Tuesday, April 7, 2009

United Steelworkers of Montreal

This is a review I wrote for a show here in Victoria last weekend. It didn't get printed where I was hoping it would, so here it is.

Full disclosure: I freaking love this band.


It is a rare thing to see a band called back to the stage for an encore. True, we have all seen bar bands take three unconvincing steps to the left and milk a few seconds of cheering from the crowd before finishing a set. And the perfunctory dimly-lit five-minute lighter-raising break has long been a hallmark of arena rock. Really though, encores in these cases are surprise to no one. On the other hand, seeing a band legitimately punch-out for the night and start packing up their gear only to be called back by an unrelenting crowd they have worked into an irrational frenzy is the stuff of Springsteen legend. Springsteen and, apparently, the United Steelworkers of Montreal.

Midway through an exhaustive coast-to-coast and back again tour in support of their third full-length, Three on the Tree, the Steelworkers brought their gritty harmonies and firey finger-picking to Logan's on Saturday night as part of a double-bill with Edmonton's Hot Panda. Drawing heavily on the new material but also hearkening back to their previous two releases, the sextet offered up heaping doses of back-breaking, love-making and whiskey-drinking all served on a cobbled platter of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, gospel and early rock and roll. The genetics of each of these styles are blatantly apparent in the Steelworkers' musical aesthetic, to be sure. However, the band's real talent lies in its ability to chew it all up and spit it out in distinct four-minute installments that make you want to drink, punch, dance and cry - sometimes all at once.

The sermon-infused Jesus We Sweat and worker's lament Shot Tower, both from the new disc, were foot-stompers of the highest order. On the flip-side, the gentle sway of Son, Your Daddy Was Bad had many in the liquor-soaked crowd in a full-on waltz while frontman Shawn "Gus" Beauchamp paradoxically sang of jealousy, murder and revenge. Beauchamp's voice was smooth throughout and fit like a work-glove in between the ranges of his co-lead singers - the gravely and janitorial Gern F., and the high-harmonizing Felicity Hamer. In addition to assuming vocal duties, Hamer shone instrumentally, adding soothing accordion tones to arrangements that would include banjo and mandolin (Chris Reid), stand-up bass (Eddy Blake) and searing electric guitar (Matt Watson), in addition to the rhythm guitars of Beauchamp and Gern.

Having to share the bill this night, the Steelworkers were just hitting their stride as the clock struck midnight on their hour-long set. Despite their best efforts to convey that their time was up - coiling up cords, packing instruments away and shrugging apologetically - the calls for encore were genuine and unrelenting. The band was noticeably touched by their local reception as they reemerged for the heartfelt Place St. Henri from their 2005 debut Broken Trucks and Bottles.

"If we had two or three Victorias, we'd be West a lot more often," Gern was heard saying after the show. Indeed, it's been a year and-a-half since the band's first Victoria appearance, this being their second trip to the Garden City. That said, if supply-and-demand has taught me anything we should be able to hope for a Steelworkers return much sooner than that this time around.

1 comment:

Your mother said...

Hart tells me his favourite Steelworkers album is Broken Trucks and Bottles, so I'm going to dowload it from iTunes and put it on my iPod. Hart has only steered me wrong with music once. From reading this review, and having listened to one song of theirs, I think I may like them. We'll see. Good job on the review, Hart. Your enthusiasm for this band is contagious.