RSO Shumiatcher Pops: Jason Plumb & the Willing

I’m tardy with my review of this concert which was held at Conexus Arts Centre on Jan. 8. Following the show I had some family obligations to attend to, plus some stuff to write for the Jan. 13 prairie dog which hits the streets tomorrow afternoon. 

First time I saw Plumb was when The Waltons were just getting going. It was 1988 or so, my two sisters were in Regina for Xmas, and we caught the band at The Venue (now The Distrikt) on Boxing Day. Soon after that Plumb and bandmates Keith Nakonechny (bass) and David Cooney (drums) departed for Toronto, where they made a decent name for themselves as an award-winning Canadian folk pop band. After five full-length CDs and one EP, The Waltons went their separate ways in 2001. They remain in touch though, and Plumb hinted on Saturday that a future reunion was not out of the question.

 As a solo artist Plumb has two albums to his credit — Under and Over (2004) and Beauty in this World (2007). The genesis of this RSO show came with the latter album, he revealed in a pre-concert Leader-Post interview. Several songs on Beauty in this World had string parts. To record them, he contacted RSO concertmaster Eduard Minevich, who assembled a small string section to accompany Plumb and his band.

 The string parts were arranged by Edmonton composer Allan Gilliland. When the RSO invited Plumb and the Willing to play a Pops concert Gilliland was recruited to add wind, brass, percussion and string parts to 16 songs from Plumb’s extensive back catalogue for the orchestra to play.

 So how did things go?

 Overall, pretty well. While Plumb will never be mistaken for a rock ‘n’ roll demon, the dictates of playing with the symphony did skew the song selection heavily to ballads. That made pacing a challenge as songs didn’t vary as much in tempo as they typically would in a straight-on rock show. On the other hand, it was a definite treat to hear some of Plumb’s more poignant love songs and odes to prairie life fleshed out to an uber-lush degree by the RSO.

 Both the first and second sets started with Plumb (on acoustic guitar) and keyboardist Jeff McLeod playing alone with the RSO. That gave the RSO a chance to shine, as once Plumb and McLeod were joined by the rest of the amped-up Willing (Gord Smith [bass], Cody Gamracy [electric guitar], Dan Silljer [electric guitar] and Mike Thompson [drums]) the orchestra faded a bit into the background. On occasion, I thought the strings sounded a little thin or high-pitched. That may have been a by-product of how the stage was arranged, with Plumb and his band front and centre while the RSO was pushed to the back end of the stage.

 At regular RSO shows, conductor Victor Sawa provides an introduction to each composition. On Saturday, he confined himself to a few remarks at the beginning of the concert, then left the banter to Plumb and his bandmates, who proved adept at engaging the audience with anecdotes about songs they were about to play.

 Personal highlights for me were the title tracks from Plumb’s two solo albums “Beauty in this World and “Under and Over”, but the concert in general was well-received, and did seem to attract a somewhat different crowd than a typical RSO show. If they liked what they heard, hopefully they’ll come back for more.

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your puny human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.