Sheepdogs’ Leot Hanson

pam150Every once in a while I attend a show that unexpectedly blows my mind.

When I saw the Sheepdogs play Hunter NY’s Mountain Jam last May, it was exactly one of those experiences.  Note by note, they snuck up on me and stole my heart.  I remember how joyful it was to watch them play, they seemed to be having such a great time on stage.  They appeared to be at ease and in their element.

Looking back, I recognize that part of reason the show moved me so much was because, despite not knowing their music, it felt very familiar to me.  The harmonies were Beatle-esque in their excellence.  The melodies reminiscent of many of the greats from the 60s and 70s including Humble Pie, Allman Brothers, Free, Guess Who, Creedence, and Molly Hatchet, slipped on like a comfortable shoe.  The music conjured feelings of happiness and warmth.  I liked the way their show made me FEEL.

I was delighted when I got to sit with Ewan and Leot, after that first show and chat about gear, music and life as a touring band.  I really appreciated how down to earth they both were.  They seemed happy to take the time to chat, and I felt no pressure from them that they were wishing that they were elsewhere.

In the summer of 2012, The Sheepdogs were enjoying an ascent that saw them flying to a multitude of festivals, and covering innumerable miles touring.  They were finally getting some recognition musically after 7 long years of writing and touring in the US and Canada.

It was at the end of August that the Publicity Division of Atlantic Records sent me a sneak preview of the much-anticipated self-titled record.  I anxiously downloaded it and sat back and let it play.  It was like coming home.  I even recognized some of the songs from having heard them during the shows in May!!!  I quickly loaded it into my iphone because, honestly, the very best place for me to really listen to a record is in my car.  It promptly became part of my required driving tunes!

Despite having diverse musical tastes and literally thousands of songs in my ipod, there is nothing that makes me feel what I feel when I listen to this band.  It’s like the smell of freshly baked bread, the warmth of a great hug, the sound of friends laughing. It triggers a sense of contentment, of effervescent happiness.  It makes me dance in my car, grinning ear to ear without much thought of who might see.

I know for a fact, that I’m not the only one that the Sheepdogs’ music impacts in this enchanting way.  I’ve seen it several times now, and the show at Montreal’s Club Soda on Monday November 26th was the consummate exemplification.

Hours before the Club’s doors opened, the line-up snaked down the sidewalk.  Touque and plaid sporting youth chatting excitedly beside groups of middle aged Moms and Dads….all of them waiting to experience the Sheepdogs live.

I’d noticed the wide age demographic at Sheepdogs shows before, and was happy to see that trend carrying forward through this tour.    From the upstairs balcony, even a full half hour before opening band Yukon Blonde, would take to the stage, I watched as people poured into the venue and made their way to the front of the house. The crowd at the front of the stage was easily 15 people deep and growing by the minute.

We were fortunate enough to catch the pre-show “Meet and Greet” with the Sheepdogs.  There must have been at least three and half decades between the oldest and youngest fan in the room.  Ewan, Leot, Sam and Ryan moved through the room like pros mingling, answering questions, hanging out, singing autographs and taking photos with their fans.   It was heartwarming to watch.  The fans oozed with enthusiasm and appreciation The Sheepdogs reciprocated with genuine, heartfelt gratitude.  The event felt short and sweet, enough time to enjoy an ice-cold Canadian beer with the Sheepdogs, share a couple of quick giggles, a few photos and then it was all over.  The fans all left with HUGE smiles on their faces.  We hung back and shot the breeze with Leot and Ewan for a little bit longer before returning to the club.

When we opened the door to the venue the heat hit me like a wall.  If the opening band’s job is to warm up the crowd, Yukon Blonde had obviously succeeded.  As I glanced into the crowd I could see smiling, sweaty faces….evidence that the audience was having some fun.  We had emerged about 15 seconds before the end of their last song.  Unfortunately, not enough time form any kind of educated opinion about Yukon Blonde’s live show.  I have to say though, the audience’s extremely enthusiastic applause  caught me a little off guard, and my curiosity is now piqued.  I will definitely try to catch these guys live when they pass through town again.

Moving away from the stage toward the back of the club, I felt like a salmon swimming upstream.  Where were all these people coming from?!!? When we finally made it to our base in the upper balcony I scanned the room.  Teens were standing shoulder to shoulder with 40 year olds.  The entire floor was now completely crammed all the way to the back of the club.  The upper deck was packed too…and everyone was ready.

When The Sheepdogs took to the stage, the applause was so loud that we continued to hear the crowd over the music well into the first song.  The sound was brilliant!  Clear, clean with lots of separation between the different instruments.  It was easy to distinguish the sound coming from Ewan’s Firebird and Leot’s SG.  The balance in the mix was nothing short of stellar, we could hear all the glorious 3part vocal harmonies, the organ, the snare, the tambourine, the trombone,  everything. The sound was AMAZING!

I marveled watching bassist, Ryan Gullen.  Not only does he sing like a canary, but he does it while playing these insane bass lines. His bass lines are ingenious; He propels the bottom end with so much feel and groove and makes it look easy. Ryan blends his lines so seamlessly with the guitars that unless you pay attention, you might not even be aware of just how much cool Mr. Gullen contributes.  Ryan is an exceptionally talented and busy bassist, deserving of all the attention that I’m certain will be coming his way!  I hope to scoop a few minutes to talk with him on camera the next time we’re at a Sheepdogs show.

It was tough, but from time to time, I’d tear my eyes from the stage for long enough to scope out the audience.  Because so many of them appeared to know some lyrics for the songs off the last record, it suggested to me that many of the people in the room owned it.  The merch booth was busy, and sales were brisk.  People were on their feet – everywhere throughout the club….even where comfortable seats were available, people were opting to stand.  Suddenly I saw a whirlpool of people form….no way…a mosh pit? At a Sheepdogs show?  Unbelievable.  The crowd had become whipped up into such a frenzy that people were moshing!  Atop the surging crowd people were surfing.  I counted 4 people swimming at once!

I’ve seen my fair share of mosh pits, and, truth be told, I’ve played in a few myself, even lost a shoe in one once…I expect to see mosh pits at metal shows and punk shows….but at a Sheepdogs show?!!?

So I got to thinking.

Sometimes at a show, the energy exchanged between the audience and the band is so intense that emotion begins building up in the audience.  In this case, it was a boisterous, enthusiastic, joyful “I can’t believe how f’king awesome this show is” kind of energy.  It’s the kind of energy that inspires jumping, fist pumping and random outbursts of “YEEEEEAHHHHH”.  I recognized it.

So while there were many of us at the show that were enjoying the wonderful 70’s inspired music that reminds of us the tunes that fuelled our youth, there were many others at the show who were just starting to get to know this music and its power to move the spirit.

The frequency that resonated with us decades ago, is resonating with them now.  The vibe, the catchy melodies, the sweet riffs, the charming banter coming off the stage, the signs that the band was enjoying themselves on stage, the great light show. No wonder why these kids could barely contain themselves. They are discovering that music doesn’t come out of a little box, or from dualing turntables.  They’re discovering Rock’n’Roll.

And who better, to usher this generation into the wonderfully healing powers of rock’n’roll but our beloved Sheepdogs?  Great guys, solid musicians, and a killer live show that will continue to blow minds as this tour winds its way Westward.

I look forward to watching great things happen to this extremely deserving, talented group and encourage you to get to know The Sheepdogs.


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