The second night of the Grey Cup Concert Series got underway Friday with a roster of Canadian Alternative Rock bands inside TD Place Arena. A thicker and livelier crowd was in attendance as the first band took to the stage just after 7pm. Toronto’s Dwayne Gretzky, a 10-piece collective of keys, sax, two guitars, bass, drums, percussion and four singers, are described on their Facebook page as “a live music phenomenon celebrating the greatest songs of all time”… and a phenomenon is exactly what they were. With an instrumental and vocal wall of sound, they stirred up plenty of dance action with a host of classic tunes from the world of rock and pop. Bowie’s “Young American,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” Toto’s “Africa,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded By The Light” were among the list played to precision.
Next up was another highly talented Canadian 5-piece called Reuben and the Dark, who hail from Calgary. Two guitarists who shared rhythm, lead, and synth duties, a drummer, a bassist, and led by vocalist/guitarist, Reuben Bullock, created a beautiful cinematic blend of dark brooding masterpieces. Each song displayed mood-stimulating magic through the use of varying synth tones, samples, and big rhythms. One called “Bow and Arrow” impressed me with its three-quarter beat, its lullaby melody, and its slow build into a grand lushness with heavier tribal beats. Bullock’s voice also added to the material’s dramatic palette of soft/strong intensities. The crowd quickly warmed up to this band, and their applause grew with every song.
More bodies filed in while the speaker stacks pumped out some classic Skynyrd in between sets. Soon the crowd began chanting in anticipation of the night’s headliners, Sloan. Finally, warm cheers welcomed the band… “Is Lynyrd Skynyrd gone? Is it safe to come out?” joked member Chris Murphy. And with that, the ensemble of five plunged into a non-stop succession of songs from their vast 11 album library. The ride began with the jangly “The Good In Everyone,” and hopped through the 26-year timeframe including early pop/rock favourite “Coax Me,” the bouncy “Everything You’ve Done Wrong,” the harmonious “If It Feels Good Do It,” and the rock heavy “Money City Maniac,” to name a few. There was the signature musical chair exchange of instruments and turns on lead vocals by the four core songwriters. Apparently the set was recorded, and the band also leaked they would be putting out a new album in 2018. Diehard fans in the crowd were obvious with plenty of bobbing, fist-pumping, and chanting out words to many of the songs while the band would intermittently take the back seat. Sloan have definitely not lost their touch – in fact, they showed an increased level of musicianship and tightness that can only come with years of playing together. And I also found out something else: You only need to go to a Sloan show once to become a fan forever.
The Grey Cup Festival continues until Sunday November 26. Be sure to catch April Wine and Trooper tonight at TD Place Arena. Tickets cost $45 online. Visit www.greycupfestival105.ca for information.