A chilly Fall evening in Toronto that saw people bustling on the subway on their way to Nuit Blanche celebrations. As I passed Yonge, the subway cleared and there were only a few of us left. Getting off the train at Broadview my excitement grew to see Neil Osborne, Dave Genn, Matt Johnson and Brad Merritt from 54-40.
From the early days of Much Music – I grew up listening to these gentlemen alongside the likes of Sons Of Freedom, The Clash and The Pixies.
54-40 began in 1981 as a trio consisting of Brad Merritt (bass), Ian Franey (drums), and Neil Osborne (vocals/guitar). They made their recording debut that same year, with four tracks on the independent compilation LP Things Are Still Coming Ashore, which also featured music by Vancouver bands Animal Slaves and Junco Run. The following year, the band issued the EP Selection.
In 1983, Phil Comparelli was added on guitar, trumpet and vocals and Franey was replaced by Darryl Neudorf. Neudorf subsequently was replaced by drummer Matt Johnson in 1986. In March 2005 Comparelli passed on guitar duties to Dave Genn, formerly of Matthew Good Band.
The band’s self-titled second album, released in 1986, began to attract attention from radio and record buyers across Canada, with the single “Baby Ran” gaining significant college radio airplay. Musician Dave Osborne (keyboards, harmonica), toured and recorded with the band from 1987 to 1993. The band’s third album, Show Me, became their commercial breakthrough in Canada, with the hits “One Day in Your Life” and “One Gun”.
Quick Fact: The band’s song “I Go Blind” was covered in the mid-1990s by American band Hootie & the Blowfish, and was featured on the first soundtrack to the TV series Friends. The song also appears on two compilations released by the band: 2000’s Scattered, Smothered and Covered and 2003’s The Best of Hootie & the Blowfish (1993 Thru 2003). Royalties from the Hootie and the Blowfish cover enabled the band to build their own recording studio in Vancouver.
Last night’s show at Toronto The Danforth Music Hall ached nostalgia. Their fans were wide-eyed 40 and 50 something’s wanting to hear hits but also to dance to tunes that like them I grew up popping onto tapes for friends to educate them on the ‘greatness’ of 54-40.
54-40 was in amazing shape last night. All smiles in front of a light bulbed strewn stage set up. If we were missing Nuit Blanche tonight we were being treated to a band giddy with as much as excitement to perform their top shelf classics as we were to drink them in.
‘Easy To Love, Lies To Me, Nice To Luv You, Baby Ran, One Gun, One Day In Your Life, She La, Since When and Ocean Pearl’ all made appearances and were far from dusty. Osborne stated that he and the band had been in Toronto since Thursday and were enjoying themselves. A true boys club but without the attitude. It was a delight to be a part of observing their mid show stage check ins with each other and inside jokes. We felt like a part of their family.
The mixing of acoustic and powerful rock anthems were a treat for a Saturday night. It was not what I expected. As Merritt encouraged the audience to sing along to ‘I Go Blind’, my jaw dropped and I felt the deep emotions attached to these songs begin to stir in my heart and knees.
‘Every time I look at you I go blind
Somewhere over there
There’s a purpose there’s a care for free
In me there’s nobody
No one plan no one stand to be free
I think it’s that because I have seen all the fuss
And it’s no big deal
Hold me hold me
‘Cause I want to get high and higher
It’s been quite some time and I felt my long-buried teenage self sing those lyrics back to me. Love, loss, growth and letting go – so many themes bubbled to the surface. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt those stirrings last night. It was on everyone’s faces.
As the show concluded the good nights referred to the guy’s high school roots and perhaps how they still see themselves from small towns in British Columbia. Humility, kindness and genuineness. Osborne smiled goodbye with a cheeky hopeful intent that we’d see each other again soon. Indeed, we will.