54-40 are performing at the Port Theatre on Friday, Feb. 23. (Photo courtesy Mark Maryanovich)

54-40 are performing at the Port Theatre on Friday, Feb. 23. (Photo courtesy Mark Maryanovich)

Vancouver rockers 54-40 coming to the Port Theatre

Group is bringing its A History Unplugged tour to Nanaimo

When 54-40 come to the Port Theatre on Feb. 23, their hard-rocking tunes will be a little mellower than usual.

The Vancouver-based rock group is bringing its A History Unplugged tour in Nanaimo, named for its 2016 record, La Difference: A History Unplugged, in which 10 of the band’s biggest hits are given uncharacteristic acoustic arrangements.

Bassist Brad Merritt calls the unplugged performance “a bit of a high-wire act.”

“There’s a naked quality to it, rather than sort of blasting away and guitars and people screaming into microphones and all that kind of stuff. It’s just more exposed and more of a vulnerable approach, too,” he said.

“Also, we do them almost exclusively in buildings which are designed for acoustic performances, so it’s the kind of place where at certain points you can hear a pin drop, which is antithetical to rock ‘n’ roll.”

Merritt said the unplugged album came about after guitarist and keyboardist Dave Genn came up with a piano rendition of the 54-40 song Crossing a Canyon. From there the group – Merritt, Genn, singer Neil Osbourne and drummer Matt Johnson – starting considering rearranging other tunes as well. Merritt said it was a “trial and error process.”

“We kind of saw that we could look at these songs with sort of fresh eyes, or ears, I guess, and give them another chance. To add meaning to the song,” he said.

“And then once we did one [song] we decided to do a bunch more. And the more we did, the more we liked the process and the more people we got involved and we recorded them all. The next thing you know, you’ve got enough for a record.”

But while the bandmates were poring over their past compositions for La Difference, Merritt said they were concurrently preparing material for their first record of new material in six years, Keep on Walking, which was released on Jan. 26.

Born out of a series of jam sessions, Keep on Walking begins with “very honest, raw” subject matter which over the course of the record transitions to a mood of hope. Merritt said the record came together slowly, yet organically.

“The early songs were thematically a bit more melancholy with sort of a tinge of … disappointment, not knowing where your life is going,” Merritt said.

“And then, I think, as the process went on the themes seemed to become more reflective in a positive way. More gratitude, more philosophical, more fun, more full of life.”

WHAT’S ON … 54-40 are performing at the Port Theatre on Friday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. All seats are $42.50.

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Nanaimo News Bulletin