Dwayne Gretzky @ Phoenix Concert Theatre

. : : April 18th, 2014 : : .

Summer is fast-approaching, and in the music world, that means festival season. Some of the most historically important musical festivals have been a showcase for current and emerging talent — think Woodstock (either of them, arguably) — but recently, the pendulum has swung so festivals have become a touring nostalgia sideshow.

It occurs to me that both promoters and concert goers could save themselves a bucket load of cash and inevitable disappointment by giving a call to Tyler KyteNick Rose, and the ladies and gentlemen who back them up in Dwayne Gretzky.

The band has nailed nostalgia down to a tee; last year they gathered to perform all of Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours album, but this year they had their sights set on a broader theme that may appeal to their fan base at large — the entirety of the 1990’s. Cribbing the name of the event, Big Shiny Dwayne, from a classic, best-selling Canadian compilation that charted five straight #1 discs annually, the band came prepared to live up to the title by showcasing the best music of the 90s with a focus on alternative and college rock.

Abandoning the smaller, sweaty rooms that the band is regularly able to pack shoulder-to-shoulder fans into such as the DakotaThe Horseshoe, and the El Mocambo, the band instead graced the stage of the much larger Phoenix Nightclub and Theatre, a venue that frequently hosts larger touring international sensations (recent bands that have played the venue include Death Cab For Cutie and Johnny Marr). And to their credit, they still managed to elicit a great crowd (on a holiday, nevertheless) — usually a tough draw.

Dwayne Gretzky was prepared to make it worth our while, however, breaking out more than two dozen songs from the 90’s that they have never publicly performed live before! A tall order for any band, but especially astounding when you take into account that there were frequently 10 musicians (or more) contributing to the faithful renditions of yesteryear’s biggest hits.

Although focused on alternative rock, the music was varied enough to find it difficult NOT to draw parallels to these touring nostalgia festivals. Where else would you hear alterna-grunge rock from The Smashing Pumpkins, the King of Pop Michael Jackson, manic punk from Green Day, college rock from REM, sugary Brit girl group pop popularized by the Spice Girls, and an epic ballad from Meatloaf all in the span of a couple of hours?

The stylistic variations are so vast, it’s hard to imagine that this was only but a small sampling of selections the band learned and performed faithfully.

Conspicuous by her absence, Allie Hughes, historically the band’s biggest female presence, has recently relocated to Los Angeles where her solo career has gotten a huge boost with public acclaim from Katy Perry. The Christine McVie to Allie Hughes’ Stevie Knicks (an apt allusion to the aforementioned Rumours concert), Robin Hatch really stepped up her game while being thrust into the spotlight, fronting virtually all the female leads and providing beautiful vocal harmonies and keyboard accompaniment throughout the set. Although I doubt anyone familiar with the band left the room saying “Allie Who?”, Hughes’ presence wasn’t as missed as I expected it to be. With spirited takes on songs such as Hole‘s Celebrity Skin and an energetic performance of Alanis Morissette‘s You Oughtta Know, it was hard to believe the highlight of Hatch’s performance was still to come: as the female lead in Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), Robin more or less picked up the show, shoved it in her purse, and walked away with it. Seriously. Stole. The. Show.

Tyler Kyte and Nick Rose were as on-point as ever. Indeed, the only times the songs didn’t sound tailor-made to their voices were the most difficult voices to emulate; the guttural rasp of Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain and the nasal whine of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan were a wee-bit spotty from time-to-time, but can easily be forgiven for their well established, widely acknowledged difficulty. So many others have come and failed before. Much worse.

Kudos need to be given to the unspoken heroes of the band, however: the variety of backing musicians who added percussion, keys, guitars, bass, saxophone, mandolin and more; ensuring that each performance was as note-perfect as the original as possible.

The recording itself is more than passable — the Phoenix IS a bigger room than most I tape in, and it sounds like it. There’s crowd-noise that, here and there, get to be a bit grating, but it’s the exception to the rule. There’s also occasionally a weird noise that I haven’t pin-pointed decisively yet, but I imagine it’s the mic rubbing up against my collar or being bumped by passers-by. None of these flaws should take away from the enjoyment of 2-hours of nostalgia-fuelled enjoyment.

It was yet another in a string of triumphant performances by Toronto’s best cover band. Fans of the band, fans of the 90s, and fans of great covers should check this recording out and support the band whenever possible.

SET 01
01. One Headlight [the Wallflowers]
02. Money City Maniacs [Sloan]
03. Lump [Presidents of the United States of America]
04. [banter]
05. Semi-Charmed Life [Third Eye Blind]
06. Celebrity Skin [Hole]
07. [banter]
08. In Bloom [Nirvana]
09. The Distance [Cake]
10. Kiss Me [Sixpence None The Richer]
11. [banter]
12. Empty Cell [Rusty]
13. Where It’s At [Beck]
14. Don’t Speak [No Doubt]
15. Don’t Look Back In Anger [Oasis]

SET 02
01. Black or White [Michael Jackson]
02. You Get What You Give [New Radicals]
03. Happy Birthday To You [trad’l]
04. Zombie [The Cranberries]
05. Bullet With Butterfly Wings [The Smashing Pumpkins]
06. Losing My Religion [REM]
07. [banter]
08. Just [Radiohead]
09. [banter]
10. Song 2 [Blur]
11. Basket Case [Green Day]
12. You Oughtta Know [Alanis Morissette]
13. Everlong [Foo Fighters]
14. [banter]
15. Say It Ain’t So [Weezer]
16. Say You’ll Be There [Spice Girls]
17. [encore]
18. To Be With You [Mr. Big]
19. [banter]
20. I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) [Meatloaf]
21. Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) [Backstreet Boys]

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Don’t Look Back In Anger (Oasis) (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

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