TVD Live Shots: Big Wreck at the Gramercy Theatre, 3/3

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Big Wreck is a very special kind of band. One that has a truly unique sound, an unrivaled live show, and a frontman who does a remarkable job transporting the listener through storytelling and thought-provoking lyrics.

Formed by Ian Thornley in Boston back in 1994, Big Wreck released a stellar piece of work in the form of their debut album In Loving Memory Of. This record spawned a couple of minor radio hits for the band. The folks who got it know that Big Wreck never really got their fair share in the clouded and confused major label clusterfuck of mediocre rock at the time. But more importantly, it was just enough to lay a foundation for the band to build upon for the next decade.

I haven’t seen Big Wreck since 1994 back in my hometown of St. Louis as the band rarely tours the lower States because they remain quite popular in Canada and the New York/ New England area with a rabid fan base. During a business trip to New York City last week I saw that the band was playing a show at the Gramercy. I extended my trip by one day to see this one, and holy hell was it worth it.

There is a song from their debut record ironically called “That Song” which as a music fan is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a song that defies the traditional verse chorus verse and does it better than any one artist I’ve heard attempt this dyslexic formula. To be honest, I could have just heard this song and been fine with my evening. It turned up as song three in the set, the last song that the photographers get to shoot, and I literally found myself dropping my camera waist side and getting lost in the song. Any song that can make you forget what you are doing and take you to another place while unconsciously singing along is the reason I love music in the first place.

The new album is called Grace Street and it begs the question—how does one band continue to get better later in their career while others seem to become lazy and forget how to write a compelling song, let alone a full album? Furthermore, how do their live shows get better and better over time? More on that in a second, but back to the new album. Not only is this a fantastic collection of songs, but there’s a bit of mystique behind the creation and recording of the album as this excerpt from a recent interview Ian Thornley did with The Music Express.

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“We aimed for Grace Street to feel like how record albums used to feel when people listened to them from top to bottom,” explained Thornley, on the phone from Victoria B.C where his band is preparing for their second stop on an ambitious tour of key Canadian and U.S theatre venues that will bring them to Toronto’s Phoenix Theatre February 18th, Montreal’s Corona Theatre March 8th before concluding the Canadian portion of their tour March 13th in Fredericton.

“I am a headphone advocate, you need to listen to a record on headphones to really appreciate what you are listening to, you can’t just listen to a record through a smartphone speaker!” Thornley declares.

And according to Wikipedia there are some incredibly innovative things to listen for while you have those headphones on: “The album was recorded with the intention of incorporating a variety of sounds and styles. Every song was accompanied by a short ‘making of” video, released on YouTube, with frontman Ian Thornley talking about the writing and the recording process of each song. The album also features a number of different recording techniques and use of instruments and equipment, such as wine glasses tuned with a turkey baster, Ian Thornley’s daughter Sophia’s heartbeat for a kick drum, and a guitar solo recorded on a mountainside with microphone places far away from the amplifiers.”

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Back to the live show which is currently leading the pack for my best of 2017. I can’t say enough great things about the sound, the chemistry, the raw emotion of Thornley’s soaring vocals, it was simply brilliant. And for the record, Thornley could give Chris Cornell a lesson or two in vocal range and keeping your voice in proper form over the years.

Highlights from the set that night were of course the previously mentioned favorite “That Song,” but also “Wolves,” “Ghosts,” “Albatross,” and of course a blistering encore of “The Oaf.” But the coolest thing was, and I love it when bands do this, when they open the show with the new single “One Good Piece of Me.” It’s a statement that says to the crowd, we’re back and we’re proud of this one, so put on your rock ‘n’ roll seat belts.

These guys have some incredibly devoted fans. While standing in line before the show there were folks who flew in from Florida that day just to see the show. There were fans coming in from overseas as well and it would turn out that the Gramercy might have been too small a venue for these guys as it was oversold in my opinion. Either way this show continues to build on an incredible, rare story for a band where their latest records surpass their “breakthrough debut” in terms of songwriting, experimentation, and continuing to evolve their unique sound. Long live Ian Thornley and Big Wreck, and for the love of god, please book a UK tour so I can see the show again.

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And one more thing, Grace Street is the first Big Wreck release to be issued on vinyl. Go buy this one so that we can make a case to get the catalog reissued on vinyl as well. It’s necessary.

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