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article imageReview: Cowboy Junkies rock Vancouver Island festival — slowly Special

By Mark J. Allan     Aug 4, 2015 in Entertainment
Comox - Lots of bands rock. Nobody else rocks as languidly and sorrowfully as the Cowboy Junkies, the sold-out marquee attraction at the just-concluded annual Filberg Festival in Comox on Vancouver Island.
Guitarist Michael Timmins writes the band’s songs, and he reflected their low-key nature by hunching over his instrument and rarely playing solos.
In fact, he sat for the entire performance. That suits the Cowboy Junkies’ measured, hypnotic sound to a tee: “What’s the rush? We’ll get there.”
Only bassist Alan Anton was vertical during the entire set. Vertical, but unmoving.
The lanky Anton makes legendary Who member John (Ox) Entwistle, renowned for playing fantastic bass while just standing motionless and expressionless, look like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Anton’s four-string rumble, like a subway car passing underneath you, is nonetheless part of the Canadian quartet’s signature sound.
The 13-song set list, drawn from seven albums from 1986 to 2011, included "Horse in the Country" and "Cause Cheap Is How I Feel" early. After some lesser-known work, the band roused audience recognition with Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground classic "Sweet Jane" and the set-concluding "Misguided Angel," one of the saddest and most twisted love songs ever written.
A two-song encore ended with Neil Young’s "Don’t Let It Bring You Down," a mournful tune that Timmins probably wishes he had written.
Michael supplies the lyrics for the band’s material, which sister Margo admitted to the audience contains a lot of sadness and misery.
Margo is a seemingly reluctant centerpiece. Her self-taught singing style is almost apologetic at times, and she tends to drape her arms over the mic stand, which obscures her face when she sings.
But Margo with her nerdy cool, her I’m-just-like-you-guys patter with the audience, her haunting voice and her tantalizingly slow delivery is perfect for this band.
Family ties between Michael, Margo and drummer/brother Peter might help to explain why the original four members are still together 30 years later and newly inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Opening act The Lion The Bear The Fox was an eye-opener.
Christopher Arruda (Lion), Cory Woodward (Bear) and Ryan McMahon (Fox) have a great Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ three-guy look going.
Like Blackie, Arruda, Woodward and McMahon can be poignant as well as humorous and can rock whenever they feel like it.
When it comes to three-part-harmonies, The Lion The Bear The Fox are superior to Blackie members Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden. Established singer-songwriters on their own before pooling their talents, The Lion The Bear The Fox deserve to be heard. Do yourself a favour and check them out. Their current EP is We’d Be Good Men.
Although the annual Filberg Festival is primarily one of Western Canada’s largest juried arts shows, the Canadian musical talent level is consistently high.
Other acts this year included Spirit of the West’s John Mann, former member of the Canadian Tenors Ken Lavigne and folk icon Valdy.
The four-day festival happens in Filberg Park, originally the home of lumber baron Robert Filberg, now a well-treed, deer-friendly public park on the Comox waterfront with a view of the Beaufort Mountains.
It’s hard to imagine a more calming yet inspiring setting for a festival.
More about Filberg Festival, Comox, Music, juried arts show
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