Canadian quintet The Sheepdogs are an eclectic bunch. Visually they sit somewhere between 1970s Lynyrd Skynyrd and a Clint Eastwood western. Musically they offer a fun, modern twist to the classic southern rock of The Allman Bros. Yet, similarities aside, if there’s one thing the band can truly deliver, it’s a live show.
You’d think after six studio albums, over a decade of touring and regular appearances at the biggest festivals across the world, The Sheepdogs wouldn’t really unleash any surprises. Well, we were certainly wrong.
This show is probably best described as a performance that oscillated between a sense of nostalgia and the downright bombastic. It was a ‘tip of the hat’ to the southern American rock of the 70s, but with an injection of modern-day flair.
The show kicked off in darkness as the band meandered on stage, teasing the crowd with the opening notes to I’ve Got a Hole Where My Heart Should Be. And suddenly as the chorus commences – boom! A giant flashing sign (bestowing the name of the band, of course) dramatically illuminates the stage.
It’s an explosive opening that, not only rouses excitement, but reveals some truly glorious outfits. Guitarist Jimmy Bowskill’s bright yellow, red-tassel ensemble is particularly eye-catching. Together they power through Saturday Night and Who? with little time to pause and too many guitar solos to count.
On tour to support their latest release Changing Colours, the band drew an enormous crowd – all of which squeezed into the teeny-tiny upstairs room of The Lexington. It’s not often that gig writers dedicate their word count to talk about the venue however, in this instance, it was hard not to notice the appropriateness of The Lex for a show like this one.
Just as the music took us back to another era, the venue was reminiscent of the old school dive bars where brilliance was once discovered – much like Jimi Hendrix at Cafe Wha? In NYC or The Doors at Whiskey a Go Go in LA. And The Sheepdogs really embraced the intimacy of the venue – getting up close to the eagers in the front row and often hanging precariously over the edge of the stage, guitars over head.
A lot of the time, the show was about guitarist, Jimmy Bowskill. He was (by far) the most energetic, the most outrageous, the most physically malleable. So much so that his solos were often prefaced by singer Ewan Currie shouting “all right Jimmy get on that horse!”.
That said, a great thing about this band is the genuine versatility of its musicians. All of them sing, most play more than one instrument, and each of them enjoy their opportunity in the spotlight. Every instrument was given a solo – drums, guitars, bass, keyboard, trombone, even a fiddle – and almost all of them switched between instruments more than once.
And there were many songs that stood out, too. Bad Lieutenant was all about the intermittent bursts of guitar, harmonised through keyboards and uplifted through percussion. Cool Down went from gentle jazz lounge to gritty rock and roll. While Feeling Good brought the energy back up to eleven, slide guitar included.
And while, at some points during the show, the songs started to feel a little ‘same-same’, it was difficult not to be drawn back in through performance – particularly where fiddles and trombones were involved.
Concluding with the same high energy and showmanship they started with, The Sheepdogs paid homage to their musical roots with a cover of the Allman Brothers Band classic, Ramblin Man. It was a great ending to the incredibly lengthy number of tracks performed that night. It was a workhorse ethic that really made this show as exciting as you could imagine.
Live Review by Lilen Pautasso & Photography by Pauline Di Silvestro at The Sheepdogs live at The Lexington on 11th April 2018