Saturday, June 22, 2013

Big Country thrills in full-length return

Big Country at The Coach House on June 21, 2013.
Photos courtesy of Bob Steshetz

After sitting through two lackluster opening acts at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California on Friday night (June 21, 2013), I was more than ready for a rousing set from headliner Big Country.

Thankfully, I need not have worried. The Scottish band delivered a powerful and memorable 1 hour, 45-minute concert focused on favorites from 1983's The Crossing as well as the recent release The Journey. Big Country's story might well have ended with the tragic suicide of founding member/lead singer Stuart Adamson in December 2001 but lead guitarist Bruce Watson, drummer Mark Brzezicki and bassist Tony Butler thankfully reunited the group for a short tour in 2007.

Mike Peters at The Coach House
Big Country's Mike Peters-led era (Peters is lead singer of The Alarm) launched at the end of 2007 with a 25th anniversary benefit celebration of Big County has proven to be no mere publicity stunt. The Journey (released in the U.S. in April 2013) is a fantastic album and its track listing provided many highlights played at the Coach House. The punk-styled  roar of "Home of the Brave," the straightforward rock edge of "Return," uplifting "Strong (All Through This Land)" and the anthemic title track with Peters' voice reaching the heavens amidst the stellar sonics were inspired and explosive. 

Peter's outgoing personality and well-known tenor were effective in not only delivering Big Country's grand songs, but in getting the near-capacity crowd singing and clapping along throughout, even on the new songs. The instantly-infectious "Another Country" provided plenty of those kinds of moments, as did the band's best-known early '80s hits. There were several small groups of excited concertgoers who stood most of the show, a very rare happening at the Coach House. Peters pointed out one fan who had traveled from Australia to see the show that night.

Peters was gracious, hugging fans, shaking hands and leading the band all night. But make no mistake, the collective cast of musicians is what makes Big Country so unique. Original guitarist Bruce Watson and his son Jamie Watson created cascading bagpipes- and fiddle-mining melodies and textures with their tandem lead and rhythm work supported by one-time Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes (who replaced the retiring Butler last year) and Brzezicki.

Jamie and Bruce Watson
All of Big Country's material was performed with passion. "Harvest Home" with its soaring melodies evoking the Scottish highlands and "Wonderland" with its rich layers came early. 

After performing the rousing "Another Country" (a standout on The Journey), "Fields of Fire (400 Miles)" closed the regular set, with the crowd fully engulfed in the emotional ride and ready for an exciting encore.

Big Country launched its encore with four-fifths of the group performing on stage, when suddenly Peters came through the crowd greeting fans and making his way slowly to the stage. The song "Hail & Farewell" could well have been a greeting to the late Adamson, a tender song that slowly built with its mix of vocal harmonies and lush textures. 

Drummer Mark Brzezicki
Big Country closed with an extended version of "In a Big Country" that included plenty of impressive drumming from Brzezicki, who celebrated his birthday on stage when the band led the audience with "Happy Birthday" to him minutes earlier. The night didn't end until a mic was passed around with all of the band members saying individual thanks to the audience. 

Make sure to check out writer George A. Paul's outstanding in-depth review of the concert that originally ran in The Orange County Register. Click here to read his review.


Unknown said...

Wish I could have been there. I plan to make the Temecula show.

newwavegeo said...

Good review of the show!