The sun was setting, the rain held off (mostly) and cotton candy and red bull were plentiful at the second Welcome Week concert on Saturday Sept. 8. The Sheepdogs, who had come all the way from Saskatoon, were headlining.
Their music exploded with such good vibes that there was even the hint of a crowd surf. It took two attempts and only lasted about half a second, but it was there.
Near the end of the set, the singer thanked everyone for coming out. Despite the fact that there was no drinking allowed at the event, the guitar player ran to his red plastic beer cup and handed it to someone in the crowd, to which the singer responded, “Well, that’s going to be taken away immediately.” And even if it was, at least the person got a good story out of it.
The Dirty Nil, from nearby Dundas, were the first of two openers. They were reckless, loud and catchy. The Toronto-based Great Bloomers were next up. Their folk-indie pop was pleasant.
Before the show, I got to ask the Sheepdogs about their story.
The band has been around for eight years, releasing three albums before their infamous Rolling Stone cover. Their latest album, the first on a major label, is self-titled and came out on Sept. 4.
Before all the magazine covers and major labels, the Sheepdogs were high school band geeks. “Ryan and I first met because we were in schools bands, like concert band,” said singer Ewan Currie. “We both played clarinet,” laughed Ryan Gullen, the bass player. “The macho-ist of the woodwinds,” replied Currie. “Well, after flute and piccolo. We never had a punk phase or anything like that.”
Going from a playing clarinet to the Sheepdogs took a bit of time, and the members were about 20 when it all started. From there, the Sheepdogs did what all young bands do: they toured as much as they could and prayed that they’d be able to afford gas.
“We had doubts. How can you not?” said Currie. “I think it’s natural to have doubts in everyday life, no matter what you’re doing. Certainly there are times where you’re like, ‘Why the fuck am I out here doing this right now?’”
Hearing that Currie doubted himself was understandable, but I wondered how he knew that his doubts didn’t mean that he should give it up. “It’s like an intangible thing, you just have to know,” he said. “It’s just a gut thing. You’ll find out, man.”
Despite the doubts, the Sheepdogs made it to the point where Patrick Carney from the Black Keys produced their most recent album. “He has one of those megaphone things, a cone, like an old-time director, and he sits in a director’s chair, and he goes ‘Cut, cut, cut! All wrong!’” said Currie.
“He wore a beret. He treated it like he was Robert Altman on the set of McCabe and Miller.”
“That was the strangest reference,” added Gullen.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller is an old western that, like much of the music that has influenced the Sheepdogs, is from the 1970s.
“It’s not like I wish I was in Woodstock and I wish I was in 1971,” said Currie. “I just like the stuff they were doing. The music more closely resembled roots music, like old country and blues and folk. It had chord progressions and melodies and harmonies, and bands were generally more adept at playing in a range of styles. It seems like a lot of bands now start by playing their original material instead of learning a bunch of other stuff. And as such, I think their sound gets really limited.”
I expected the Sheepdogs to be gruff and intimidating – maybe that’s because of their huge beards and shoulder-length hair. But they were friendly, down-to-earth and funny. Like their concert, it was a nice surprise.