Photos and a review of Canadian indie supergroup The Trans-Canada Highwaymen in Ottawa

[Photographer Ross MacDonald and reviewer Karen Coughtrey were on the case again. – AC]

Nostalgia was on the menu Friday Night (May 10) in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre as the Trans-Canada Highwaymen were set to take the stage in the Babs Asper Theatre.

The Trans-Canada Highwaymen is made up of four Canadian icons and described as a supergroup by everyone but themselves. The band is Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness, Chris Murphy of Sloan, Craig Northey from Odds, and Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies fame.

They of course played hit songs from their former bands, taking turns switching instruments and taking over lead vocals on the songs of their respective bands. They are all incredibly humble and mentioned they suffer from having to play their own songs, that it’s always a disappointment seeing their own song next on the set list as they all seem to firmly believe the other bands’ songs are all better. They clearly have much respect for each other’s work and couldn’t help but share examples of that all night long.

The audience loved it all and thoroughly enjoyed the show which included such hits as ‘It’s All Been Done’ and ‘Jane’ from the Barenaked Ladies, ‘Someone Who’s Cool’ and ‘It Falls Apart’ from Odds, ‘Hard To Laugh’ and ‘She’s So Young’ from The Pursuit of Happiness, and ‘Underwhelmed’ and ‘The Other Man’ from Sloan.

No surprise they were also heavily promoting their album Explosive Hits 1, an album of covers of Legendary Canadian Rockers from the early 70’s and the audience ate up their performances of Michel Pagliaro’s ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy’, ‘Pretty Lady’ by Lighthouse, ‘Tonight Is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love’ by April Wine, and The Guess Who’s ‘Undun’.

They also mentioned that the album having volume 1 in the title is a hint at subsequent volumes. A direct quote from the night: “Pump out the volumes. We’re going to pump out the volumes all right..over the next 15 years… I think we can do 4 volumes of this.”

A Trans-Canada Highwaymen concert is much more than just their music; it is all-around entertainment. They are as silly and fun as you’d expect making lots of jokes about celebrity musicians they’ve met/had interactions with, Chris Murphy’s nearly broken glasses, plagiarism, and about the two empty seats dead centre in the front row, which would eventually be filled by two people (possibly friends of the band) very near the end of the show.

They would also cast doubt on the official story of the band’s beginning (friends forever, respect for each other’s work) and Steven told a silly story tying Ottawa into the story including being asked by CSIS to participate in a secret operation and protesting mandates on Parliament Hill. Of course they also told the story through their original song ‘Theme from Trans-Canada Highwaymen’.

In some cities the set was split in two with an intermission, but they played the entire setlist straight through here in Ottawa, a decision Chris Murphy may have regretted after coming down into the audience and running around the entire theatre. However, if you’re a millennial or Gen X who’s been (jokingly?) complaining about the late hour of most concerts this was the show for you as it started at 7:30 and was over by 9:30.

Craig Northey took the lead to sing Odds song ‘Make You Mad’ but the song would be ended with a medley of songs from artists from the Ottawa area including ‘Kiss You (When It’s Dangerous)’ from Eight Seconds, ‘Signs’ by the Five Man Electrical Band, two different eras of Alanis Morissette singing parts of both ‘Ironic’ and ‘Too Hot’, and kicked it all off with one from the Kingston legends, singing ‘Poets’ by The Tragically Hip.

They ended the main set with a test of the audience’s Canadian citizenship, a sing-along of the Barenaked Ladies early hit ‘Brian Wilson’.

After a short break they were back for a three song encore including a tribute to Andy Kim and his song that turns 50 this year ‘Rock Me Gently’, ‘The Rest of My Life’ by Sloan, and another sing-along for ‘I’m an Adult Now’ by The Pursuit of Happiness.

The music might have been over but the crowd would be slow to leave, the group having promised to appear at the merch table, clearly open to meeting and talking with fans, meant that much of the crowd would hang around the lobby after the show.

Trans-Canada Highwaymen
Moe Berg
Chris Murphy
Craig Northey
Steven Page

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38542 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Photos and a review of Canadian indie supergroup The Trans-Canada Highwaymen in Ottawa

  • Great performance by the band and for the record, we weren’t late for the show. We simply thought that is was a shame to have great seats go to waste and gave ourselves an upgrade from row G to the best seats in the house.

    The seat upgraders


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