The Trews @ Commodore Ballroom – November 12th 2016

Well it’s been years and years since I’d seen The Trews, so was rather looking forward to this show. The Nova Scotian group is touring behind a greatest hits compilation called Time Capsule, something singer/guitarist Colin MacDonald admitted to feeling a little guilty about, “so we wrote some new songs.” They played a few of these new songs, but of course dipped deep into a back catalog, including hits from their breakthrough debut House of Ill Fame. The love in the room was strong tonight for these guys, and they indeed sang their hearts out, including to the song titled “Sing Your Heart Out.” Three and a half out of five of the members on stage wore jaunty hats of some description (guitarist John-Angus MacDonald had a hat that appeared and disappeared at times through the set, sometimes while whipping his head about). It was his birthday as well and four songs in, the band paused to acknowledge this and get the audience singing a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” drinks held high.

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The band’s energy level seemed to increase as the set carried on. Colin MacDonald’s unique warbling voice and quaint hat-lifting gestures  led to leaping and wheeling, dropping to his knees, and as someone right at the front of the crowd held up a phone to record “Tired of Waiting”, he actually sand directly into said phone. That’ll be an interesting video. Even the stage techs were filming this song. It had started demurely with Jack Syperek’s iconic bassline, to which MacDonald said, “needs no introduction, but I’m doing it anyway.” During one song he crouched perilously close to touring keyboardist Jeff Heisholt’s face, and as Heisholt leaned ever so slightly away from him yet continued to focus on his keyboard duties, MacDonald spoke, “Jeff. Jeff. Look at me when I’m singing to you, Jeff.”

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The band kicked in a couple covers as well, keeping it Canadian. Early on, they did Cheap Trick’s “Downed,” where MacDonald’s vocals took on a Chris Cornell-esque rustiness. And appropriately and tear-jerkingly, brought out a version of the recently-late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” At the end of this, barely noticeably, MacDonald whispered, “Bye, Leonard,” as he turned away from the mic. Many songs were a bit extended, including added jangly piano or big guitar solos.  The MacDonalds stayed alone on stage with a pair of acoustic guitars for “Highway of Heroes,” joined in on by the audience, who sang hard on this one. In the middle of “I Can’t Stop Laughing,” (a song title apparently traded for a glass of Jameson in a bar one night), I saw someone from the back of the room, holding up a newly-purchased Trews LP from the merch table, make his way to the front. Like, just crashed on through there. I could keep track easily because the LP stayed up in the air the whole time. He reached over and plopped it on the edge of Heisholt’s keyboard, who nodded, kept playing, but then suddenly stopped to sign it quickly. MacDonald was quick to pick up on this and said, still in the middle of the song, “Jeff’s signing all the autographs. Just kidding. Don’t do it.”

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Drummer Gavin Maguire was no slouch in the darkness at the back of the stage though. In front of a big TREWS banner, he eventually stood up on his stool and then dropped back down at key moments. The set ended with “Poor Ol’ Broken-Hearted Me.” You’d not have known at first though, because here was Maguire, now touted by MacDonald as ‘being the boss’ on this one. For ages, he clipped a cowbell and a snappy drumbeat, and every off bar, he would hold up a specific number of fingers. The band members and the lighting techs were watching this closely, and on the next bar, the lights would flash, the drum would beat, and the band would pound their instruments the same number of times he’d held up his fingers. They ranged from one to ten beats, and it was mighty impressive. Macdonald asked if we wanted to keep going, and beckoned cheers. They played the song to its end in a rather punk-infused manner, then left the stage.

Their encore included “Ishmael & Maggie,” which saw the entire band and two acoustic guitars clustered around one mic in the middle of the stage. They ended it unsurprisingly with “Not Ready To Go,” a blasting hit that probably served to make the crowd desire even more music from them! They sure went out with a bang… and as they strolled off stage, some of them stopped to sign that guy’s LP as well.

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