PORT HARDY—A couple hundred fans entered the Civic Centre Saturday night expecting a concert from Barney Bentall and Eric Reid.
What they stumbled into was an impromptu birthday party.
After opening the North Island Concert Society show with the country-folk ballad Hold My Heart, Bentall announced that, by coincidence, he and Reid share the same birthday. And it was this very day.
The audience first applauded politely, but as Bentall began his intro to the next song, it interrupted him by breaking spontaneously into its own rendition of Happy Birthday to You as Reid and Bentall laughed and bowed.
“When you’re up here singing to people for a living, it’s nice to get it back,” Bentall said. “Thanks for that.”
As birthday parties go, this was of the surprise variety. Bentall provided the surprises.
Before delivering the expected hits from his decade-long run in the 1990s as frontman for Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts, this older, more introspective Bentall took fans on a wide-ranging musical tour.
In addition to the country-folk of his most recent solo recordings, Gift Horse and Inside Passage, Bentall threw in a pair of bluegrass numbers from his side project, The High Bar Gang, and a series of covers from a widely diverse selection of artists including the Beatles (Norwegian Wood), Cole Porter (So In Love, from the musical Kiss Me Kate) and even his own son, Dustin Bentall (Three Thousand Miles).
Proud papa Barney noted Dustin was opening that very night for the legendary John Prine as part of a tour in the midwest U.S.
To top it off, Bentall announced he was going straight from Port Hardy to the studio to begin work on his next CD, and treated the crowd to several new numbers, including one being played to an audience for the first time.
“Nothing is more educational when you’re going in to record than playin’ ‘em for people,” Bentall said.
Though the night began with one fan calling out for Something to Live For, the Legendary Hearts’ biggest hit, there was never a sense of fidgeting or “are we there yet?” impatience from the room.
By the time Bentall and Reid finally got around to “some of the old stuff” to wrap up the second set, it merely provided icing on a very tasty birthday cake.
Reid, a veteran multi-instrumentalist, supported Bentall on mandolin, banjo, piano and a pair of guitars. On several occasions, Bentall stepped back and let Reid shine, to particularly good effect on Norwegian Wood, the yearning ballad Tell Me is it True, and One Fine Day an unrecorded – so far – blues stomp that Reid closed to whoops from the crowd with a blistering bottleneck slide solo.
On several occasions, Bentall reminded fans there were only two players on the stage. But the duo provided as much sonic depth as could reasonably be expected. Bentall playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and taking a couple turns on piano, while Reid augmented his guitar work with an extensive array of pedal board effects.
Reid appeared to pleasantly surprise even Bentall on a couple of occasions.
Bentall opened a three-song encore set almost reluctantly with Belly of the Sun, a Legendary Hearts track originally recorded as a lush, layered epic. But with the aid of a pedal board he worked hard throughout the night, Reid employed reverb, phase-shifting and synthesizer effects that soared and dipped around Bentall’s vocal and brought loud cheers from the crowd.
“That turned out pretty good, actually,” Bentall said with a chuckle.
Dynamics aside – and Bentall gave NICS mixing-board technician Malcolm Fleeton multiple shout-outs for the sound – this was less a rock show than an evening around the woodstove with a couple of old friends. When Bentall forgot a lyric in Norwegian Wood, he didn’t attempt to plow through as though nothing had happened. Instead, he stopped the song cold for a bar and said, “Aw, shoot,” like a shamed kid scuffing the toe of his shoe in the dirt. After an obligatory laugh from the audience, Bentall and Reid resumed the song to bigger applause than before.
After all, having a birthday means never having to say you’re sorry.
The NICS season wraps up with an appearance by the contemporary string trio Infinitus April 14. For ticket and other info, visit www.niconcert.ca.