500 LBS of Big Sugar!

Big Sugar

Written by Joe Taylor

April 02, 2024

Richmond Hill got their sweet tooth satisfied at the Richmond Hill Arts and Performance Centre, with a rare performance by Big Sugar. He spends a lot of his time down in the States these days, so it was a great homecoming for Gordie and the boys.

Big Sugar is on tour celebrating 30 years of his album Five Hundred Pounds. Now this is where I will get on my soap box for a short bit. I would like to say in Big Sugar’s discography this is the most underappreciated record in their collection. It doesn’t get much attention at all. This is mostly a Rocking Blues based album with some very original arrangements. He really stretches his wacky side with songs like AAA Aardvark Hotel and Wild Ox Moan. The rest of the album showcases how much of a great guitarist he really is. Commercially Big Sugar hit their original stride with their next outing Hemi-Vision when they added a Reggae vibe to the heavy blues sound mixed with a hip new swagger to their repertoire.  Personally I was very much stoked when this tour was taking place, so I can hear this fantastic album live in its entirety.

Well that is exactly what Gordie Johnson did. He came out and revved up the evening with, “Ride Like Hell”. He continued the first set with playing the entire album in order. It was 11 songs of pure bliss; because you may never see some of these songs live ever again. By the time he got a few songs in, he asked the audience to pull out their earplugs, because he was going into a softer song. He asked us not to tell anyone, because it would ruin his reputation. If you haven’t seen Big Sugar before, he believes in turning his amps up to 11.

He chose to keep the stage pretty stark and the lightshow to a basic level. As an audience member, I admired this move because this was truly about the music and the live performance. It added a sense of intimacy to the entire performance. You can say it was no frills but all thrills. Every time it was time for a guitar solo, Gordie created his own special trip for us to be on. The moods could swing from psychedelic, to sad, to angry, to swampy, and even glorious. There was a moment when his solo was moaning and groaning so much, it felt like a donkey that was carrying too much on its broken back. He even brought out a slide guitar and got quite Hawaiian on us. What a plethora of sounds!

He did bring a large backdrop and added a lot of old school footage to it. We had plenty of images from the 50’s and 60’s to add to the feeling of this record. There were some cool moment where you felt you were escaping on a long road trip and never wanted to go back home. How Jack Kerouac was that!

The second half of the show started off with one of his biggest hits, “Digging a Hole”. As the second set went deeper, I noticed he wasn’t playing all his hits, but his wanted to dig deep into his own catalog. I think this became a tour where he wanted to relive a lot of songs he never really plays anymore. So if you are a huge Big Sugar fan, this was the show you wanted. There were a ton of deep cuts. If you were fairly new to this show, you simply will be impressed at how well this band was playing together.

Gordie, brought on board two young musicians fill these big bags of over 30 years of sugar. On Bass was Andres Drerup who was tall and cool and had a great rapport with Gordie on stage. His excitement and jubilant energy helped keep the energy high. Then on the drum kit is Root Valach, who kept the entire place sounded solid. When they played, “Gone for good”, I thought he was going to knock over his kit because of the fit he was having playing that song. He really got to show off his chops throughout the evening, but especially on that song. Animal from the Muppets would have been proud.

He talked about how he had a suicidal moment in his career when he released his album- Eternity Now on March 2020. That is when Covid hit the world. I don’t think that album did so well. Well this was a chance for him to show it off. He played about 4 songs from that album, including a cover song from Gary Wright, “Love is Alive”.

He did go into his roots reggae songs. It truly felt like a reggae road trip with a little Texas twist to it. He finished the evening off with a classic song from the Hemi-Vision, “If I had my way”. Well the crowd was on its feet and singing along. Gordie seems so happy, that after the show, Gordie came back to stage and shook hands and signed autographs to the rabid fans that crowded the stage after the show! In fact he looked so large, he must have weighed 500 lbs.

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