Now that I’ve returned from my self-imposed technological exile, I feel the need to address the opening installment of the 2012 Labatt Blue Canal Concert Series featuring Gov’t Mule and The Sheepdogs.
Because Warren Haynes and Co. are already known for being masters of a jam band universe in which lyrics take a backseat to cadenced grooves and psychedelic improvisation, the real story here is the emergence of The Sheepdogs from the prairies of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
When juxtaposed with the majority of today’s mainstream fodder, their down-home sound stands out as an anachronistic link to a period when it was still acceptable to emphasize substance over style.
Listen to the first few tracks from 2010’s “Learn and Burn,” and you’ll get the image of a merry group of lads who are just as content playing a backyard barbecue as they are doing their thing in front of 80,000 people at Bonnaroo. Think Kings of Leon minus all the pretentious bickering.
They wasted little time assuring the Lockport crowd that their three Juno Awards are indeed the product of a unit dedicated to keeping Rock and Roll moving in a forward motion. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward, and The Sheepdogs have embraced that concept with gusto.
Led by singer/guitarist Ewan Currie, the band exudes a rugged mountain man persona that is a breath of fresh air considering how image-conscious the industry has become. In essence, they look just as the music sounds: raw, down-to-earth, and anything but flashy.
Highlights of their set included “Who,” “Please Don’t Lead Me On,” and “Southern Dreaming,” all of which had the thousands in attendance stomping their feet and reveling in the fact that the weather gods didn’t rain on their parade.
The hit single, “I Don’t Know,” also featured prominently in the set and even managed to liven up those in the audience who were biding their time until Gov’t Mule took the reins. It’s a catchy lyric draped over a riff straight out of 1976, so the crowd loved every throwback second of it.
While they’re not a full-on jam band, The Sheepdogs aren’t afraid to let the instruments steer the ship for a lengthened piece of musical fusion. Certain songs appeared to extend naturally beyond their usual running times, giving the band a creative license to add a little something extra to the proceedings.
Given the adroitness with which they operated all night, I can’t see the headline spot being too far off.