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Review: Bachman concert a musical journey
By Cam Fuller, The StarPhoenix April 5, 2013


Photograph by: Richard Marjan , The StarPhoenix

It's Wikipedia, Live. Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap concert is a history of rock 'n' roll told in the first person.

If you like any of his bands, or '70s rock or music history, Thursday night's show at TCU Place was a delight, a thrill and an education all in two and a half hours.

For the past seven years or so, Bachman has regaled the nation with stories about music on his weekly CBC radio show. But the tour lets him pinpoint the origins (so maybe it's also Google Maps Live) of his own hit songs, all the way from Chad Allen and the Expressions to the Guess Who to Brave Belt (well, not so much success there), to Bachman Turner Overdrive.

The set is a carefully messed up studio space with an old cabinet radio, ratty table lamp, a control room shack for the guitar tech, gear boxes in the back and various posters of the likes of Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix.

One a screen in the back, archival footage is packaged and presented. It took an immense amount of work to put together, and it's charming, corny and impossible not to watch while the band is playing songs like No Sugar, Hey You, Let it Ride, No Time and Shakin' All Over. Most are only partial versions which is too bad but understandable.

Bachman sits in the middle and plays a couple of vintage Les Pauls that are probably worth more than your car. He's joined by a bass player, guitar player and drummer. Only the bassist, who does the Burton Cummings high singing, though not as well, is introduced, but in the tradition of rock, the intro is done during clapping so no one actually hears his name.

Bachman's approach is laid back and confident. There's an ego there for sure; he's proud of his accomplishments, but it never veers into boastfulness. And his stories, which are detailed and only occasionally long-winded, are fascinating. The Guess Who wanted to be tough rockers, we learn. But the band's first three hits were made of softer stuff - These Eyes, Laughing and Undun. Two of the three were million-sellers, and put Canada on the map, so it was hard to complain.

Bachman divides the show into Guess Who and BTO chapters. The story behind American Woman is no doubt familiar to many, but it's still amazing. On an ill-fated trip into the United States during the Vietnam War, the guys were advised to high-tail it back to Canada lest they be drafted thanks to their green cards. They found themselves in a Kenora curling rink, forced to take a break because a string broke on Bachman's one and only guitar. He replaced the string, tuned the guitar and played the first few chords of a song that didn't exist yet. But it sounded great, so he kept playing it so he wouldn't forget, and got the band back on stage to join him. Cummings improvised the lyrics and American Woman, referring the Statue of Liberty was born. It practically gives you shivers.

The show is really about the creative process and how ideas (often "borrowed" from other songs) blossom in unexpected ways. You learn how a throwaway song written to tease a stuttering brother became Ain't Seen Nothing Yet. And how a song about taking "the 8:15 into the city" remained dormant until the catchy line "takin' care of business" presented itself.

Bachman leaves out the gory details of his split with Cummings, and the lean years and frustrations which must have made life an ordeal at times. But you leave knowing the man and the music even more - and pretty much in awe of Bachman's amazing musical journey.

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