Canadian rock band 54-40 performs live at the Cultural Centre on April 12.

Canadian rock band 54-40 performs live at the Cultural Centre on April 12.

West Coasters 54-40 bringing catalogue of hits to Chilliwack

The band 54-40 is coming to Chilliwack Cultural Centre stage on April 12.

Iconic Canadian band 54-40 will grace the Cultural Centre stage next Thursday with an exciting repertoire spanning three decades.

The band’s trajectory can be traced from post-punk beginnings in the 1980s, with tunes like Baby Ran, Ocean Pearl, and I Go Blind, which was later covered by Hootie and the Blowfish, and made it onto the first Friends soundtrack.

They’ve earned a reputation for a great live show, and for managing to reinvent themselves with each new release.

“We’ve always been an eclectic group,” says 54-40 bassist Brad Merritt. “But we have faith in ourselves, in our fans, and the audience to always find some common ground.”

The band is celebrating its 30 anniversary, and more than 2000 performances, touring across Canada in support of last year’s album, Night in the City.

Reinvention is actually “remarkably easy” for the guys.

“You just have to allow yourself to do it,” says Merritt in a phone interview this week. “The only thing stopping you is being scared there won’t be an audience.”

Once they finish a recording project, from the idea of the song, to refining it collaboratively, getting input, to mixing and mastering it, assembling the art work, to going on the tour — they end up playing the songs over and over.

So by the time that happens, they’re ready for a fresh musical idea to kick around.

That said, they still enjoy playing the old favourites from their 16 recordings.

“We’re playing a song right now in our set that’s 29 years old. Everyone is loving it,” says Merritt.

He’s talking about the 1983 tune Set the Fire.

If there’s a specific “city” referenced in the album title Night in the City, by Osborne, it would have to be Vancouver, said Merritt.

Merritt and Neil Osborne are the original members of 54-40, which has gone through a number of lineup changes over the years. They’re joined by drummer Matt Johnson and guitarist Dave Genn.

“Neil wanted to do a modern riff on blues. It has very little to do with the sound of the songs, but more the words and themes, and the tone of the songs.”

The blues can be cathartic, he offers, like an early spring after a hideous winter.

Speaking of spring, they’ll be taking some time off, and coming back home to the West Coast, after the next couple of shows.

“We’ve started the early stages of our next record,” he says.

Asked if they have a Canadian sensibility as a band, the short answer is “yes,” Merritt replies.

“I would also say that Canadian music has moved in our direction.

“I think when we first started out, we certainly identified ourselves as being Canadian, that’s where the whole name comes from.”

The band’s name comes from the slogan “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!” coined for the unsuccessful expansionist agenda of U.S. President James K. Polk’s, who was trying to control a contested border area in the Oregon boundary dispute.

But they also spent lots of time in the U.S.

“I actually think music has evolved and there is such a wide range of what’s out there and accepted by people.”

When they started out there was more pressure to imitate existing bands.

“We managed to succeed despite that — or maybe because of it.”

54-40, Thursday, April 12, at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, doors at 7, show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $42.50 (+ fees sc) available at the Box Office, 604-391-SHOW (7469) or online at