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Review: Ian Tyson, Corb Lund succeed in cowboy collaboration
By Mike Bell, Calgary Herald
The true meaning of Christmas?
How you answer that question will likely inform how you enjoy it, what you get out of it.
In some somewhat secular respects, the Stampede is the same way. What does it mean to you? A celebration of the history, the foundation of the West, the things — culture, music, stories, etc. — that made it and the people who settled it and grew it into what it now is? Or a garish week of physical and caloric excess, a sick-spattered imitation Stetson, with incredibly vague relations to country anything — culture, music, stories, etc.?
For those who observe the former and eschew the latter, the Ian Tyson and Corb Lund concert collaboration taking place at the Martha Cohen Theatre this week is, for the most part, an oasis away from the pagans tossing their toonies at the false gods of western culture.
It’s a wonderfully laid-back and threadbare night of stories and songs that tell the tale of real cowboy culture, how and why this area was settled and by whom. And it works so beautifully because of the two men doing the telling and the intimate way in which they do it. And it will resonate for a long time for those wanting to listen, really listen.
Through two one-hour sets, the elder statesman of Alberta music, the white-hatted Tyson, and his younger acolyte, the black-hatted Lund, wove a (Navajo) rug of vivid colours and striking figures that was as comforting as it was enlightening.
Tyson, alone, seated on a stool, with guitar in hand, kicked it off with one of the earliest cowboy songs he’d discovered in his research, a tune about a Civil War era mare named Donegal. And that song and its performance was the perfect introduction to Tyson’s side of things, less personal than appreciative, as he sang about figures and images of the West such as trail drivers Bob Fudge, cattle rancher Charlie Goodnight, painter Charles Russell, whom Tyson gave a talk about at the Glenbow Museum, where the late artist’s work is showing as it did in 1912 during the first Stampede — and those M.C. Horses.
What made it even more fitting was Tyson’s voice, which he acknowledged has lost a great deal of its heft in the past few years (it’s not the Dean Martin tone of what it once was), and the fact that it’s that of experience, a little wearier, a little weaker, but a great deal more vulnerable, ghostlike even, but so full of wisdom.
“Who knows what cowboys are any more,” he said after intermission, as he was spitting slightly in the eye of the Stampede, itself, noting that 1912 was when the image became the product it now is. “It’s a noisy nightclub in Calgary.”
Lund, who joined the legend after that one song, and not only kept up with him throughout the remainder of the night, but cast a shadow just as large and bold, gave more of a personal representation of the West. His stories and songs were those that related to his family, both sides of which settled here 100 years ago, and produced bronc riders, barrel racers and gamblers.
His voice and songs were stronger, lighter, brighter and less dusty than his friend’s — as evidenced by the vocal reactions from some of the, shall we say, less orthodox members of the audience — but still carried as much weight because of their meaning to him.
And as for the interaction between the pair of men, while they may be separated by three decades, they seemed as close as their placement onstage, trading stories and jokes and friendly shots at one another with remarkable ease, making the evening seem that much more special.
One of the best was when Lund had to correct Tyson on the key of a song, and the older songwriter cussed back, “That’s higher than angels s–t.”
If you’re looking for the true meaning — of the concert, the Stampede, of life, whatever — you couldn’t get more truer than that.
100 Years of Calgary Cowboys: An evening of stories, songs and memories with Ian Tyson and Corb Lund runs tonight, Wednesday, July 14 and 15 at the Martha Cohen Theatre. The shows are sold out.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald