I’m sure that for most of you, and just like us, you have fond memories of the annual events you took for granted and enjoyed immensely – at least up until the moment when the global pause button decided to ruin many a party in early 2020. Attending live music events is in our blood, and yes, the arrival of the pandemic and all of its trimmings sure burst many a bubble. Prior to 2020, one of our essential annual pleasures involved a weekend in Niagara wine country, and more specifically, enjoying live music at the Jackson-Triggs vineyards from Saskatoon, SK rockers, The Sheepdogs.
We became fans of this 4xJUNO-Award winning band the moment they first came to our attention – during a live TV broadcast of the 2013 CFL Grey Cup here in the US, where a brief pre-game performance from this cool looking bunch of retro-rockers earned our immediate attention. Cooler still was the sound blasting from the field (and our speakers), taking some good old-fashioned rock n roll, and mixing in some serious Allman Brothers charm and a generous splash of Southern Boogie. The Sheepdogs had arrived – witnessed not only across all of Canada during this football finale, but by folks all over the globe.
Four years later, we snapped up tickets for their debut appearance at the Jackson-Triggs Summer Concert Series – and repeated the exercise in 2018 and 2019 too. Indeed, their third performance was the most explosive yet, as they rode the wave of success from their internationally acclaimed “Changing Colours” album, selling out tickets to these intimate shows in a matter of minutes, not days. Ever hopeful that 2020 would be our fourth consecutive opportunity to return to this party, alas, it was not meant to be – but while the world turned slowly for most of us over the next couple of years, The Sheepdogs were completely unwilling to let such a downturn destroy the momentum they had built. Channeling their energy with their creativity, the band wrote and recorded both an EP (“No Simple Thing”) in 2021, and followed with a full-length album (“Outta Sight”) this past summer.
For those of us craving much more than studio releases, just prior to the arrival of the new album came the most important announcement of all – the “Live & Outta Sight” tour – a 50-venue tour running September through January across both Canada and the US. If this was not huge enough, the band would also hop back over to the UK during the early stages to make up some pandemic-cancelled gigs for their British fan-base too. And with a stop at The Ardmore Music Hall in the Philadelphia suburbs on a mid-October evening, we snapped up tickets the moment they went on sale so that we could enjoy their lively brand of rock n roll music once more. Better still, Winnipeg, MB alt-country band Boy Golden would accompany the Sheepdogs for several dates, making this a double-victory of sorts for us – two great Canadian bands on one bill, and on our home soil in PA too.
Walking on to the stage amidst a raucous response from the music-starved crowd, it was great to see such familiar faces here in Philly (coincidentally, this show fell on the exact same date the band performed last time they were in this room): Ewan Currie (guitar/vocals), Shamus Currie (keys/guitar/trombone/vocals), Ryan Gullen (bass/vocals), and Sam Corbett (drums/keys/vocals). It was unfortunate that lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill could not join the band on this tour due to other recording commitments – his sublime skills almost impossible to replace – but the Sheepdogs pulled off a coup in securing the services of Gatineau, QC blues guitarist extraordinaire Ricky Paquette to step into Jimmy’s shoes. And Ricky did not disappoint, himself a whirling dervish fireball of energy who was both more than familiar with the material, and a consummate ‘highlight-reel’ showman in his own right.
Kicking things off with “Rock And Roll (Ain’t No Simple Thing)” from their 2021 EP, The Sheepdogs followed immediately with a barrage of back-catalog hits, the guitar intro’s alone signaling the arrival of “I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be,” “Bad Lieutenant,” and the unmistakable licks and breezy dual-guitar trade off from “Southern Dreaming.” With little pause, a quick cry of “Let’s go downtown” from Ewan prompted Ryan’s extravagant showmanship on his bass to kick off the tune, the band clearly enjoying the enthusiasm from the crowd for this popular cut from their 2015 “Future Nostalgia” album.
With an appreciative crowd before them, the band were ready to work some of their most recent material into the set – and nobody was complaining – everybody was excited to hear some of these new tunes for the first time too. Jumping immediately into the “Keep On Loving You” from the “No Simple Thing” EP, “Are You A Good Man” would also be included later in the set from this same release. The “Outta Sight” album was well represented also, as The Sheepdogs delivered outstanding versions of “Find The Truth” and “I Wanna Know You” – offered back-to-back with barely a short breath separating them (and not at all indifferent to their studio album counterparts). The inclusion of “So Far Gone” from this album was also a welcome addition, complete with the distinct seventies guitar rings that ooze some of Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” vibe. As an added bonus, Shamus vacated his spot behind the keys to play rhythm guitar, while Sam took a break from the drums to add keys and percussion from the front of the stage.
In typical Sheepdogs fashion, the band were more than content to prevent the audience from stopping for air, returning to the “Future Nostalgia” material and hitting us hard with the always-popular “I’m Gonna Be Myself” – and on this given evening, we were privy to an extended dual-guitar jam from Ewan and Ricky (gotta love those hints of “Jessica” that always gets a reaction from the crowd), before all five guys cranked the dials up to the max for the final riff-heavy chorus. The intensity continued to build through a performance of new tunes “Scarborough Street Fight,” and especially so during “Jesse, Please,” where Ewan encouraged the crowd to ‘say hello to Ricky Paquette here,’ before all four band mates exited the stage, yielding the floor to their guest guitarist. What followed was an almost 4-minute guitar solo of epic proportions, the French-Canadian showcasing his unbelievable talents whilst simultaneously blowing the roof off the room with some skills that easily rivaled those of revered rock guitarists Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. I’m sure that for Paquette, this all-out assault on his six-string outweighed the sacrifice of the broken guitar strap that followed during this exhibition of unadulterated talent.
With the band back on stage, the home-stretch was both an audible and visual delight of classic Sheepdogs tunes, kicking off with “Feeling Good,” progressing into “I Don’t Know” (complete with Sam’s extended drum solo), and drawing the show to a close with the always-popular “Nobody.” Bidding us a good night, The Sheepdogs took full advantage of the well-deserved applause and cries of ‘one more song’ before being enticed back to the stage. “How about two more songs?” offered Ryan, the crowd responding appropriately as the band launched into quite possibly the longest rendition of “Learn & Burn” we have ever experienced (almost 12 minutes, including time for band member announcements, and solos from both Ricky and Shamus). Inviting all six members of Boy Golden to join them for the finale, together, both bands collectively delivered a rousing cover of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready For The Country” – and while this did not have a similar epic run-time, it had a ton of great instrumentation, smooth harmonies, great interplay between bands, and for some of us who had waited patiently all evening, a music desired trombone solo from Shamus Currie.
The Sheepdogs play old-school rock n roll music. They know how to work a room and they know what a crowd wants to hear. Every time we’ve seen them live, they’ve blown away our expectations. Last week in Philly, they took their game to yet another level. If you’ve read this recap and wish you’d been there, well hey, there’s still plenty of time between now and January to make it happen. No more excuses – buy some tickets and go see them now – before they are Outta Sight.
- Rock And Roll (Ain’t No Simple Thing)
- I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be
- Bad Lieutenant
- How Late How Long
- Southern Dreaming
- Keep On Loving You
- Find The Truth
- I Wanna Know You
- Are You A Good Man
- HMS Buffalo / I’m Gonna Be Myself
- So Far Gone
- Scarborough Street Fight
- Jesse, Please
- Feeling Good
- I Don’t Know
- Learn & Burn
- Are You Ready For The Country (Neil Young cover – ft. Boy Golden)