Published Mar 09, 2020For over 25 years, Alan Doyle, of Newfoundland treasures Great Big Sea, has been bringing ceilidhs coast to coast in Canada and beyond. It was smooth sailing for him at Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday night, the final stop on the most recent leg of his "Rough Side Out" tour.
Doing the opening honours was Ottawa Valley-born singer Kelly Prescott. As a third generation musician, the art of song was in her blood, and her roots matured into a fulsome showing at the Queen E. Performing on acoustic guitar alongside Chad Murphy on electric, her songs moved between roadhouse blues and classic country. With an open heart — and plenty of sassy swagger — she sang of cheating ("Suzy Homewrecker"), divorce ("Church"), and good ol' love. "I didn't write a lot of these — until I met this guy," she said, looking at Murphy, before the duo sent off with "Love Wins."
Before Doyle showed the Vancouver audience what a raconteur, master host and consummate musician he is, he had one question for his guests: "Are you ready for the greatest kitchen party in the history of British Columbia?" He and his quintet, the Beautiful Beautiful Band, then proceeded to serve old favourites by Great Big Sea, selections from his solo catalogue and Newfoundland traditionals.
Uplifting anthems like "When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down)" brought fans to their feet. Its opening words, "I am the fountain of affection," were met with such cheer, the band couldn't continue until everyone simmered down just a little bit. It was impossible to stay seated for songs like "When I'm Up" and other stompers like "End of the World," "1 2 3 4," "Ordinary Day" and John Mellencamp's "Paper in Fire," especially with fiddler extraordinaire Kendel Carson heating up her bow.
Doyle tugged on heartstrings, too. The sombre, nearly processional "Laying Down to Parish" and songs from his childhood, which he sang in dedication to his mom and dad, evoked attentive reverence rather than sloshy revelry.
But then it was right back to the latter. "Are you in the mood for a drinking song?" he asked before once again dipping into his bottomless reservoir of drinking songs. Whether it was an ode to getting pissed up on George Street in St. John's ("The Old Black Rum") or getting pissed up to celebrate the life of a friend who's passed on ("The Night Pat Murphy Died"), there was a drinking song for every mood and occasion.
At the tail end of Doyle's set, Murphy returned to the stage, adding a third guitar for "I've Seen a Little," the most rocking song of the evening. "For a second, I was in Van Halen, and it was 1984," Doyle commented. Just then, the opening of "Jump" blared through the speakers, completing the joke — and revealing how curated even the most natural performances can be.
Alas, all good things come to an end, and as hard as Doyle and company tried to stave off last call with their numerous drinking songs, so did the show. After Prescott joined Doyle for the heartbroken duet, "What the Whiskey Won't Do," filling in for Saskatchewan country pop singer Jess Moskaluke, the band wrapped up with "I Gotta Go." "I gotta go, go, go. Another airplane, another show. Twenty songs if they love me, only 18 if they don't," Doyle sang, now alone onstage, under a spotlight. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe it was another instance of curation, but Doyle gave Vancouver exactly 20 of his best songs, which meant he felt as much love for his West coast fans as they did for him.