Every B.C. local knows Ocean Pearl if they’ve listened to a radio station, but Kelowna residents are getting a fresh twist on the song.
Rock group 54.40 is providing its Central Okanagan audience with nostalgic songs stripped down to the basics as part of its A History Unplugged Tour, at the Kelowna Community Theatre March 31.
Bassist Brad Merritt has been part of the band since its inception in East Vancouver nearly 40 years ago.
The rockers will be playing a different tune in Kelowna compared to his last performance at the Canadian Culinary Championships in February, taking songs from the band’s greatest hits record La Difference: A History Unplugged.
The members decided to put new twists on old songs with violin, banjo, mandolin and other instruments for an intimate sound.
“This one here’s going to be a very different show. It’s much smaller, more intimate, stripped down,” said Merritt. “What motivates us is how do we make it more challenging, how do we make it interesting for ourselves.”
Founders Merritt and singer Neil Osborne have come a long way since their first performance Dec. 31, 1980. Driven by the sound of 1970s punk music, Merritt started with humble beginnings.
“When you first start you’re just excited to get together to do it,” he said.
“There was an intent that was there (in punk music), an urgency and I was of that age that I could feel like I was a part of that. You rent the bass guitar and say ‘let’s start a band’ and then you buy one and I don’t know what I’m doing and Neil doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Over time, the group became craftier at creating songs. Merritt found confidence with his bass line and where he fit into songs.
Last year, 54.40 was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and its latest album, Keep On Walking, was released in January.
Merritt and Osborne’s relationship has also evolved over time. The long-time friends experienced a time of conflict at one point, Merritt called it “little existential moments,” questioning the band’s existence and whether it will go on.
“Now we’re joined at the hip, it’s something that’s been successful enough to keep on going,” he said. “I love him, you’ll have to ask him if he feels the same way about me and he’ll probably say something funny… we’re like family.”
The fans have also been changing and growing with the musicians throughout their careers.
“When you first start, the audience is essentially your age, they’re all 20,” said Merritt.
After signing a contract with Warner Brothers, and when 54.40’s songs began playing on the radio, younger college fans started arriving at shows.
“I found as time went on the sweet spot is 10 years younger, and it still is, but the thing is it’s flattening out,” said Merritt. “We see the audience getting steadily younger, once again there are people who can’t get their head around pop music, or hip-hop and they’re looking for something alternative or independent. (There’s also) a generation where their parents grew up on this and now they’re old enough to come and see us.”
Joined by guitarist Dave Genn and drummer Matt Johnson, 54.40 will perform at the Kelowna Community Theatre, March 31.
Tickets are available online at https://selectyourtickets.com/event-pro/54-40-unplugged/.
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