Great Big Sea,
Road Rage
(WEA, 2000)

When it was announced that Great Big Sea would finally be releasing a live record, I cheered. At last, a record I could play for unenlightened friends who had never seen the band live -- to show them why I always come home smiling and exhausted. The generous 19 tracks on Road Rage don't disappoint -- they are a remarkably accurate representation of what it is like to be in the audience at a Great Big Sea show.

I've been to four Great Big Sea concerts in the past year and have loved every one. So I couldn't wait to hear all the little things I'd missed while I was jumping around and singing along to songs that have become so familiar since these four musical Newfoundlanders burst onto the pop scene a few short years ago. Since that time, they've been blazing a trail across Canada (and the United States, touring with bands like Guster and the Push Stars), entertaining their hearts out for legions of adoring fans. For this record, they chose to stick to the Canadian shows, which, according to Sean McCann (vocals, guitar, bodhran), had a different vibe than shows in other parts of the world -- one that was captured on tape. What comes across more than anything on this record is that the band is having as much fun with entertaining as the fans are with being entertained. Every show I've been to, and every one represented on this recording, had an atmosphere of joy that I've experienced with very few other bands.

There are, of course, the songs. Well-chosen traditional favourites like "General Taylor," in which McCann uses the full power of his voice, which is considerable; "Jack Hinks," an upbeat tale from 1999's Turn; "Mari Mac," a fan anthem that seems to get crazier with every passing performance; and the tender ballad "Captain Wedderburn," which features folk singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer in a duet with McCann, are performed with such abandon that they are reborn. Four-part harmonies that soar and talented playing by frontman Alan Doyle (vocals, guitar), McCann, multi-instrumentalist Bob Hallett and bassist Darrell Power bring the songs alive. I was especially impressed to hear Hallett's deep voice quite clearly on a number of tracks.

Original material that runs the gamut from the responsibility-shirking happiness of "Consequence Free" (I'm convinced that Doyle wrote the line "wouldn't it be great if the band just never ended" solely for the applause -- and the fans are more than happy to oblige) to the tender pain of "Boston and St. John's" and the kitchen party togetherness of "Goin' Up" shows considerable range in emotional content during any given show. The fans don't miss a beat, following along word for word and erupting in congratulatory applause after every track.

I was happy to hear that the band chose to include some of the witty banter for which Doyle and McCann have become especially well-known; anyone who's been to a show has heard Doyle say, "Thank you very much! We are Great Big Sea from the tropical island of Newfoundland!" There are a number of points where you can hear Doyle laugh, probably at the stage antics of his bandmates. Those things are small, perhaps, but in the case of Great Big Sea, they just make this a more realistic showcase of their live performance.

If you've been to a Great Big Sea show, you should get this CD because it will bring back happy memories of your experience. And if you've never seen the band live, you should get this CD to show yourself what you've been missing. Road Rage will be a staple in my CD player for a long time to come.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]

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