Great Big Sea Hits The Landlocked Midwest

The Patio, Indianapolis, IN; 3/30/2004

by Duke Egbert

"I wish all our first concerts in a town were this good."

Journalistic neutrality be damned, I'm going to be a shameless fanboy here. If you don't like it, well...you have my apologies.

After six years of waiting, I finally got to see Great Big Sea live this last week, and it was, in a word, incredible. Simply put, the concert was incandescent in its energy, enthusiasm, and talent, and the band proved that no matter how good they are on CD, they're even better in person.

GBS is currently doing a US tour in support of their latest CD, Something Beautiful. The tour is the full five-piece lineup of Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Bob Hallett, Murray Foster, and Kris MacFarlane -- Foster and MacFarlane are new to the band with this CD. One expects when you add two members to a touring act that things might run a bit ragged, but there was no sign of that. Foster is at least a touring veteran, being a longtime member of Canadian quirk-rockers Moxy Fruvous, and while there were a couple of moments where he seemed a little out of sync, he recovered quickly and performed admirably. His baritone harmonies fill GBS' already harmony-laden sound out nicely.

Doyle and McCann were the two faces up front, and they were magnificent. While the Patio in Indianapolis has a stage about the size of a postcard, necessitating repeated instrument changes from offstage, it was handled with aplomb and grace. Better still, perhaps, was the crowd; I don't think Great Big Sea expected this kind of response in Indianapolis (not known to be a hotbed of Celtic or Canadian culture).

Bob Hallett, Alan Doyle, and Sean McCann of Great Big Sea
Photo courtesy of The Official Great Big Sea Website

You could watch Doyle's smile widen each time something new happened; when the crowd knew the words to the old stuff, when they knew the words to the new stuff, when they were willing to dance in place in a packed, crowded, shabby, smoky club. The energy was contagious, and by the time the band hit "When I'm Up", the third song in the set, the joint was rocking.

Opening act the Pushstars were surprisingly good as well -- and when I discovered their lead singer had co-written several songs with GBS on their Sea Of No Cares CD, the connection and the chemistry became obvious. Highlights of the evening included a slow, gentle ballad take on "Sea Of No Cares" with Chris Trapper, the lead singer of the Pushstars, on guest vocals; the crowd roaring "Fare thee well!" to "Helmethead" and watching Bob Hallett's delighted grin; the crowd going utterly and completely nuts as Alan Doyle sang "I drank sixteen doubles for the price of one..." to open "Old Black Rum"; a solo acoustic version of "Lucky Me"; and the final triumphant sing-along of "Rant and Roar" to close the show. GBS showed Indianapolis a damned good time, and I think Indianapolis returned the favor to the boys from Newfoundland.

Great Big Sea remains on tour through May 22 with dates throughout the US. Check out their Web site for more information.

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