[Ottawa correspondent Ross MacDonald was on the case for us again. – AC]
Thursday night was a hot one at Neat Coffee Shop in Burnstown, Ontario. About 100 fans of 54.40 were packed into the former one-room school house, with no air conditioning, to see the west-coast favourites make the night even hotter.
Just after finishing the opening song, hit single ‘Baby Ran’, Lead singer Neil Osborne recounted that their previous show was supposed to be at the Gateway Music Festival a few days earlier in Bengough Saskatchewan. However, the show was cancelled by a massive lightning storm. In commemoration of the epic storm, Neil wore a shirt with lightning bolts.
54.40 played a wide variety of songs from their vast catalog. All their big singles, and one notable B-side that Neil said “this is a song that we haven’t played this century, but the lyrics still apply”, and they broke into ‘Get Back Down’ off the 1987 album ‘Show Me’.
Brad’s introductory bass solo on ‘Nice To Love You’ was instantly recognizable, which drew a loud response from the audience. And halfway through the song the band did a mashup with the Tragically Hip’s ‘Blow At High Dough’ which drew another raucous uproar from the fans. They finished the song going back ‘ Nice To Love You’.
About halfway through the two-hour show, the stage cleared, save for Neil and his acoustic guitar. Neil dedicated ‘One Gun’ to fellow artist Sinéad O’Connor who sadly passed away a few days earlier. Neil brought back the rest of the band for the final chorus; overall it was a powerful homage to an inspirational musician.
With so many popular songs, the fans were singing along for most of the night. But when the band performed ‘One Day’ it drew in an even louder audience participation during the choruses. And again when Dave moved over from lead guitar to keys, the fans provided strong vocals to the opening verse of ‘Casual Viewin”.
But it was the crowd participation in ‘Ocean Pearl’ that was the loudest and longest. How was it possible to get any hotter in the intimate setting? The band were handed towels to wipe the sweat off their guitar necks, and then their foreheads, to no avail.
After a brief pause, where the band congregated at the side of the stage (there is nowhere else to go in the small schoolhouse), they came back on the stage for a three-song encore. The first song was the first single, and title track off the upcoming album ‘West Coast Band’. Neil recounted that the new album will be coming out on 6 October and this single will be released on Friday 28 July (the day after the show). Neil went on that “it is a very fun record about being in a band that we recorded during the pandemic.” And it was a fun-sounding, upbeat song, and a song that will appeal to long-time 54.40 fans that are longing for some new music that offers a fresh new sound, but doesn’t abandon their roots; the band nailed it!
Then the fans started chanting “Matt, Matt, Matt!” So of course it was time for an embellishment on the drums between songs; and again everyone broke into cheers.
All night Dave and Brad offered beautiful backing vocals to Neil’s lead, but the second-last song, ‘I Go Blind’ showcased exceptional harmonies and back and forth vocals with Neil and Dave.
Just before starting their final song, Neil spoke with the fans “All our songs intersect with one word: love”, and he continued “Give your loved ones attention.” This led into the last song of the night ‘Love You All’. On its own, ‘Love You All’ is a beautiful song, but about halfway through they mashed in Elvis Costello’s ‘Peace Love and Understanding’. It truly was an evening of Love, albeit a very hot evening!
Neil Osborne – vocals, guitar
Dave Genn – lead guitar, keys, backing vocals
Brad Merrit – bass, backing vocals
Matt Johnson – drums