Great Big Sea at The Basement

Great Big Sea are a pretty popular party-time band from Newfoundland, Canada. For 20 years they’ve blended East Coast folk music (strongly Irish-influenced) with pop-rock melodies and sensibilities. I saw them a couple of times when I lived in Canada, and once in London in 2007 (read the comments thread on that blog post; I attracted a nutter). They’re high energy. Their music is neither elaborate nor delicately crafted, but it’s delivered with punk-rock dedication.

Great Big Sea are on their first Australian mini-tour (a night in Melbourne and a night in Sydney, before heading up the coast to the Byron Bay Bluesfest this weekend). Like any good Canadian – and the Basement was packed with them last night – I went to see them play. I managed to drag along some friends, most of whom didn’t know GBS, but who had a pretty good time.

I was pleased to find out that the opening act was Katoomba one-man DIY blues band Claude Hay, whom I caught a couple of times earlier this year. It was a short set, but Claude won over the room with his smiling demeanour, soulful voice, and fiery fingerpicking.

Great Big Sea did what they’ve always done: ripped through Celtic-rock singalongs of just about all the hits I remember, including “Donkey Riding”, “Mari-Mac”, “Lukey”, “The Night Pat Murphy Died”, “Up”, “Run Runaway”, “Excursion Around the Bay” and so on and so on. The Canuck crowd knew when to sing, when to clap, and when to belt out a “Hey!”

The boys oozed enthusiasm and Newfie charm as they went. This was the first time for some of them in Australia, and there were oft-repeated jibes of Sean McCann falling for warnings about drop-bears. Sean also found it bewildering that this used to be a penal colony: if people were sent here for punishment, he wondered aloud, how bad must his ancestors – banished to Newfoundland – have been?

It was a feel-good kitchen party in a little basement club on the other side of the world, but I don’t think it felt much different from Corner Brook for Great Big Sea.