Big Sugar rolls their ‘500 Pounds’ tour into Chatham-Kent

Overheard in the lobby at the Chatham Capitol Theatre on Thursday, March 14, 2023, a woman waiting in line to buy Big Sugar merch made a statement that caused multiple heads around her to nod, including from the SWOMP team in attendance.

“It was the loudest show I’ve ever seen,” the woman said, referring to a past performance by the reggae and blues-infused Canadian rockers.

Big Sugar didn’t crank the volume up to 11 right away on Thursday night, but it was still programmed at a solid 10 to start.

Frontman Gordie Johnson, flanked by bandmates Anders Drerup on bass guitar and Root Valach on drums, played the entirety of Big Sugar’s 1993 album ‘500 Pounds’ from front-to-back to open their set.

“We’re playing you all the songs from 500 Pounds, have you heard of that record?” Johnson asked the Chatham crowd.

“It’s going to be a really fuckin’ long night if only 15 people have heard of ‘500 Pounds’. Okay here is something you don’t get every night unless you come down to Texas, I’m going to play you some good ol’ blues just right now. It’s ‘500 Pounds’ time.”

Sporting black suits and ties and with retro-themed graphics, old movie clips, and primitive dance hall footage on the big screen behind them, Big Sugar transformed the vibe in the Capitol Theatre into a 1950’s-style music club.

Not one to be shy with his words, Johnson let his array of guitars do most of the talking during the ‘500 Pounds’ portion of the evening.

His virtuoso-like skill was on full display for the bulk of the blues-fueled tracks, even pulling out a steel guitar and its distinctive sound for one song.

Johnson’s vocal range was on point during the opening set and if you closed your eyes during the show, you’d swear you were listening to the 1993 album being played through a massive stereo.

Or maybe even listening to the brand new, freshly pressed vinyl of ‘500 Pounds’ from Third Man Records.

The record label, founded by superstar rocker Jack White, announced back in January they would be reissuing ‘500 Pounds’, both on black vinyl and limited edition Frosted Blues colored vinyl as well.

In Jack White’s own words, he called this Big Sugar album “the best blues based record to ever come out of Canada,” adding it was an early inspiration and influence on his own approach to songwriting and guitar playing.

Third Man Records also called the album a timeless testament to Big Sugar’s artistic brilliance, and its enduring popularity attests to the album’s lasting impact on the rock and blues landscape.

After playing the final notes to the chillingly beautiful closing track Wild Ox Moan, the band paused for a 20-minute intermission.

“It’s the quietest Big Sugar gig you’ll see, but we’ll fix that in the second set don’t you worry,” Johnson told the Chatham crowd.

“We’ll put our rock ‘n roll clothes on, come back and play a little bit more for you.”

Following the interlude, and as promised by Johnson, Big Sugar came out of the gate in their second set with the ear blasting, heavy hitting sounds their fans are accustomed to.

Finally pulling out his trademark double-neck guitar, Johnson and his bandmates tore through some of their more well-known hits, including ‘Diggin’ a Hole’, ‘Turn The Lights On’, ‘All Hell For a Basement and ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’.

Seated for much of the show, a crowd of fans made their way to the front of the Capitol Theatre stage for Big Sugar’s encore.

“Now it’s starting to look like a party in here,” Johnson told the audience.

“Did all the people from Windsor just show up or something? C’mon Chatham-Kent.”

Johnson added before wrapping up the show: “Did everybody have a good time? We certainly did. Tell all your friends about the 500 Pounds show, Big Sugar is still going, yes we are, thanks to all our friends.”

Prior to their Chatham performance, SWOMP caught up with Johnson for an interview to discuss the tour, their career, and some insight into how the unique partnership with Third Man Records came to fruition.

Big Sugar’s 500 Pounds tour has several shows scheduled through the rest of March, with stops in St. Catharines, Guelph, Brantford, Huntsville, and others.

Stay up to date with the band on their official website

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