The Sadies’ In Concert Vol. One is my feel-good disc of the summer. But then I’m one of the lucky souls who got a promo copy about the time the summer began. The rest of you who’ve had to wait for the official early-August release, you’ve still got some summer left. Put these discs on, crank up the volume, and rock out!
The Sadies have put out about a half-dozen albums in nearly a decade of playing and recording from their base in Toronto. They’re not so well known south of the border — I didn’t get on the bandwagon until 2005’s Favourite Colours as well as that year’s live set by Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken, on which they backed her on most of the tracks. But I’d been exposed to them here and there, particularly Dallas Good’s twangy guitar licks on some of Howe Gelb’s projects. To those in the know, however, they’ve gained a reputation as one of the best live bands in North America, as well as supporting musicians for all manner of Americana-type acts — including those aforementioned as well as Mekon Jon Langford, the Waco Brothers, Heavy Trash, and the very popular Canadian band Blue Rodeo. And they grew up playing bluegrass and gospel with Mom and Dad and some uncles and cousins in the Good Family Band, to boot.
So when The Sadies decided to cut a live album, they figured they’d invite as many of their collaborators as could make it to join them, and producer extraordinaire Steve Albini (just Google him for his references!) to get it all on tape. Which he did, and they did, over two nights in Toronto. The 90-some songs they performed on those two nights have been winnowed down to a mere 41 tracks on this exciting two-disc set.
The basic scheme has The Sadies playing a handful of their own songs, which run the gamut from speed-thrash surfabilly instrumentals to psychedelic electric folk, and intersperse those with mini-sets in which they’re joined by their guests. Sadies tracks come from all of their albums, with Favourite Colours most heavily represented.
The first interlude is a bluegrass and gospel set with the Good Family, including the traditional “Higher Power,” the Bob Wills swing classic “Stay A Little Longer” and the instrumental “Uncle Larry’s Brackdown,” featuring the eponymous Larry on banjo, among other family members.
The Band’s Garth Hudson plays keyboards and accordion on several of the next bunch of tracks, including a cover of the Flat Duo Jets’ “Lonely Guy.” Margaret Good and Kelly Hogan provide lovely vocals on some songs from The Sadies’ back catalog, including “1,000,002 Songs” and “Dying Is Easy,” to finish the first disc.
I’ve never been much of a Jon Spencer fan, so your mileage may vary, but I don’t particularly care for the raucous hyper-rockabilly tracks that kick off the second disc, Heavy Trash’s “Back Off” and “Justine Alright.” But there’s nothing wrong with the guitar attack led by Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray on “Talking Down,” which sounds like a great lost Rolling Stones track from 1965.
Jon Langford steps in for a couple from the Mayors of the Moon album he cut with the Sadies a couple of years ago, and then my favorite, Neko Case joins in with three great songs: “Hold On, Hold On” from this year’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood; Roger Miller’s “Home” and The Band’s “Evangeline,” a duet with Hudson who also plays accordion. Sweet!
The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, along with Neko, Hogan, Uncle Larry on banjo and Bob Egan on pedal steel, join The Sadies for “Tailspin,” from Rainy Day Music, and Louris adds lead guitar and vocal to “Good Flying Day” from Favourite Colours, and a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam.”
The Sadies have a side project with members of Blue Rodeo called The Unintended, and Greg Keelor and Rick White join in for two previously unreleased songs, “Another Day” and “All Passed Away,” as well as “Story’s Often Told” from the Sadies album by that title, and Blue Rodeo’s “You’re Everywhere.”
Everybody is back on stage for the encores, which include another Roger Miller cover, “Jason Fleming,” with Neko singing lead; Heavy Trash’s “Her Love Made Me” and a rousing finale, Langford leading in the Mekons’ iconic “Memphis, Egypt” — the one that begins with one of the greatest lines in all of rock ‘n’ roll: “Destroy your safe and happy life, before it is too late.”
And of course behind it all, on every track, are Travis and Dallas Good on guitars, frequently on vocals, and Mike Belitsky on drums and Sean Dean on bass. As solid a band as you’ll find. There’s hardly any stage banter, no messing around, just this great band tearing into one song after another. The Sadies are indeed a great live band, and this is a great live album. I love this record!
(Yep Roc, 2006)