PORT HARDY — Once you filter out the neon glare of superstars’ names on arena marquees and unplug the glossy marketing of hitmaking machinery, rock and roll comes down to the simple matter of making music.
And that’s just what the Theo Massop Trio delivered Saturday at Port Hardy Civic Centre in the fourth event on the North Island Concert Society’s 2010-11 schedule.
Massop, a Nanaimo-based singer-songwriter, was joined by longtime collaborator Blaise Zhiam on bass and Pat Hetu on drums in an intimate performance stripped of gimickry and hi-tech hijinx.
Massop’s music has been described as roots, rock, country, Americana, folk, blues and various admixtures of those wide-ranging genres.
When a group requires that many modifiers the best course of action is to show up with an open ear and toes ready for tapping. Those who did so Saturday were treated to a show of intricate yet accessible songcraft by performers comfortable in their musical skins.
At the heart of Massop’s songwriting is, well, heart. He pens songs of life experiences that can be as personal as the loss of a loved one, as on Massop’s spare, plaintive rendition of the ballad Goodbye, and as universal as the human condition, as on the up-tempo rocker Start a Revolution from his 2006 CD Choices.
Massop, who played electric-acoustic guitar and harmonica, has performed solo and in groups in venues ranging from pubs to festivals, and has a varied catalogue he tries to suit to each audience. In Saturday’s case, that meant heavy doses of original compositions with just a couple of cover tunes — a folk/country version of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and an encore performance of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song that started as an alt-country tune and wrapped up as a blistering blues rocker.
While it seemed the audience at times was reservedly waiting to hear something familiar, a careful listen revealed hints of familiar artists, such as on the Neil Young-infused Canada 1952, Gordon Lightfoot’s influence on Hummingbird, the Tom Petty-esque rocker I Need Somebody and even the reggae stylings of Truth from Massop’s debut album Voyager, which contain darker, more brooding echoes of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday.
Massop’s low and occasionally growling vocals were offset by Zhiam’s high-register harmonies and occasional vocal input by Hetu, who stepped in front of the drum kit to take a turn on the South American Cajon drum on a pair of songs. Zhiam proved particularly capable of filling potential voids in the three-instrument lineup, applying his bass as a rhythm, percussion and even lead instrument with his high-note plucking opposite Massop’s harmonica work on the intro to the driving blues-rocker Not For Me.
Late in the show, Massop expressed his appreciation to the audience and Zhiam even pulled out a camera to take a picture of the roughly 150 patrons. For its part, the NICS crowd responded not with screaming, glowing lighters or head-banging, but with polite and earnest applause.
This was not a transcendent concert. But it was never about transcendence — it was about the music.