Trans-Canada Highwaymen Were Pure Nostalgic Joy in Ottawa

Babs Asper Theatre, May 10

Photo: Ming Wu

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished May 11, 2024

All-hits touring packages are usually reserved for the casino and raceway circuit. But Trans-Canada Highwaymen, featuring Moe Berg from the Pursuit of Happiness, Craig Northey from Odds, Chris Murphy from Sloan and former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, more than exceeded the level of energy and vitality usually reserved for nostalgic revues.

Selling out the 900-seat Babs Asper Theatre in Ottawa's prestigious National Arts Centre, the quartet entered the stage looking enthusiastic, gracious and ready to rock. With Page and Berg on guitar and Northey on bass, the supergroup kicked the evening off with "It's All Been Done," as Chris added wild, superfluous drum fills to the Barenaked Ladies' refined number-one hit.

Immediately showing off their on-stage rapport, the four members began to crack jokes, with Murphy asking the crowd, "How's your relationship with the past?" before segueing into Odds' "Someone Who's Cool."

Switching instruments with Northey, Murphy took centre stage for their version of Michel Pagliaro's "Lovin' You Ain't Easy," from Trans-Canada Highwaymen's 2023 covers album Explosive Hits Vol. 1. As the crowd loosened up with a singalong rendition of the Pursuit of Happiness' "Hard to Laugh," Page took the opportunity to tell the audience the "story" of the band's formation, claiming they're nothing more than a PSYOPS project for CSIS.

Working off the audience's newfound energy, Page would insert the "Ooh ooh oohs" from "It's All Been Done" into the bridge of their next number, Odds' "It Falls Apart," revealing the song's similarities and telling the crowd, "You can't spell plagiarism without Page."

For Sloan's "Underwhelmed," Murphy would abandon bass duties to jump off stage and recline in one of two vacant front-row-centre seats before running up and down the theatre's rows, high-fiving enthusiastic audience members.

As the quartet moved into their cover of the Guess Who's "Undone," Page assured concertgoers that they wouldn't "get in trouble" for the performance. Addressing Burton Cumming's recent legal action that forbids anyone from performing Guess Who songs, Page assured the crowd he got a personal exception from Cummings himself.

Closing off their set with the Pursuit of Happiness' "She's So Young" and Odds' "Make You Mad"(which garnered huge applause as the occupants of the empty seats finally arrived 90-minutes late), the quartet would reconvene for a three-song encore.

Their rendition of Sloan's "The Rest of My Life" found Page segueing the melody into the Tragically Hip's "Poets." Taking his lead, Murphy shoehorned in Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" while Berg and Northey continued the Ottawa connection by singing the choruses to Eight Seconds' "Kiss You (When It's Dangerous)" and Five Man Electrical Band's "Signs."

As the crowd leaped to its feet for the show closer, the Pursuit of Happiness' "I'm an Adult Now," Trans-Canada Highwaymen ended their two-hour set absolutely beaming from the adoration, showing that the dream of the '90s is still alive, from coast to coast.  

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