North Tonawanda, NY
Saturday December 1, 2018
Review/Photos: Thom Jennings
On Saturday December 1, Rik Emmett performed at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. It was not just another tour date, it was Rik’s last scheduled performance in the United States for the foreseeable future. Rik performed an acoustic set with his longtime musical companion and collaborator Dave Dunlop.
This year marked the fortieth anniversary of Triumph’s debut album’s release in the United States (It was a combination of their first two albums that had already been released in Canada). Over the four decades that Rik’s has been a performer in the U.S, he has reached many milestones-seemingly in ten year intervals. In 1978 Triumph’s American debut “Rock and Roll Machine” was released, in 1988 Rik left Triumph, in 1998 he was out promoting his first jazz release “Swing Shift,” In 2008 he performed in Oklahoma with Triumph for one of only two reunion shows, and in 2018 it came full circle with a “final” performance in The United States-at least for now.
As the guitarist of Triumph, fans never really had the opportunity to get to know Rik on a personal level. As a solo artist, especially in an intimate acoustic setting, Rik’s sense of humor, which is often delightfully self-deprecating, really shines through and adds a unique element to show between Rik’s displays of guitar wizardry.
This year’s acoustic set featured nearly the full complement of Rik’s most popular contributions to Triumph. There was the opener, “Hold On” and the early crowd pleaser, “Lay it on the Line” and even the rocker “Fight the Good Fight,” and the radio hit “Somebody’s Out There.”
Rik peppered in a few solo gems like “Light of Day,” Libre Animado” and the longtime live staple “Three Clouds Across the Moon.” A pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a Dave Dunlop solo tune, “Monarch Girl.”
Of the pair, Dunlop appeared to be the more emotional throughout the performance, but both Emmett and Dunlop clearly basked in the love the packed theatre gave them throughout the evening. From the moment the duo appeared onstage the crowd noise was deafening between songs, and during musical numbers fans hung on every note, not wanting to miss a thing.
Of course, Dunlop has the unique perspective of not just being Rik’s musical partner, Dunlop grew up as a fan of Triumph. He is also nowhere near retirement age, so it will be fun to watch where he takes his career over the next few years.
Emmett was in great spirits, and in amazing voice. The high notes seemed to ring a little higher, the solos seemed to have a little extra flair, all the while Emmett and Dunlop ruled the stage like gladiators. To sum the performance up in three words, it was special.
There were plenty of stories, from his day in Triumph, and a few “retirement jokes” along the way. The highlight of the evening came when Rik performed the final song of the evening, “Suitcase Blues.”
Jammed at the end of Triumph’s second U.S release, “Suitcase Blues” defined Rik Emmett. Sure, he had those neat little acoustic guitar bits on each album, but they were short and sweet. “Suitcase Blues” was different than anything Triumph recorded. It wasn’t a power ballad, and it wasn’t all that bluesy- at least not musically. It was a straight up jazz number.
Rik gives credit to Triumph drummer Gil Moore for making sure “Suitcase Blues” was on “Just a Game.” He probably had a sense that fans would be satisfied enough with “Hold On,” or “Lay it on the Line,” that they would allow for a song that may have seemed very different, and probably didn’t have a place in Triumph’s arena rock, pyro-filled show.
“Suitcase Blues” didn’t define Triumph, it defined Rik Emmett. The regular part of show before the encore ended with the song that defined Triumph, “Magic Power.” The performance ended with the song that defined Rik, both in substance and style. It may have provided the hint as to why he walked away from Triumph in 1988, and their lengthy tours, filled with “days of glamour” and “lonely nights.”
The irony is that Emmett was the only one of the original three members of Triumph that continued to consistently record and perform over the last three decades. It not necessarily surprising he is ready to leave the road, it’s more surprising it took this long.
As Rik and Dave took their last bows, there wasn’t a sense of loss. It was clear that this was just the end of a chapter. Rik’s guitar and vocal prowess show no outward signs of deteriorating, he still sounds amazing. Most importantly the guy has earned a break, and as Rik told the audience earlier in the evening, “I will never stop being creative,” and being off the road may actually give him more time to do just that.
Hold On (Triumph cover)
Petite Etude (Triumph cover)
Lay It on the Line (Triumph cover)
Light of Day
Ordinary Man (Triumph cover)
Monarch Girl (Dave Dunlop cover)
Fight the Good Fight (Triumph cover)
Somebody’s Out There (Triumph cover)
Just What I Needed (Cars cover)
Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty cover)
Midsummer’s Daydream (Triumph cover)
Three Clouds Across the Moon
Magic Power (Triumph cover)
Suitcase Blues (Triumph cover)