdogs looked the part, too: Moustachioed and outfitted in shades of denim, the longhaired rockers took the stage with nonchalance and beers in hand and, without further introduction, blasted off back in time to a place where guitars were loud and the livin' was easy.
Tracks from Future Nostalgia made up a large quantity of the setlist, with a bombastic "Downtown" and a grinding, riff-heavy rendition of "Bad Lieutenant" helping to lead the charge. Cuts from the band's earlier catalogue, including the sunny, twangy "Southern Dreaming" (which was received with big cheers and happy sways from the audience) and the sugary melodies of "Please Don't Lead Me On" fit right in with the new songs and displayed the evolution of a band who know who they are and stay true to it. The transitions were seamless, save for some minimal in-between banter that gave thanks and raised glasses to the at-capacity crowd.
What stood out perhaps the most, however, was the Sheepdogs' skilled musicianship and multi-instrumental dexterity. Impressive electric breakdowns made up the midsection of nearly each song and found the band playing at each other while exchanging blistering shreds. Guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, who issued a quivering solo on "Who" and rocked so hard on "How Late How Long" that his wide-brim hat flew off his head, took to the pedal-steel for the slowed down, emotive "Jim Gordon." For "Ewan's Blues," Seamus Currie traded in his keyboards for a trombone, adding a jazzy element to the groovy melody.
Bassist Ryan Gullen, with his energetic delivery matching his charismatic presence, was as much fun to watch and he was to listen to, while drummer Sam Corbett, though slightly hidden away at the back, maintained a sturdy rhythmic backbone with his hard-hitting pounds. As for lead singer Ewan Currie, not enough can be said — rich, throaty and melodic, his vocals showed incredible range, hitting high notes without faltering and evoking John Fogerty and Dickey Betts.
The Allman Brothers Band are a huge source of inspiration for the Sheepdogs — "One of my favourite bands," Ewan admitted to the cheering crowd as the band returned back on stage for their encore — so, under smoke and bright stage lights, the band descended into an extended psychedelic jam that included a rumbling, rousing rendition of the Brothers' "Whipping Post," an intensely difficult song known to have sometimes reached up to 22 minutes in a live setting.
Like a band truly cut from the paisley fabric of the 1970s, they nailed it.