54-40 are performing at the Port Theatre on Friday, Feb. 23. (Photo courtesy Mark Maryanovich)

Softer, yet still kicking, 54-40 returns to Vancouver Island

Group is bringing its A History Unplugged tour to Nanaimo and Victoria

When 54-40 come to the Island this month, their hard-rocking tunes will be a little mellower than usual.

The Vancouver-based rock group is bringing its A History Unplugged tour to Victoria and Nanaimo, named for its 2016 record, La Difference: A History Unplugged, in which 10 of the band’s biggest hits are given uncharacteristic acoustic arrangements.

Bassist Brad Merritt calls the unplugged performance “a bit of a high-wire act.”

“There’s a naked quality to it, rather than sort of blasting away and guitars and people screaming into microphones and all that kind of stuff. It’s just more exposed and more of a vulnerable approach, too,” he said.

“Also, we do them almost exclusively in buildings which are designed for acoustic performances, so it’s the kind of place where at certain points you can hear a pin drop, which is antithetical to rock ‘n’ roll.”

Merritt said the unplugged album came about after guitarist and keyboardist Dave Genn came up with a piano rendition of the 54-40 song Crossing a Canyon. From there the group – Merritt, Genn, singer Neil Osbourne and drummer Matt Johnson – starting considering rearranging other tunes as well. Merritt said it was a “trial and error process.”

“We kind of saw that we could look at these songs with sort of fresh eyes, or ears, I guess, and give them another chance. To add meaning to the song,” he said.

“And then once we did one [song] we decided to do a bunch more. And the more we did, the more we liked the process and the more people we got involved and we recorded them all. The next thing you know, you’ve got enough for a record.”

But while the bandmates were poring over their past compositions for La Difference, Merritt said they were concurrently preparing material for their first record of new material in six years, Keep on Walking, which was released on Jan. 26.

Born out of a series of jam sessions, Keep on Walking begins with “very honest, raw” subject matter which over the course of the record transitions to a mood of hope. Merritt said the record came together slowly, yet organically.

“The early songs were thematically a bit more melancholy with sort of a tinge of … disappointment, not knowing where your life is going,” Merritt said.

“And then, I think, as the process went on the themes seemed to become more reflective in a positive way. More gratitude, more philosophical, more fun, more full of life.”

Featuring 11 original songs helmed by a quartet of superstar producers that would make a gear nerd quiver, Keep On Walking is a snapshot of precisely where the band — songwriters and multi-instrumentalists all — is right now: totally dialled in and seriously on fire.

“Gavin Brown has a system of recording that is tight and efficient but still leaves room for the magic that can happen spontaneously during recording,” Johnson explained. Osborne added that when it came to deciding who would produce what, “We asked the producers which songs among our demos piqued their interest and went from there.”

While long-time 54-40 fans will find recognizable sonic touchstones on Keep On Walking, sharp left turns also appear, perhaps most notably in the two tracks produced in Toronto by first-time 54-40 collaborator Brown — the above-mentioned “Hold My Kiss,” and the swirling, futuristic yet somehow vaguely psychedelic “Sublime Like Me.”

“My favourite song on the album,” Johnson says of “Sublime.” “I love the groove.”

“We’ve played the song live a few times and it’s already evolving,” Merritt adds.

“I think it has the potential to become a staple of our live shows well into the future.”

54-40’s success across the decades is virtually unparalleled. Formed in Vancouver by Osborne and Merritt on the cusp of the 1980s, the band — with only three line-up changes since its inception — quickly caught on with discerning local audiences, mining that rarefied space between rock, punk, folk, and pop.

The release of their self-titled album in 1986 heralded the arrival of a powerhouse with the songs “Baby Ran,” “Take My Hand,” “I Wanna Know,” and, especially, “I Go Blind” steamrolling across alternative, campus, and commercial radio nationwide.

54-40 will play an acoustic show at Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse on Feb. 22 and at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

— With a file from Monday Magazine



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Memorial mural to be painted in Port Hardy

Art will honour lives lost to substance abuse and mental health

Vancouver Island wife brings husband back to life with CPR, thanks to 911 dispatcher

‘The only reason he was alive was that 10 minutes of CPR before paramedics got there’

Meet the 2018 Tour de Rock team

Retired principal among Island team members

Beekeepers offer to pick up unwanted swarms

Capital Region Beekeepers Association sets up swarm line for residents to call

City of Nanaimo already making changes to purchase card policies

CFO, CAO will no longer be able to sign off on each others’ expenses

Trans Mountain pipeline: How we got here

A look at the Kinder Morgan expansion, decades in the making

Giant beer tanks arrive in new B.C. home city

Molson Coors tanks finish river journey and move to overland trip in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Pipeline supporters rally across B.C.

Five simultaneous events organized by month-old Suits and Boots lobby group

Nola flirts with no-no as Phils beat Jays 2-1

Philly hurler took no-hitter into 7th inning

VIDEO: B.C. woman praises burn fund after boat explosion in 1978

White Rock woman was 16 years old when she was left with second- and third-degree burns

B.C.’s Ryan Craig, Vegas Golden Knights chase history

Local product behind bench for expansion team’s incredible championship run

CP rail workers give strike notice

Employees could walk out as early as Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT

UPDATE: Suspected gunplay in East Courtenay on Friday night

Witnesses told reporters that at least two shots rang out

Most Read