When The Borderline is full, you really know it and it’s full tonight and even in its new and shiny configuration it’s as hot and sweaty as it ever was. Even the support, the psych-rock three piece The Good Water, had a good crowd as they rattled through a set of cryptically worded songs and extended jams – powerhouse drumming, lively keyboards and blistering guitar through a thousand pedals and boxes. Ear shatteringly loud they were an excellent opener for The Sheepdogs.
We must be doing something right as this was the third visit by The Sheepdogs to Britain this year, and with the superb album ‘Changing Colours‘ to promote they left little time between taking the stage and launching into their particular brand of good time classic rock. They look the part – there’s plenty of velour shirts, waistcoats, flaring jeans and more on display – but more importantly they sound the part. Clean played high jinx guitar, with Jimmy Bowskill taking the poses as he hits the high notes with beautiful riffs. One of the band’s finest tricks is to cut into a song with a contrasting instrumental – ‘Cool Down‘ is so unbelievably mellow and laid back, as Ewan Curie sings soulfully of needing to “become somebody else / get out there and take some time for myself.” And then with a sudden stab of faster pace guitar heralding the switch to ‘Kiss the brass ring‘ we’re into head-down thrilling Southern Rock, before a final coda of gentle sweeping guitar recalling Wishbone Ash at their most melodic.
‘Up in Canada‘ is a literal flag waver, a joyous celebration of the world’s second largest country. One great advantage of a Southern Rock band that hails out of Canada is that you can have the big riffing, the multi-guitar posturing and the multi-part harmonies without having any of the off-putting trappings of the “battle flag of the confederacy, the south will rise again, look away Dixie-land” that too often comes along with choogling rock and roll. Maple Leaves just don’t carry the same baggage.
‘I’m gonna be myself‘ shows The Sheepdogs indulging in some harder rock posturing, and it’s main blues inspired riff is just one thin writ away from ‘Whole lotta love‘. There’s more changes of pace with the emergence of a pedal steel for the slower and sweeter ‘Let it roll‘, made beautiful by the rain of notes Bowskill produces from this instrument. With Ewan Currie moving to the keyboards, freeing Shamus Currie to take up his trombone, there’s the, ironically pretty cool, reflective ballad ‘I ain’t cool‘. And maybe The Sheepdogs have cleaved to musical sounds that aren’t mainstream cool, but the honesty of this song shines out: “I ain’t cool / through and through / it’s just a way to keep me fumblin’ through“.
With the end in sight The Sheepdogs unleashed their secret weapon, current single and lead track on the album ‘Changing Colours‘. It required Shamus Currie to abandon the keyboards again and strap on a guitar – because ‘Nobody‘ really does need more guitar. There’s a unique exhilaration from three guitars, bass and drums, and ‘Nobody‘ perfectly captures that thrill. What a song – effortlessly catchy, and with a storytelling strength that recalls the funkier songs by another Canadian – is it just me that’s reminded of the song structure of Joni’s ‘Coyote‘? Whatever, the combination of triple guitar duelling, wonderful harmonies and a song that just drives along sets The Borderline even further alight.
The encore paid tribute to one of the big influences on The Sheepdogs, with an extended jamming on The Allman Brothers’ ‘Ramblin’ Man‘ which again showcased the band’s dedication to riffology. A fantastic night, capped by the thought that when The Sheepdogs return – and they will return – they’ll be moving to bigger rooms.
I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be
Cool Down/Kiss the Brass Ring
The Bailieboro Turnaround
Up in Canada
I’m gonna be myself
Take a trip
Let it roll
I ain’t cool
Help us all
How late how long
I don’t know
Ramblin’ Man (Allman Brothers)