As promised yesterday, I am going to share with you a personal review of the "Big Country" concert that my SO and I attended Tuesday night at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
This was a spur of the moment decision for us to go. Monday night I just found free tickets on FillASeat. It was like "What are we doing tomorrow night type/can we fit this in" choice for us.
Man am I ever glad we decided to go.
Big Country is to music what Survive 55 is to social media.....BIG !!!
So we show up Tuesday night to pick up our tickets and the place looks empty. We head over to their quaint little cocktail area to have a couple of frosty adult beverages (who cares if it is Tuesday……it is a concert after all and it is 105 degrees outside) and the place is still looking empty.
As show time approaches we take out seats…………almost center stage and in row 4. We are talking less than 10 feet from the band. So close you could see the colors of the band's eyes as they say.
Needless to say, I'm excited.
There could not have been 200 people at this show.
I have to belief that it was a last minute decision by the Big Country promoters to book this stop on their way to California.
I overheard a woman from the city of Tempe talking and from what I could catch they somehow brought the band in at the last minute.
Hey, I'm not complaining. I love spontaneity.
Unfortunately the diminutive crowd did not do the band justice.
For their talent and energy and friendliness towards the small audience, they deserved an arena sized crowd.
And so does their music.
Big Country plays big music.
Unfortunately, as beautiful a venue as the Tempe Center for the Arts is it was not the right place to hear this band.
More on this in a second………..
Technically, these guys were very good, their musical concept was interesting but it wasn't my cup of tea. Billy Cioffi, I found out, is a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles music scene. He started his career at 16, moved to Los Angeles and recorded and toured with some great rock legends: Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and Ben E King.
This "AmericaCamera" project and its accompanying music tried to be a little too deep and meaningful. Unfortunately, at least as far as I am concerned, the days of the great folk balladeers ended with the heyday of Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens Carole King and James Taylor.
They played a couple of good songs for about 15 minutes and ended with a song that I felt Lou Reed would be real pissed off about since it was a direct steal from his classic "Sweet Jane".
There was a quick break Then Big Country took the stage with a virtual roar of energy and a mile high wall of sound that didn't stop through their entire hour and a half set.
Darla and I decided to spread out since there was so much room available so we took our seats center stage about 20 rows back just behind the sound board.
They started the show with Return and Harvest Home.
The sound was awful. The bass was overbearing (and I love a lot of bass) and the vocals could hardly be heard. It looked like the guitars were each run through a small fender amp and the bass through a 5 foot Ampeg.
I really couldn't hear where the vocals came from they were so muddy.
And that sucks because so much of their sound comes from the powerful vocals.
It was really too bad because Mike Peters really deserved better with how much he was putting into his singing.
Doc and I decided to move stage left to get away from the bass and we found the sound a little better.
I got to tell you the sound man must have been asleep or deaf because it wasn't until the 7th or 8th songs that the music became clearer but the vocals remained muddy all night.
If he was looking for a "powerful" sound then he had it, but like I said before, they were in the wrong venue.....too small and too close quarters.
I never realized how big a sound Big Country has live nor did I realize how many great songs they have.
These guys need big settings and big stacks of amps behind them.
Those of you who know me intimately know that I am a vinyl record collector…….No CD's, no digital……….just good old fashion electric sound wave patterns grooved into a disc of polyvinyl chloride.
I only have two Big Country albums (right now), The Crossing (1983) and The Seer (1986) as well as a maxi single of the songs Look Away/Restless Natives (1986) so I don't consider myself very "educated" on the Big Country discology over the years.
My bad and now I am definitely on the search for more records.
Even though the crowd was sparse it got up and loudly demanded an encore which Big Country obliged with a couple more songs ending with their biggest hit in the US, "In a Big Country".
Bruce Watson and his son Jamie on guitars were nothing short of stellar. Bruce still has "the chops" even at his advance "Survive55" years and Jamie played fast and furious.
It was amazing how these guys had their guitars (and bass) engineered for a Scottish/Celtic sound which, if you closed your eyes, is strongly reminiscent of bagpipes. Also contributing to the band's unique sound was their use of the e-bow, a device which allows a guitar to sound more like strings or synthesizer.
Other than the fact that his sound was too loud, the bass playing by Derek Forbes was magnificent. He is ultra-quick when he wants to be and can tease a real heart crunching rhythm when he needs.
And, by the way, I think he looked pretty dam dapper on stage in his Kilt. Darla said she didn't get it.
Mark Brzezicki, hidden behind a full drum kit all night, played like he was 20 again. I honestly didn't realize how good a drummer he is until after the show.
I actually felt proud to be the same age as these guys seeing how proficient and energetic they still played.
They proved, and I said this to Mike Peters in the lobby after the show: "We old guys can still rock".
If you get a chance, I highly recommend you check out the band if they come around your neck of the woods.
Think about some of the more obscure, less mainstream yet great bands of this time period that you used to listen to on vinyl.
I bet there were quite a few.
Please send me your favorites and well pass them along.
Tomorrow I will list my 5 or so favorites and talk a little about each and I'll see if I can expand your musical horizons and turn you on to some "new" sounds that are over 30 years old.