The Canadian rock legends lived up to their deserved legendary status.
The first time that I really heard April Wine it was in live performance – sort of. I had seen a vinyl record of April Wine Live At The El Mocambo sitting next to Machine Head by Deep Purple and Fragile by Yes. This was when vinyl was still dominant and music videos were yet to really emerge as anything worth making a specialty channel for. I assumed that with company like that it was a safe bet they were worth a listen. Well, they were, and still are.
April Wine has been delivering their brand of hard rock for the better part of four decades. The band has soldiered on through lineup changes, market changes, final tours, solo albums, band members retiring and passing on. Through it all they have maintained their commitment to their sound, the April Wine attitude. The present lineup of April Wine is a big summer tour draw and deservedly so.
April Wine started off with Say Hello from their 1979 album, Harder…Faster. This was followed by their take on the Bernie Taupin / Elton John song, Bad Side Of The Moon, which they first made their own on 1972’s On Record. In live performance the song outshines their studio recorded version, but that is usually the case with most bands that are worth seeing. They slowed things down a bit with the ballad Just Between You And Me, one of their hits off The Nature Of The Beast. A moment made for lighters waving in the air, or for the glow of cell phones now I guess.
When the band ripped into Drop Your Guns the air was magnetic. Everybody was playing full throttle, and the vocals were clear and powerful. It sounded like they arranged the chorus a little different. It may have been to conserve Myles Goodwyn’s voice for the night. But really, his voice sounded unusually well preserved for the decades he has been rocking. Written by one of the founding members, David Henman, for their 1972 album, On Record, it remains one of the few ‘protest’ style songs from the band. It is still as much an incendiary indictment of warmongering as it was back when the Viet Nam war was still raging.
The hits continued with Enough Is Enough, and especially You Could Have Been A Lady. The latter culminated in a particularly good barrage of riffage you don’t quite get in the studio version.
Goodwyn took pause to address the audience about his support of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and of Type-1 Juvenile Diabetes which his son is afflicted with. “There are no days off from Diabetes,” he said as he dedicated Over The Moon to his son.
“The ‘70s were very good to me folks,” he said as the band launched into Lady Run, Lady Hide, from Electric Jewels. I would have also liked to have heard Weeping Widow from the same album, as they had been playing it a few years ago in concert, but with the hour and a half they had to play, something had to go.
Goodwyn waxed nostalgic over the experience of hearing April Wine’s first hit single, Fast Train, on the radio in ’71, which he had written. The band stretched the song out a bit with some extended guitarwork in the middle. A decent version of Don’t Push Me Around followed, but the crowd really grew into a happy uproar when they started in on Tonight Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love. Indeed, up to that point it was perhaps the most enthusiastic response. Hits are hits for a reason, and this is one of April Wine’s biggest.
One of the personal anthems of April Wine, The Band Has Just Begun, sounded as good as ever. The breakneck pace of the song played with Beatlesesque melody and some smoldering dual lead from Myles Goodwyn and Brian Greenway the likes of which one expects from K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.
As usual, I Like To Rock incorporated the band’s favourite bits of The Beatles’ Daytripper and The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Their version of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid man would have been a cool follow up, but the evening was only allowing so much time. An awesome rendition of Lorence Hud’s Sign Of The Gypsy Queen followed. Again, this was a cover song they had made their own. This led into an intense drum solo from Blair McKay. Throughout the night McKay consistently proved himself adequate to replace the recently retired Jerry Mercer. Quite the challenge that, because Mercer was the drummer for the band for much of their ‘70s and ‘80s prominence, and reunited with the band for their renewed ‘90s series of recordings and tours. If this McKay isn’t giving drum clinics on his days off, he is missing out on opportunity-- and so are a lot of would be drummers.
The band’s performance of Oowatanite (one of the best loved songs written by bassist Jim Clench who had died last November from lung cancer) pretty much tore the roof off the night. It was another big hit left to just the right moment for maximum effect. Once the railroad crossing bell sounds rang out, the crowd was ecstatic. Everybody sang along with the band whether they could sing or not (there was a ‘dog pound choir’ behind me that was almost as loud as the band – close enough for rock n’ roll).
Of course the crowd called out for more and there was soon enough an encore. They retook the stage to belt out Anything You Want You Got It and Roller. Quite a few people missed the encore though because they quickly packed up and shuffled off. Minor amazement I guess, I can understand leaving a ball game early to avoid the traffic because you can listen to the game on the radio driving home, but this is a rock concert. Roller was particularly good and worth staying for.
The band's most recent bassist had been Breen LeBoeuf since Jim Clench's second departure from the group in 2006. Towards the end of the performance the new bass player, now in LeBoeuf's place, was introduced, Richard Lanthier. It was his first show with the band. Overall, he complemented the rest of the band's sound, and stuck fairly close to the original renditions of the songs throughout the night.
This was the second night of the third annual Chatham Sunrise Rotary Ribfest fundraiser. The entertainment sponsor was Caesar’s Windsor.