REVIEW: Rossland gets shredded
Ah yes, the good old banjo: that brilliant half guitar-half drum instrument. For generations its god-given talent for getting toes tapping and people dancing has been a staple in country music, hoedowns, and lazy days spent sitting on a back porch picking the world’s cares away. You’d think that any instrument with the ability to liven up a dance floor be it in a barn, the backwoods or god forbid a cosmopolitan upscale bar would be revered, loved, and perhaps even considered sexy. It would seem, however, that the banjo is the Rodney Dangerfield of the music scene: it doesn’t get no respect.
Knock down the preconceptions and cut through the inhibitions, though, and out come the dancing shoes and a guaranteed good time. This past Friday night the banjo came to Rossland in the form of Fernie-based band Shred Kelly. Already familiar with the group’s genre-busting party tunes, I called up friends to invite them to what I sold as the best show to come through the Mountain Kingdom this year.
“What kind of music do they play?” was the first question. I described the band, going as long as possible before mentioning the five stringed party machine. When I finally dropped the B-bomb, however, there were questions and ‘are you kidding?’ looks visible beneath the awkward invitation acceptances.
Several hours later, though, those reluctant toes were tapping, feet were stomping and a full range of listeners ranging from twenty-something bar hopping girls through to fifty-year-old Boomers were trying their best not to jump around the dance floor. Several songs further in, in the alcohol and banjo-driven need to move won over a few brave souls and the party was on.
Shred Kelly (named after infamous Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly) tore up the Red Room stage through three sets of covers, classics and originals on their unofficial CD release party. Their first album, Goodbye July, had been pressed and offered for sale just that morning.
The fearless Fernie five-some, defying conventional pop music wisdom, have put together a sound uniquely their own that should serve them well as a cultural calling card. Tim Newton fronts the quintet with a mean banjo, a ukelele that rocks like ukelele’s weren’t meant to be rocked, and a rare ability to sing loud and proud without yelling and screaming. Sage McBride tickles the keys, sings backup to Newton as well as taking the reins as she belts out a few of her own songs. Balancing out the testosterone on the too-small-for-five-people Red Room stage, McBride’s ski bum/bohemian mash up is the visual definition of the band’s sound. Mike Robichaud, the prerequisite ski-town Aussie who patriotically offered up the band’s name, was solid on lead guitar, offering wailing acoustic solos and a few hits of harmonica when needed. Steve Polit held steady on bass and Ian Page Shiner, the transplanted Newfie, tore it up with an ability to rock steady while maintaining a light touch that didn’t overpower the small room.
In between displaying their creative songwriting touch with songs about hating work, bosses who live inside their head, and a summertime longing for winter’s return, the group broke out some surprisingly “Shred Kellified” covers of unexpected classics. Showing a diverse range of influences the group went from a Joel Plaskett opener, through a double time tongue twisting version of the White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” and a banjoed’up version of a Dead Milkmen’s underground 90’s classic, finishing up with a Canadian heritage reach back of a rocked up “Log Drivers Waltz”.
It’s not everyday that Rossland can claim to be the kickoff show to a band’s nationwide tour and CD release party, so the thirty or so lucky folks who ventured our Friday evening received a real musical treat. Heading home too many drinks into a good evening I was converted from a casual listener to a “Shred head” and went home happy that the promise I’d made my friends of Rossland’s best musical performance of the year had been delivered–and then some.