It’s not often you show up at a Thursday night show and find a packed room, so kudos need to be offered to the denizens of Halifax, as the Marquee was packed and ready to rock. That being said, there were a fair number of VIP fans who arrived early and staked their claims to the railing, and these were the fans who were chomping at the bit to see Ian, Brian and the rest of the Big Wreck crew tear into In Loving Memory Of…, which was seeing its 20th anniversary celebrated.
A potent 3-piece alt-rock outfit hailing from Winnipeg, MB entitled Attica Riots were tapped to open the night. The legions of Haligoons who arrived in in time to catch their fiery and inspired performance, were treated to one of the best opening acts I’ve witnessed in a number of years. The trio of Bobby Desjarlais, Kyle and Anders Erickson have managed to craft this infectious synthesis of pop sensibilities with the kinetic fury of rock n’ roll. Bobby Desjarlais’ stage work reminded me of the boundless energy of the Arkells’ frontman Max Kerman. Between the expressive frontman, and the animated bass work of Kyle Erickson, it was a performance that was eye-opening for a large swath of fans in the room. This was a killer way to kick off the evening.
While it had only been a minute since Big Wreck graced the Marquee Ballroom stage, it was a return that was warmly welcomed. Halifax loves Big Wreck, and it’s clear that Ian Thornley, Brian Doherty, Dave McMillan and Chuck Keeping love it here too. It was that In Loving Memory Of… tour that initially brought Big Wreck to town, as they played the a packed McInness Room at Dalhousie University back in January of 1999, between the band’s debut and sophomore albums. People were primed to hear those massive rock singles then, and they are just as pumped to hear those hits today. Songs such as “That Song”, “Under the Lighthouse”, “The Oaf”, and the unmistakable “Blown Wide Open” sound every bit as good today (if not better) than they did back in ’99.
The set was built almost entirely of the track list on In The Loving Memory Of…, and the live performances of these songs far exceeded what was recorded in the studio. Big Wreck is one of the few bands that have sounded better each and every time they’ve returned to town, and that is in large part to the guitar wizardry of frontman Ian Thornley. The way in which he wields his instrument appears to be absolutely effortless.Similar to the way that we think of our hands, his guitar is just at the end of his arms, and the sounds that he can produce are otherworldly. The thing that I heard several times that evening was just how criminally underappreciated Thornley’s guitar prowess is, and how underrated Big Wreck is as a band. It felt like a disingenuous statement, as we were standing in a packed room watching (or having just watched) one of the best guitarists in the country.
As if there was any doubt as to just how good Ian Thornley is, he eschewed each and every doubt with an absolutely scintillating performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, doing justice to both Robert Plant’s soul-wrenching howls and Jimmy Page’s frenetic guitar fury. It was a jaw-dropping performance that put a perfect cap on a fantastic night of rock n’ roll. It was a show that allowed me to discover the best new band that I had never experienced prior, and reaffirmed my love for the headliners Big Wreck. It was a show that I watched from the back of the packed Marquee, as the sound up front was somewhat muddy, but was greatly improved when I moved back from the stage. Until next time guys, I’ll be waiting.