March 7th 2017 – Frank Peebles, Prince George Citizen.

Tom Cochrane and Red Rider brought their Mad Mad World Tour to Prince George on Monday at CN Centre.   - Citizen photo by James Doyle .

Life might be a highway for Tom Cochrane, but it sure isn’t a stretch of prairie pavement. It has hills and tight corners, bridges and even some potholes. I’ve seen him four or five times now, over the years, and no two shows are the same with him, and sometimes he’s not on his game.

Monday night at CN Centre was not one of those nights. His voice was never so good, in the times I’ve seen the veteran rocker. His comfort on stage was never so easygoing and folksy. This is a guy renowned for being nice, and he let it show for Prince George.

By the way, he gave Prince George a little more in some other ways, too. If you follow the websites that publish artists’ set-lists, the P.G. show got more songs and better timing of the songs than some others did. I can only imagine that was because A) this city has a history of loving Tom Cochrane right to his face and B) the audience was small but punched above its weight with enthusiasm.

So it was a grand reunion between old friends. And like any great visit with a favourite relative from far away, you forget just how cool they really are in person. You discover new things about them you never new, even after all that time.

Tom Cochrane is someone we’ve taken for granted because of all the hits and all the tours over the years, but he is too deep and too engaged in life to ever be boring. Some of the old songs got tweaked presentations. Some songs got played we hadn’t heard live for 25 years (it was the Mad Mad World anniversary tour, after all). And we felt new energy for things. When the crowd took over singing Good Times, well that was genuine and grassroots, he didn’t mug the audience into a call and response. There’s nothing wrong with some back and forth at a rock show, but that was just open respect for a good song we love to sing and maybe we’d forgotten just how much.

There were some duds in there too. Some of those album tracks from Mad Mad World I could have done without in exchange for some other stuff from the massive Tom Cochrane and Red Rider catalogues.

But you could tell the band was having fun playing those things, and that was part of the entertainment for me. It boosts the spirits when you discover you’ve missed something sitting right in front of you for a long time. Maybe that song isn’t your favourite, maybe you wondered why it was even on the album, and then you spot the way the guitar player lays into a lick and the bass player holds the melody down until it’s gasping for air and the drummer pounds it back to the surface where the guitar players toss it back and forth like a beach ball awhile and you catch yourself realizing you’d been wrong. The song was always a strong piece of music, it was you that hadn’t been getting it, and now you do.

There were moments like that, thanks to Tom and the band, and frankly the whole show renewed my faith in guitar rock altogether. Kenny Greer did a lot of that heavy lifting. The man is a wizard. He was playing three instruments at the same time, at a couple of points – a keyboard set up in front of a steel guitar (and I’ve never heard the steel guitar ever used outside of country music, save for Kenny, which is a win in itself), and across his lap an electric six-string.

The whole Red Rider deserves a big wave of their own flag. Remember, before anyone in Canada had ever heard of Tom Cochrane, these guys were keeping pace with Triumph and Rush at the forefront of progressive Canadian rock. Getting to see Davide Direnzo grinning away behind the drum kit, the bassist-of-all-trades Jeff Jones going through his cycles and Bill Bell carrying a lot of the guitar weight on stage left to Kenny’s stage right – it all gets laid out like a sumptuous meal. Cochrane is the main course, but it’s the band who make it a banquet.

There was some choice backup singing as well, courtesy of Meghan Patrick, the opening act of the whole affair. She’s an expanded bluegrasser who picked up the electric guitar for a head-banging country career, and the way country is going these days, if she wanted to rework No Regrets into her own single, we can confirm she knows how to work that song like a handfaller with a Husquy.

She works the band, she works the stage, she works the crowd – it all works for Meghan Patrick. I think the world of power-vocalist Jess Moskaluke, the perennial champion at the Canadian Country Music Awards recently. But if Moskaluke ever decides to take a year off from winning the female artist categories at the CCMAs, mark my words, the name Meghan Patrick is going on the trophy.

We got to see her here early on, and the crowd bought everything she was selling. She should come back soon on her own and capitalize on the easy touch P.G. now has for her. There was a little Boom Chicka Wow Wow going on in the room, if you know what I mean, professionally speaking.

And Cochrane, the man of a million career surprises, could easily have another album of hits just waiting to break free. If you check out the map of B.C., you’ll see how all the great highways meet up in Prince George, especially the highways of life.