Spirit of The West / Ashley MacIsaac
Friday, March 14, 2008
The Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, BC Canada
***Live Review & All Photos By Lord of The Wasteland
What better way to kick off the weekend heading into St. Patrick’s Day than to spend it with two of Canada’s most celebrated Celtic-inspired artists, Spirit of The West and Ashley MacIsaac. Vancouver’s own Spirit of The West, commemorating their twenty-fifth anniversary with a pair of sold-out shows at The Commodore Ballroom, took MacIsaac, a Cape Breton native and one of the world’s best fiddlers, out for its annual shows. This show in particular, part of Vancouver Celticfest, was being filmed for later broadcast on CBC-TV, so the crowd, many sporting kilts and sporrans and already loose from a hearty helping of St. Patty’s cheer, was more than ready to live it up for the cameras.
Ashley MacIsaac, a gifted fiddler and part of a musical family hailing from Cape Breton Island, has had his share of ups and downs. His erratic behaviour and shocking interviews ultimately led to the demise of a once-promising career. Tales of drug addiction, bankruptcy, inappropriate stage rants and the loss of a record deal seemed to be more closely associated with MacIsaac than his music but he seems to have turned his life around and it was nice to see the music once again as the focus. With only himself and Stewart Cameron on acoustic guitar, MacIsaac’s forty-five minute was stripped down to the bare basics as the pair tore through various traditional Celtic and Maritime jigs, reels and folk songs. The hit songs “The Devil In The Kitchen,” “Sleepy Maggie” and “Brenda Stubbert” were not played and no song introductions were given except for a Stan Rogers cover. MacIsaac noted at one point that this was his first time ever appearing on stage in Vancouver sober and drug-free which is amazing considering the number of shows he has played here over the past fifteen years. He thanked Spirit of The West for the invitation to play with them and mentioned that his first gig outside of Cape Breton was opening for the band in the mid-nineties. It was a treat to hear MacIsaac do what he does best—ferocious fiddle music—and the energy was perfect for the occasion.
SPIRIT OF THE WEST
As the cameras rolled, the lights went down and the curtain dropped for Spirit of The West. Lead vocalist John Mann, draped in a Canadian flag fashioned into a cape, danced spastically to “Our Ambassador” before launching directly into “Political.” For two hours, the band left no stone unturned running through their entire ten album catalogue and delivering hit after hit with a few surprises thrown in, as well. Even a new song from the upcoming SPIRITUALITY album, “Happy New Year,” was tested on the crowd. Original guitarist J. Knutson even came out for “Doin’ Quite Alright,” “Aberdeen” and “The Crawl.” Mann’s between song banter was interesting as “And If Venice I Sinking” was explained to be written in 1989 while on his honeymoon, but the most interesting was how “Rites of Man” is actually about a friend of the band whose Jehovah’s Witness faith kept his dying wife from accepting a blood transfusion in the hospital ultimately killing her and their unborn baby. Stricken by grief, the man tried to kill himself unsuccessfully and was shunned by the religion as a result. Very sad and poignant. As is tradition, drummer Vince Ditrich (hailing from my own hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta!) and multi-instrumentalist Tobin Frank engaged the crowd with a hilarious mid-set interlude of the traditional Irish folk song “Danny Boy,” The Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town,” Sonny & Cher’s “I Got U Babe,” The Irish Rovers’ “The Unicorn,” Tom Jones’ “Delilah” and Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” Dittrich’s over-the-top personality played off Frank’s straight-man demeanour, but when Frank improvised “I’ve got you to shave my back…,” the crowd erupted at Dittrich’s mock horror. As the main set wound down with “Save This House” and “Home For A Rest,” the crowd showed no sign of wear as the choruses were giant rousing sing-alongs. For the encore, MacIsaac and Cameron performed “Home For A Rest” and “Sadness Grows” with the band and the sight of a fiddle, accordion, bodhrán and whistle could only mean one thing: HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!
D For Democracy
Happy New Year (New Song)
And If Venice Is Sinking
King of Scotland
Doin’ Quite Alright
Morning In The Bath Abbey
The Old Sod
Medley: Danny Boy / Dirty Old Town / That’s Amore / I Got U Babe / The Unicorn / Delilah
Rites of Man
Is This Where I Come In
Save This House
Home For A Rest
Take It From The Source
I look forward to watching this show once it gets edited down for broadcast on CBC. Not just for the thrill of seeing myself on TV dodging around the photo pit but also to relive a great evening of Kilkenny, traditional tunes and good times.
***Thanks to Jessica at Live Nation for the press pass.