So this is where it starts, my quest to see 52 concerts in one year. Seeing these three shows in the span of one week really gave me the momentum I needed to get this thing off the ground. I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this post, normally I’m going to be writing about one show at a time so this should be an anomaly.
SHOW #1: Justin Townes Earle at The Ogden Theater 1/27/12
This was my second Justin Townes Earle show and, sadly, he was not the headliner. He was opening for The Jayhawks. I’m not terribly familiar with The Jayhawks but I have a feeling I would like them. I didn’t learn that that night though because I had a previous engagement and was only going to be able to stay for Earle’s opening set. I actually wouldn’t have been at this show at all if I hadn’t won a ticket in some random email drawing.
The first time I saw Justin Townes Earle was roughly a year prior to this show and he absolutely brought the house down with a soulful, swinging set. There were flashes of that same greatness in this show but they were greatly subdued and the set was woefully short, even by opening act standards. In the end they played for under 40 minutes. I suspect that the length of the set may have been tied to the fact that they’d played a full set the night before in Ft. Collins.
Still, even with the short set he fit in a lot of good music. Including a cover of the Lightning Hopkins tune Automobile Blues, which is a great old blues song. He’d slowed it down a bit from the version he played the last time he was in town and I think I liked the slower version better. It just felt grittier. The video below is pretty close to what we got that night.
The highlight of the show was a dramatically slowed down version of Mama’s Eyes the performance took what is already a beautiful and introspective song and made it feel sort of sweet and sad. The switch up in the tempo and tone of the song reminded me of Penn Gillette’s comparison of Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan and served to remind me why I’m making it a point to never miss this man when he comes to town. I’d strongly advise that you do the same.
SHOW #2: Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps at LEON Art Gallery 2/2/12
I first saw Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps when they were opening for Trampled by Turtles at The Ogden early last year. Her beautiful and powerful voice combined with her earnest and heartfelt lyrics made me an instant fan. The banjo didn’t hurt either. After the show I tracked them down on facebook and joined their mailing list.
They seem to be big fans of Colorado because they’ve been here three times since then. Once at the Walnut Room, which I missed, and once at the Hi-Dive which came close on the heels of the release of their second album Little Wind, and most recently at LEON Art Gallery, which was a place I didn’t even realize existed before I heard about the show.
The venue was beyond intimate, it wasn’t really that far removed from watching a show in someone’s living room. My friend Catherine and I ended up arriving at the listed start time for the show and ended up catching the end of sound check, which was kind of cool but also a little awkward since we were the only people there. Once sound check was over the band headed out the back door and few more people trickled in. After about twenty minutes the band came back in and then commenced what I can really only call a pre-concert cocktail hour.
It seemed like everyone there knew someone from the band and there was much mingling and chatting and well it was kind of awkward as hell as I always feel weird about approaching strangers in general let alone strangers that I’ve paid money to see perform. Luckily Catherine and I were able to sort of fade into the background to chat and people watch while almost everyone who arrived greeted someone from the band with a hug and a lengthy conversation.
When the cocktail hour finally ended and the show finally began I was very impressed with the sound quality that was achieved in such a small space. The gallery has high ceilings, which I’m sure helps, but still it was much better than I’d expected. Though really, given the size of the place they probably could have played unamplified just fine and I kind of wish that they had.
This show also suffered from a shorter than expected set. Given that they were the only act performing there that night the 45 minute set certainly could have been longer. Though they were nice enough to play a request for their encore, which was pretty cool. Again, though, they squeezed a lot of good music into that 45 minutes which included Calliope, my current favorite, and Eagles Nest which I greatly prefer live as the album version feels less focused. Caroline also treated us to a solo song that was simply incredible. Her voice really shone when paired with just her acoustic guitar and far and away it was the best song of the night. Not to disparage the Goodnight Sleeps at all, she just owned the song and brought it to a whole different level.
After the show was over I actually went up and talked to the band for a few minutes. Mostly I just told them they were awesome and that I’d seen them several times but they were very gracious about it.
Now, talking about the second show here I’m wondering if I should have some kind of rating system for these shows or not. Given that I’ll eventually be seeing bands I don’t know and might not enjoy maybe I should. But really, who the hell actually cares what I think? Plus I’m not really trying to be a critic I’m just sharing experiences and great music so fuck it. No rating system.
This show was the highlight of my week for several reasons. An unexpectedly awesome opening act, an interesting aside, and some of the best singing I have heard in years.
The aside involved watching a fairly annoying 18 year old, who appeared to have two girlfriends, get kicked out for blatantly and brazenly drinking from a flask. He was dead center stage lit up like a Christmas tree from the stage lights and being obnoxiously loud. None of these things behooves underage drinking. The best part is that, about 15 minutes before he got tossed out he shouted ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been!’ Kids are dumb is what I’m saying.
Heading into the night I didn’t even realize that there was an opening act. At about 9:10 (the show was scheduled to start at 9) there was no one on stage when a disheveled looking group of gentlemen came through the crowd and stuck a bunch of cases on stage before disappearing for a few moments. It shortly became obvious that this group of guys was the opening act.
A. Tom Collins was an incongruous bunch. The lead singer played the piano and looked like he fell right out of the 70s, the trumpet player was dressed like a stereotypical 1950s convict in jeans, a blue dress shirt and a black stocking cap, and the clarinet/saxophone player had a pirate mustache with the ends curled up. It was very odd and I had no idea what to make of them.
As soon as they started playing though, it didn’t matter what you made of them because they were too busy rocking you to care. The music was catchy and danceable and the vocals were spot on and amazing. With the way they won over the crowd they could have been headlining anywhere. I didn’t know the name of any of their songs, and the only one they announced by name was Pants Off Dance Off but I loved everything I heard. They were energetic, and lively, and seriously seemed to just be having an amazing time. Also, any show that ends with the lead singer standing on his piano screaming ‘Fuck the pretty people’ is a show that I don’t want to miss. Before they left they announced a show on the 24th of February at the Hi-Dive and I definitely intend to be there. They were just that good.
The amazing thing is that, after all that, they weren’t even the best act that night. Alabama Shakes which is a band I learned about over at Digital Mumbles, exceeded all expectations. Which was difficult because my expectations were high. Brittany Howard, their lead singer, is a rare vocal talent and she brings a remarkable amount of passion and soul to every single song. Some of that power and soul comes across in their studio work but to really experience the brunt of it you have to see them live.
There was one annoyance at this show. The Alabama Shakes were filming the show and for some reason the person they had hired to film it was wandering through the crowd standing in front of people and blocking views to get a shot. That’s just poor form. I understand he’s got a job to do but he needs to figure out how to do it in the lease invasive way possible. Horribly annoying.
They played all four of the songs from their EP, which was recently available on bandcamp but has since been replaced with the ability to order their full album, interspersed with new songs that I can only assume will be on said upcoming album Boys and Girls which will be released on April 9th. If they are anywhere near you, go see them. Immediately.
Alabama Shakes seems on the verge of blowing up right now. The show at the Fox was sold out, as are all of their upcoming shows in London and they were on Conan on February 8th. I’m really glad that I got to see them at such a great small venue because I’m pretty sure the next time they come through town they’ll be playing somewhere much larger.
Oh, and I almost forgot the best part. For this incredible show I had to pay all of $5. Incredible.