I admit it, I am an old-school, single-album Big Wreck fan. In Loving Memory Of… was a big deal to me in my final year of high school, part of a collection of pretty cream-of-the-croppy Canadian rock albums pouring out of the late 90s. Frontman Ian Fletcher Thornley (we only knew about the “Fletcher” part more recently!) was always a prolific songwriter with finely-honed guitar mastery and a raspy rock and roll voice. Following that disc, they put out another Big Wreck album, then Thornley turned towards a heavier set of tunes under the moniker…well…Thornley for a couple years before resurrecting Big Wreck for a couple more albums. I admit I knew virtually nothing of these later Big Wreck discs, the latest put out just in 2014. After the big, intense beauty of ILMO, I didn’t latch on to the next BW album or the Thornley stuff, though revisiting all this many years later, I find I’ve grown fonder of it. The newer albums and the more recent effort back to ‘solo’ under his full name showcase a certain maturity, as you would expect nearly 20 years down the line.
Suffice to say, I was pretty interested to see Ian Fletcher Thornley live, amazingly for the first time. I never got a chance to see Big Wreck or Thornley back in the day, so the 16 year old in me was having a bit of a squeeee as he strolled casually on stage with his band. The songs (or his new interpretations of them) have a somewhat mellower, more restrained vibe these days, but retain the gobs of talent and that unmistakable voice that continue to be hallmarks of the man. The set was punctuated with plenty of Woodstockian guitar wankery, with his characteristic bubbly, almost twinkly tone. Thornley himself was sporting a hat, vest, glasses and an impressively pointy beard, giving off a bit of a Johnny Depp vibe. Just a couple songs into the set, the crowd struck up a chant of I-AN THORN-LEY, much to the band’s delight. They quickly chipped in a bit of drum and guitar accompaniment. Thornley seemed pleased with the packed room’s energy, thanking everyone for spending their Saturday night with him and pointing out one guy in particular who was halfway back in the room. “That guy’s a clapper! I like that!” Later, he would also point out a guy rocking some shades in front of him.
I assumed the set would focus on the new album called Secrets under the IFT name (the title track was particularly stunning), but he also dipped into Big Wreck tunes of more recent vintage. A fellow in the room somewhere yelled out a request to play the bridge from the song “Oh My,” one of the tunes of In Loving Memory Of… Thornley addressed this, saying that was a pretty specific request before sarcastically miming some complicated chords on his guitar and then say something to the effect of, “Yeah, like I’m going to play the first song I ever wrote when I was like 20,” then adding on in a stage whisper, “I don’t remember how…” From where I was partway up a staircase on the side of the room, I couldn’t read the setlist, but particularly after that remark, I certainly didn’t expect to hear any BW tunes from the vault. Hilariously, after one song, some guy in the crowd yelled, “I love that song, Ian!” and I’m not sure if that was actually referring to the song he had just played, or if that was another request for an old tune. Anyhow, I was quite surprised then to find he ended the set with a mellow version of “Blown Wide Open.” As it turns out, he rerecorded that song, effectively covering his own tune, in this haunting tempo, which also appears on the Secrets album. After a short break, the band was back and came out flying with Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole,” really riling the audience up. They ended the short encore with “Under The Lighthouse,” bleeding into a guitar-heavy, still Zeppelin-y jam for a few minutes before departing the stage for the night.