Published on December 21st, 2016 | by Jade Palmer0
24th Street Wailers – Concert Review (Saskatoon)
Jade unearths the past through music with the help of rockabilly revivalists, The 24th Street Wailers, at a recent concert at the Bassment in Saskatoon.
It happened during the first saxophone solo.
Maybe it was how passion tensed up his body, how the lively drum rhythm replaced my own heartbeat, or how everyone swayed in time with each other, but I was drawn into a trance. I swear the rug under my feet turned to black and white checkered vinyl. The woman beside me was wearing a thick sweater and plain winter boots, but upon a second glance, she was decked out in a polka dot poodle skirt and classic t-strap pumps. I flipped through the program in front of me to figure out what the hell was going on. It read; “The 24th Street Wailers at The Bassment, November 28th, 1950.”
They hid a long forgotten world in the hollow-body guitar, and with every crunchy bend, transported me back to the days of good old rock and roll. What a time to be alive.
Getting fans’ heads bopping and jaws dropping is The 24th Street Wailers’ specialty. Descending from the likes of Little Richard and LaVern Baker, they met in music school in Toronto and have proceeded to take over Canada’s blues scene. With four albums and a whackload of awards including three Maple Blues Awards and 12 nominations, the 24th Street Wailers are dedicated to bringing the showmanship of the 40s and 50s back to life in their energetic performances. What really sets this band apart is the drummer/lead singer/songwriter Lindsay Beaver’s gravelly voice, and Johnny Wong’s dramatic stage presence and exciting saxophone technique, filled with percussive tonguing and tugboat horn sounds. Backed by piano player Jesse Whitely, guitar player Marc Doucet, and bassist Michael Archer, the 24th Street Wailers are barreling into over 160 shows a year as one of the few popular rockabilly bands
There was a great sense of comradery on stage. In a song called ‘Forever,’ a long solo sequence showcased the individuality of the instruments and players; Marc’s excellent use of the whammy bar, how Johnny’s saxophone had smoked just the right number of cigarettes, and how Jesse mashed the piano keys with a melodic chaos only possible through true passion. Conversely, the instrumental section also displayed how well the musicians worked as a group as they passed around the spotlight. Everyone’s sections were tied to the next by a smart riff played in unison or twisting the last motif. They stripped it down to let the piano shine, then spiced up the rhythm so Johnny could prance over top. The 24th Street Wailers gave the simple sentiments and basic song structure of the 50’s style a fresh flavour to please the modern listener’s ear for diversity.
Lindsay Beaver is the undisputed ringleader of the rockabilly circus. She kept the beat behind the action and sweetly howled about love and her fierce persona, all while directing solo times with a sly nod. Sometimes she looked like a mom trying to wrangle boisterous teenagers, watching them dance and play off each other with a small smile and a “what am I ever going to do with you” look on her face.
The instruments backed off during a slower version of Sam Cooke’s ‘Nothing Can Change This Love’ and let Lindsay’s voice take center stage. Her Bachelor’s Degree in Contemporary Music from the University of Toronto help to propel her voice far past the singers of today, and back to the technical strength of early jazz. The heartfelt vibrato and complex runs that flowed out of her were occasionally corrupted by grit flying up from the bottom of her soul, something her old teachers don’t approve of. But it was plain to see she wasn’t one to take orders from anyone, and the audience cherished every bit of rasp that flew from her mouth. Like she warned in ‘Spitfire,’ a daring upbeat song with an infectious, bending riff, “don’t come down on me ’cause you’ll end up worse / told you if you upset me you better call a hearse.”
This independent attitude is integral to the 24th Street Wailers’ on-stage persona and their success as one of the few rockabilly bands in this quarter century.
My pink hair definitely stood out against all the balding heads of the people who heard this style of music at its peak, when it wasn’t just the people on stage feeling the groove. How I wished we could’ve given the tables a shove to cut a rug and do the jitterbug till the sun came up, but I guess the arthritic hips in the crowd couldn’t handle the excitement they used to. I was disappointed not to see more younger people there, to keep the style alive as the lucky old farts kick the bucket and take the good music with them. But in the small empty section of the Bassment, a young man with the biggest grin on his face twisted, jumped, and jived around an awestruck woman, with a ferocity I’ve only seen in grainy YouTube videos of old lindy hoppers. But this young man had the enthusiasm to bring the style back from the past, and it made me look into a swing dance class offered in Saskatoon. It was to my dismay and delight that the lessons were at full capacity.
Pouring out into the street after, I was saddened when modern, small cars were parked outside, rather than hard top convertibles or bulky Cadillacs. To have been around for rockabilly in its prime would have been awesome, but to witness it’s revival is something I will cherish. The growling saxophone and effortlessly edgy vocals of the 24th Street Wailers keep good old rock and roll in full swing.
What a time to be alive.