ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 22, 1996
Last July a band calling itself Red Rider—but without Tom Cochrane in the lineup—played the Commodore. Not surprisingly, the turnout was small, and not surprisingly, I wasn’t there. I’ve been a Red Rider fan since day one, but the notion of seeing the band without Cochrane at the helm didn’t stick. That’s like seeing the Stones without Mick, The Who without Roger—even the Beatles without John.
Sure, Red Rider cofounder and guitarist Kenny Greer is a gifted player, and his exquisite pedal-steel work lent a unique edge to early-’80s hits such as “White Hot” and “Lunatic Fringe”, but that hardly justifies his carrying on the band without the input of the man responsible for the lion’s share of its material. If Bryan Adams croaked tomorrow, do you think his longtime guitarist Keith Scott would get away with touring on the strength of Adams’s smash hits?
Over Bruce Allen’s dead body!
As if to torment anyone silly enough to have paid money to see the bogus Red Rider eight months ago, Cochrane signed on for three shows at the Commodore, two of which were sold-out. And if there were any die-hard Greer fans in the crowd, none of them bothered to take up the “We want Kenny!” chant at the Friday (March 22) show—maybe partly because Cochrane’s current guitarist, Bill Bell, was doing such a great job of filling Greer’s sizable shoes.
Whether re-creating Alex Lifeson’s freak-out solo on “Just Scream” or romancing a classical guitar for Cochrane’s new ballad, “Dreamer’s Dream”, Bell proved a worthy addition to Cochrane’s typically strong touring band. He joined such road-tested Red Rider vets as keyboardist John Webster and bassist Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve, who also lit a fire during his superfunky solo on the bouncy “Can’t Turn Back”. But instrumental dexterity played a very minor role in the triumph of Cochrane’s 20-song set; as always, it was the masterful songwriting and Cochrane’s charismatic delivery that made the show so special.
One of the night’s many highlights occurred halfway through the two-hour-plus set, when the stage was abandoned but for Cochrane and his acoustic guitar. He introduced “a song about coming of age on a beach in B.C. in the summertime” before offering a stark version of “Good Times” that showed just how effective a few basic chords can be when strummed in the right order. (A similar version of that tune can be heard on a new CD titled Q107’s Concerts in the Sky: The Campfire Versions, which also includes unplugged entries by Collective Soul, Blue Rodeo, John Hiatt, Our Lady Peace, Matthew Sweet, and the Jayhawks. Profits from the disc support the Starlight Foundation, which helps to make wishes come true for seriously ill children.)
Cochrane recommended reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar when introducing “Paper Tigers”, a song inspired by the American author’s tragic life, but for the most part his between-tunes patter was confined to things Canadian. He went on at length about how the title track of his latest CD, Ragged Ass Road, concerns Canadian empowerment, and how “Lunatic Fringe” is about tolerance—a quality for which, he claimed, Canada is respected around the world.
His nationalistic spiels made him sound a bit like a campaigning politician, but I figure anyone who can write a tune as truly Canadian as “Big League” deserves a few patriotic minutes at the podium.