Le Grande Sucre (a.k.a. Big Sugar)

I went to the Big Sugar concert last night that closed out Tulip Festival. Kate went to a few things, but this year, we seem to have skipped most of it. When it started, it certainly wasn’t very spring-like – hardly any tulips out.

Yesterday, there was no doubt that summer had arrived. Well, spring, since in Ottawa, summer is unbearably hot, and spring is merely hot.

Our new air conditioner (rented it – and yes, they have been contacted about having a new site designed) managed to blow our apartment fuse for the first time. The maintenance guy in charge of our building, Dan, came by fairly quickly (about 45 minutes after my phone call, on a holiday) and handed me a key – we get to flip our own breaker this summer.

Shorts and sunglasses all day, and I was foolish enough to take my “Sears” jacket that makes a brief appearance in the spring here – basically, I just carried it everywhere, since it was too hot to wear.

I actually ended up having free tickets to the show. Thanks Adam! (he had bought a pass and went to some other shows, but wasn’t coming out last night) And I actually debated not going for a while – I was sitting on the porch at 317 Lyon, and generally just relaxing after a hectic weekend (blog entry to come…).

I thought to myself at the concert to remember myself at this moment, at the concert, enjoying myself, and to reach back to that other person, that person who almost didn’t go, and smack him upside the head.

I’ve been going to Big Sugar concerts since 1995, back in Victoria when I was going to university. I guess I was introduced to them by Matt, Jamie, and Gresham, who are self-avowed Big Sugar fanatics. And I have to admit, I’ve become one as well. My friend Louis, as well, who I went with last night. Patrick….you so should have dropped everything to come to the show.

Their early music (yes, I pretty much have every single one of their CDs) started off more blue-sy, but also more raw (self-titled release, Big Sugar). Classics like “Sleep in Late” are slow and (for Big Sugar) peaceful, with awesome little guitar licks and Gordie’s voice clearly playing with the lyrics.

Then, more distortion crept into their guitars, and the settings on all their amps permanently climbed to “11” – the album 500 Pounds, with “Ride Like Hell” still being one of my favourites, especially the revving engine noise that still often starts of their shows (it was also the encore song – Gordie being “polite” to the neighbours).

Hemi-vision seems to be an album in the middle. The edges start getting a little smoother as the boys figure out which knobs to twiddle without going overboard, but still quite raw.

Then came Heated, and tons more radio play. I think because of a more polished, pop-y sound, but they are still definitely all rock. Well, except for the reggae influence which really began to wind itself into many of the songs, especially with this album. “Diggin’ a Hole” is another classic, although I can easily say that about almost every Big Sugar song…

Finally, the last album, Brothers and Sisters Are You Ready?, released in English and French, including an intense version of “Oh Canada”. Big Sugar played the Tulip Festival days before the release of the album, and played almost all the new songs, so we got a chance to preview them before anyone else. They played a handful of “new” songs last night, which hopefully means another album is on the way.

The new music is another switch. More reggae (and there were lots of traditional reggae tunes being sung, as attested to by a Jamaican friend that was seeing Big Sugar for the first time) and more Gordie doing interesting things with his voice – he seemed to be singing higher and clearer, and at times I got an almost blue-grass feel from it. So, the new Big Sugar is blue-grass-meets-reggae-based-on-rock-turned-to-11. Is that a new musical genre?

Stage left the Peace Tower’s lighted clock loomed over the event, the show started with a tribute to the Ottawa Senators, who beat the NJ Devils (they started playing the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme, then it morphed into “Red Rover” with some lyrics changed, talking about sending those Devils home….absolutely great).

As good as listening to any of the Big Sugar CDs is…the live show is 1000% better. Songs morph one into the other, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe decides to throw in some more harmonica or do some saxophone riffs. Gordie decides that a particular song needs an intense, double-necked guitar solo, his fingers pounding the strings and working the distortion so it sounds like three people are playing, but you look, and it’s just Gordie doing his guitar magic again.

The bass is always present, usually just pounding you in the gut, sometimes floating to the top with nothing but bass being heard, knowing that some screaming guitar work is going to come crashing down again.

If you value your hearing, bring ear plugs. But with music like this, who ever needs to listen to something else?