With no opening acts, the members of Big Sugar, all clad in white, took the stage shortly after eight wielding an assortment of unplugged instruments. They started off with a couple of newer songs from the Yard Style album, setting the tone for the first half of the night. Frontman Gordie Johnson was quick to joke about the unplugged nature of the show, admitting the only way to "turn the guitar up" was quite literal, and musing that it was the one and only time people would be cheering for flute at a Big Sugar show, after a solo during "Little Bit a All Right".
The majority of the first set focused on newer material, a lot of which had a reggae tinge to it, like "A Revolution Per Minute" and "Eliminate' Ya", and even dipping into Gordie's Grady catalogue, with "West Coast Hobo In a Boxcar Blues", re-recorded for Yard Style.
After DJ Friendlyness took centre stage to sing a Rastafari song -- which I'm not sure if it was one of theirs or a cover -- Gordie and Kelly "Mr. Chill" Hoppe were front and centre for a soft and gorgeous rendition of "Wild Ox Moan", both Gordie's voice and Mr. Chill's harmonica soaring, as the rest of the band barely chimed in.
There was a brief intermission before the band was back out for set number two, this one a little more focused on older songs, as they kicked into blues mode with "Still Waitin'". They went back as far as their eponymous debut album with the lackadaisical "Sleep In Late" and hit songs off every album since. "100 Cigarettes" dropped in a new verse about Vancouver's preferred brand of "cigarettes", and the normally furious "Ride Like Hell" was chilled way out.
The only new song they played was another from Yard Style, "Served My Time", co-written with Antigonish Nova Scotia's The Trews (who have a long relationship with Johnson, as he produced their debut album).As the night drew to a close, they wrapped up the main set with a pair of songs that were quite clearly fan favourites; "All Hell For A Basement", which is one of my personal faves, and "Turn The Lights On", both of which had the crowd singing and clapping along.
But of course they couldn't leave it there, as they popped out for an encore of a couple more. Another favourite of mine, their cover of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (which I think they've pretty much owned by this point) and finally, a banjo'd up version of "Digging A Hole".
I've seen Big Sugar live a few times now -- once right before their breakup and a few times since they reunited -- and they have routinely been one of the loudest and most rockin' live bands I have seen. This show was, obviously, quite the opposite, but the band had no less passion. You could feel how excited they were to be stripping down the songs and playing them in a soft-seater venue. And even though I'm not sure I want Gordie trading in his double guitar for a banjo permanently, it was a really cool show.
Calling All The Youth, Heart Refuse To Pound, Little Bit A All Right, Freedom Train, West Coast Hobo In a Boxcar Blues, A Revolution Per Minute, Eliminate Ya, I Want You Now, [Friendlyness song], Wild Ox Moan.
Still Waitin', Sleep In Late, 100 Cigarettes, Joe Louis/Judgement Day, Served My Time, Ride Like Hell, All Hell For a Basement, Turn The Lights On.
Dear Mr. Fantasy, Diggin' a Hole.