The Sadies excel at being pretty good at a number of things.
The Canadian band led by Travis and Dallas Good can do everything from old-school country to garage rock and all that’s in between with skilled craftsmanship and solid delivery. Yet as a whole, none of their previous albums have felt completely successful, mainly due to the scattered nature of their style. Favourite Colours (2004) was the band’s closest approximation to a unified statement, combining spaghetti-western guitars and surf-city melodies fairly well with traditional Americana rock. The record still lacked, though, the magic touch that might push this very talented band into the special realm they have been threatening to enter for years.
What their latest release, The Sadies In Concert: Volume 1, reveals is more of the same – a really good band playing average songs. It also brings to the forefront the zest with which these songs can be performed, which is perhaps the band’s greatest asset.
Recorded in early 2006 at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, the record documents a show that included some of the top names in alternative country and americana rocking out together on stage.
The Good brothers are accomplished guitarists and this is what shows most live, with many songs being dominated by their dueling guitars. On “Lay Down Your Arms” everyone in the band rises to the occasion to rock the hell out of the instrumental track from the 2002 album Stories Often Told. And while the band builds its towers of soaring sound, the crowd goes wild, building the anticipation for each coming moment. But, alas, the monument feels unfinished by the time the two minute track is done. For a band that can release a two-disc mammoth 41-track live album, the majority of the songs seem awfully short and unfinished.
On disc 2, the band invites Neko Case on stage and the album really picks up steam. She sings her own “Hold On, Hold On” as the Sadies jam out behind her. Case has the kind of voice that dominates whatever it’s around, but the Sadies do a more than amiable job of keeping up with the songstress.
Case is followed on stage by Jayhawks lead singer Gary Louris, and the entire group runs through the Louris-penned “Tailspin.” Once again the Sadies demonstrate their formidable skill, serving as the ultimate back-up band to these huge Americana stars.
In the end, their ability to mimic and then improvise off the original versions of their songs and others is what makes the Sadies’ live album worth buying.
If you’re looking for a representation of the Sadies at their best, this is it. And damn if that’s not frustrating.