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Seeing Big Country for the first time in 20 years

Big Country poster at The Note, in West Chester, PABig Country poster at The Note, in West Chester, PA
Big Country poster at The Note, in West Chester, PA09-Jun-2013 21:19, Canon Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, 3.2, 5.9mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 800
Big Country at The Note, in West Chester, PABig Country at The Note, in West Chester, PA
Big Country at The Note, in West Chester, PA09-Jun-2013 21:39, Canon Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, 4.0, 8.736mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
 
Mike with guitarist Bruce Watson from Big CountryMike with guitarist Bruce Watson from Big Country
Mike with guitarist Bruce Watson from Big Country09-Jun-2013 23:09, Canon Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, 3.2, 5.9mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 640
Mike with drummer Mark Brzezicki from Big CountryMike with drummer Mark Brzezicki from Big Country
Mike with drummer Mark Brzezicki from Big Country09-Jun-2013 23:06, Canon Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, 3.2, 5.9mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 800
 

If there is such a thing as having a soundtrack to your life, for me it is the music of Big Country. I’ve listened to them for 30 years and have never grown tired of the music. If you want to understand why, read what I wrote several years ago on my blog, here and here.

They are touring the US currently, for the first time in 20 years, to promote their new album The Journey. But without their (now-deceased) frontman Stuart Adamson, and without bassist Tony Butler. Adamson has been replaced by the lead singer for The Alarm, Mike Peters. Simple Minds bass player Derek Forbes has also joined the band. So now they’re sort of an 80s super-group.

I drove to West Chester last night to see them (I was very annoyed to find out only after the fact they performed two days before at World Cafe Live in Philly – it wasn’t anywhere on their schedule). I was apprehensive about seeing them without Adamson. As Wikipedia puts it, “In many ways, Adamson was the sound of Big Country, supplying much of its distinctive guitar work, as well as being lead singer and main songwriter (both music and lyrics). In terms of being an instrumentalist, a vocalist, and a prolific songwriter, he is matched by very few contemporaries…” While the band’s last couple of albums with Adamson were not among their best, his distinctive songwriting style was still there. While the new album retains “the Big Country sound,” there’s no replacing Adamson’s unique talent.

But I had a lot of fun, and they put on a great show. Bruce Watson has stepped into Adamson’s role playing lead guitar, and acquitted himself well. Watson’s son Jamie has joined the band, also on guitar (and was smartly dressed in a Flyers’ jersey last night). It was fun watching them together. Talk about the ultimate father-son bonding experience, rocking out on stage together. Seeing the band live was a powerful reminder of how much Mark Brzezicki – a true drummer’s drummer – contributes to the distinct Big Country sound. I’d never seen Forbes or Peters perform before: I was really impressed by Forbes on bass, but disappointed by Peters’ singing. I don’t know if he was just having a bad night, but he could barely carry a tune. But he definitely gets very high marks for energy, enthusiasm, and having tremendous respect for Adamson’s legacy.

Highlights for me were:

  • hearing “Inwards” live for the first time (here’s a recording of an older performance with Adamson – he actually interrupts the performance part-way through because he’s concerned someone in the audience is getting hurt)
  • meeting in person for the first time members of the Big Country email list (I’ve been on it for 20 years, and I used to manage it in the mid-90s, back when setting up an email list took skillz)
  • Having my picture taken with the 2 remaining original members of the band

Here’s the setlist (by way of one of the email list members), for those into such things. They alternated consistently between new songs and old songs. “Home of the Brave” was the best of the new songs – it’s too bad the album version doesn’t capture how great it sounds live.

Return
Harvest Home
In A Broken Promise Land
1000 Stars
The Journey
Inwards
After The Flood
Wonderland
Home Of The Brave
Look Away
Strong (All Through This Land)
Chance
Another Country
Fields Of Fire
Encore:
Hail and Farewell
In A Big Country

5 thoughts on “Seeing Big Country for the first time in 20 years

  1. BCFan says:

    Thanks for the review! I am psyched for a new album, but I just can’t go see them live this time (I saw them twice during the Buffalo Skinners tour). I’ll probably get crucified for saying it, but I just can’t listen to Peters sing Stuart’s songs.

    And as for “While the band’s last couple of albums with Adamson were not among their best,” I have to disagree. I think “Why the Long Face” and “Driving to Damascus” were two of the band’s best albums. “You Dreamer,” “Send You,” “Wildland in My Heart,” “Driving to Damascus,” “Loserville,” “Dive Into Me,” — some of the best songs BC ever wrote.

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks for writing. I can understand your reticence seeing the band without Adamson. But you may want to consider it – Peters mentioned him more than once, and has a very clear sense of his legacy – he’s not trying to replace him.

      Personally I like WTLF, but other fans I’ve talked to don’t seem to like it as much. I like a lot of the songs on Driving to Damascus, but it doesn’t come together as an album for me, I prefer the demo recordings of several of the DtD songs.

      1. BCFan says:

        It’s not that I don’t think he’s honoring Adamson’s legacy, far from it. I think he has the utmost respect for Stuart and the band’s past. I just can’t listen to him (sorry) butcher those songs — and to me, that’s what it sounds like he’s doing. The new songs, fine. They were written and sung with his vocals.

        And I totally get your point about DtD. I actually prefer most of the demos around that time as well and think they could have swapped some of the demos and unreleased songs in and made a better album. That said, I still think the last two were pretty stellar, but that’s just me.

  2. Bill says:

    Mike Peters struggles with leukemia could be a contributing factor to his voice problems. His wife writes of his courage battling this disease on the Big Country Facebook page. Well worth the read.

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks Bill – I’ve seen several of the posts on the BC FB page but I must have missed that one. I’ll look for it.

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