When music is distinctly regional, it can be as helpful as a travel agent. And like the gritty realism of a New York City rapper or the no-frills charm of a Buffalo bar band, Great Big Sea's music gives some deep insight into its place of origin -- the open skies and frowning, ocean cliffs of Newfoundland.
The band is touring in support of its ninth album, "Fortune's Favour," a collection of tracks released this past June that continues to explore the spaces between modern rock, Celtic music and traditional Newfoundlander folk songs -- a unique place on the musical atlas that has defined the group since its independently released debut album in 1993.
It came as no surprise that Great Big Sea's performance at Erie Canal Harbor on Saturday night was stuffed to the gills with fans, bouncing along in unison to the band's high-powered drinking songs and singing along to the poppier stuff -- our city has long been a big supporter of the group, boasting the kind of following that they're used to seeing north of the border. So it was that a band from the northern tip of Canada played a show in Western New York that felt like a homecoming.
Led by a trio of original members, including Bob Hallett, who is a wizard of a multi-instrumentalist, the band gave a hungry Labor Day weekend audience the stomping sing-alongs and sea shanties they came for, along with more straight-ahead modern rock favorites like "When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down)." The more rollicking stuff was a smashing success, especially the salty and spirited "Captain Kidd." And it was wonderful to see Murray Foster on bass -- a former member of the sadly defunct Moxy Fruvous. But when they put the fiddles and accordions away and tried to sing pop songs like "Something Beautiful," things got a little schmaltzy. I couldn't help but wish that Foster's old band was on stage, doing their brilliant vaudevillian-pop-folk thing once again.
Great Big Sea was preceded by Kathleen Edwards, who led her three-piece band through a mesmerizing set of haunting, country-tinged rock songs.