The Sheepdogs last played Nelson, British Columbia, in 2011 at the apex of their meteoric rise from prairie bars to becoming the first unsigned group ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone. If the 2011 show had the feeling of a coronation, their February 2016 sold-out performance at Spirit Bar was the triumphant royal tour of a band firmly entrenched as the next generation standard-bearer of Canadian classic rock.
The interim years produced a deal with Atlantic Records, a self-titled album produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, a new hit, “Feeling Good” adopted by the Canadian men’s national hockey team, and the current release, the aptly-named “Future Nostalgia”. The Sheepdogs’ ear for hit-making riffs and the heartland vocals of front-man Ewan Curry likely ensures a lifetime of radio royalties, but the recent addition of stunt guitarist Jimmy Bowskill makes for transcendent live performance.
The twin lead-guitar attack of Curry and Bowskill captivated throughout the show, driving songs to a series of musical peaks in a style reminiscent of the Allman Brothers. The encore ultimately acknowledged the influence with a note-perfect reading of the Allmans’s showstopper, “Whipping Post”, followed by an extended jammed-out rendition of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Down by the River”.
Nostalgia in music is viewed by some critics as ineffectual sentimentalist desire for a bygone era. Those critics need to see a Sheepdogs show, as 300 fans at the Spirit Bar found no guilt in the unbridled pleasure of classic rock and roll delivered by a band seemingly at the height of its powers.