How do you describe the Big Sugar show at the Palace last Monday night? Big variety, big guitar, big solos, big noise, big time between sets, and big encores.
If diversity is really the spice of life then Big Sugar, with their mixed styles and members, was like good Mexican food: spicy. The band is comprised of vocalist and guitar god Gordie Johnson, the dread-locked bass player Gary Lowe, drummer Paul Anthony White, and Kelly "Mr. Chill" Hoppe, who plays everything from blues harmonica to sax to an assortment of unidentifiable instruments.
The music skipped genres like a faulty juke box: from blues, to Jamaican influence with "Turn the Lights On," to alternative with "Diggin' a Hole," and folk rock with "Open up Baby," Big Sugar defied the usual hard rock label. The one thing linking all songs was Johnson's amazing guitar playing. Guitars everywhere pray to be played by Gordie. Every song, whether slow or energetic, was full of huge riffs and driving rhythms.
The show wasn't all about Johnson, though. Every song was re-arranged to include long solos and new material. Thanks to drawn out guitar work, steady drumming, vocals by Lowe and Hoppe's blues harmonica, the songs doubled in length, but weren't boring. Everyone in the crowd relished Lowe's heavily accented voice, and Hoppe's harmonica solo was nothing short of fantastic. Songs like "The Scene," were broken up into several parts and showcased various instruments and new vocal material. Versions of "If I had my way," and "Girlwatcher" were crowd pleasers despite not being carbon copies of the studio versions featured on their respective albums, Hemi-vision and Heated.
Big noise does not even begin to describe the sounds exploding from the speakers. The bass lines weren't just heard, but felt. There were times the Palace felt like it would fall apart, stucturally speaking. Acoustically, it held up--the sound was great. Even with the high volume, there was little distortion.
The one disappointment with the show was the hour long break between the opening act, Scratching Post, and Big Sugar's set.
Once Big Sugar started playing, however, the energy and momentum created by Johnson propelled the band all through the night. The audience was "grooving," as Johnson phrased it, to every song.
The one thing to really appreciate Big Sugar for is the quality of their encore. Unlike other bands who save their most commercially successful track for last and make you beg to hear it, Big Sugar offered up more. Not only was their encore over half an hour long, it was creative. The highlight was the last song, the Big Sugar version of our national anthem.
It takes Big Sugar to put on a performance as sweet as this one.