Seeing Big Country for the first time in 20 years
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 Adamson has been replaced by the lead singer for The Alarm, Mike Peters.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.
In A Broken Promise Land
After The Flood
Home Of The Brave
Strong (All Through This Land)
Fields Of Fire
Hail and Farewell
In A Big Country