NOVEMBER 6th 2015

Review by Lana Muirhead
Photos by Peter Ruttan


You know you’re at an older Canadian crowd kind of show when the big push at the merch table is to adopt an Ethiopian child. Honestly I can say that was a first for me! The crowd was predominantly older, but when you’re talking about fans for a band that got its start in 1991, you’re gonna be hanging around with folks at least in their mid-30s.

Triggerfinger was the opener for Big Sugar, and they were a three piece from Belgium imported all the way to Canada for this leg of the tour. Ruben Block (guitar, lead vocals), Paul Van Bruystegem (bassist) and drummer Mario Goossens formed in 1998 but did not release their first studio album until 2004.  They have been likened to Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age musically, but there’s really only one way to describe them: eclectic. They were all finely dressed in suits and ties, and Ruban even had glittery man-boots with a heel!

Their sound is definitely very groovy and not overly complicated. I think Paul played exactly one bass string the entire night (until his mini-solo at the beginning of a song toward the end of the set). I felt that the talent really centred on drummer Mario who rocked out harder than any drummer in a suit I’ve ever seen (come to think of it…I’ve never seen a drummer wear a suit!)  He even got up and called out to the crowd to cheer and have more fun: to which the crowd only moderately responded. Ruban put on a good show, hip thrusting his guitar at the audience and jiving his way across the stage as he grooved. At one point he was even down on his knees playing the guitar from the floor. Needless to say they were interesting to watch; a bit of a strange opener for a band like Big Sugar, but entertaining nonetheless. They reminded me of a band just wailing away in the garage where no one is looking; only they happened to be on stage this time.

A short time later, the lights dimmed, the window shades dropped, and Big Sugar hit the stage. Gary Lowe went for his bass, Kelly Hoppe set up behind his sax, harmonica close at hand, Stephane Beaudin saddled up to his drum kit, DJ Friendlyness stood behind his keyboards and finally Gordie Johnson himself appeared centre stage, holding a double-necked guitar: the top neck a 12-string and the bottom a 6. They burned into “Police Bway A Vampire” off their album “Yardstyle” and things just would not stop from there.

They sailed right into “Diggin’ A Hole”, pieced in some of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and kept going with hits like “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, “If I Had My Way”, “I’m A Ram” and new tracks “Calling All the Youth” and “Reckless and Dangerous”.  There was an unmistakably reggae sound to much of their set, but luckily for me they inched their way back here and there to their rock/blues roots and fired off some great renditions of “All Hell For A Basement” and even a little “O Canada” to fire up the masses.

Gordie changed guitars frequently, and when it came to “O Canada” he played parts on his 2nd double-necked guitar behind his head, displaying roughed up Canadian flag art on the back of the body. Nothing screams patriotism like talking politics on marijuana legalization and throwing a Canadian flag into a rock set. I had never seen Big Sugar live, so this was a real experience for me. The precision of the instrumentation and the way each band member fed off the other was just an unreal thing to see in person. Gordie embodies the spirit of Billy Gibbons, the soul of Muddy Waters and the grunge of early Eric Clapton/Neil Young, while somehow coalescing it all into a drive for Canadian rock excellence. All the band members were (aptly) sharply dressed with black bowler hats each with their own bit of flare. Good ole DJ Friendlyness had his trousers tucked into his socks to show off his Adidas kicks (and not once did he get a dread caught anywhere). Gordie had his hair nicely slicked and his beard well trimmed while Kelly added some glittery accents to his ensemble. Although they maybe look like bible salesmen when not by their instruments, Big Sugar can kick a stage’s ass all over some of the rock acts out there.

While I was more a fan of the rock/blues sound of Big Sugar, and was a little overwhelmed by the level of reggae twists they put on their set list (which they may or may not have even used given they’re known for hitting the sage listless) they made my night when they closed with a second encore song that melded a bunch of classic rock songs into a boiling stew of “The Scene”.The band worked hard and put on a great performance for expecting Vancouverites. Big Sugar had not been in Vancouver since 2011 and the city was wanting. They were not disappointed, and I’ll bet a good hunk of Ethiopian kids now find themselves with hungover Canadian parents. Ah, the power of rock’n’roll…