Two Men Six Names

SHOW #46: William Elliott Whitmore with Randall Conrad Olinger at The Marquis Theater 10/4/12

Even though it felt a little awkward I stood exceptionally close for this show. Pretty much front and center. I had questioned this decision, which was obviously made before anyone showed up, because it just felt kind of strange standing there by myself with people piling up behind me. I’m glad that I made the decision though because it led to some of the best pictures my phone is likely to get at a concert and because the place ended up being packed. Seriously, just absolutely loaded with people. I had no idea how popular William Elliott Whitmore was in Denver until this show. I saw him at Swallow Hill a little over a year ago and there wasn’t nearly this kind of crowd there, though part of that may be because of the type of venue that Swallow Hill is. As good as that Swallow Hill show was this one was better because his music feels more at home in a rowdy bar than in a quiet music hall.

My decision to stand up front didn’t come without repercussions though. A drunk woman elbowed me out of place, tried to haul me on stage to sing a song before the show because because apparently it was ‘lame’, and then she spilled beer on me and fell directly on her ass. It would have been entertaining if it wasn’t so sad. She also brought in tow with her a friend who kept insisting that her good friend was the opening act. I don’t have any direct evidence to prove that this isn’t true but, well, we were right in front of him and he never acknowledged her once. So she seemed a little stalkery. She also talked through a large portion of his set which means that if they are friends she’s kind of a shitty one. Anyway onto the music.

Randall Conrad Olinger

Randall Conrad Olinger was supposed to be the first act of three at this show. Unfortunately Samantha Crain had the radiator go out on her car and she wasn’t able to make it to the show. This put Olinger into an interesting position, he was now the sole opener, instead of going on at 8, he was going on at 9. Because of this he was playing for several hundred more people than he would otherwise have been playing for. It was a hell of an opportunity for a fairly unknown local musician and he absolutely killed it. Seriously, he just grabbed the ball and ran with it. If he was nervous, which he probably was, it didn’t show. He sang with passion and conviction and his set was great.

Now, I will readily admit that my estimation of great might be biased because I love, love, love slide guitar and he plays a mean slide. It just had the beautiful slide sound that cuts right through you and reverberates in your soul. It was the blues as the blues should be, on a steel guitar with a metal slide. I loved it. It spoke to me. However to call it just ‘the blues’ is an over simplification, the lyrical structure was more complex than standard blues and he wandered a bit into rock and folk and even bluegrass when he picked up his banjo.

His songs were well written, well played and delivered with conviction. I’d happily see him again, and as he is local, I’m sure I’ll get many chances to. Sadly he has no videos online so I can’t show you a live performance. However he does have a whole album over on Soundcloud. Go here and check it out.

William Elliott Whitmore

William Elliott Whitmore is not without his charms. (Which is an inside joke that people who were at the show will get. For everyone else, just laugh and pretend like you know what’s going on.) He’s also an incredible musician who you have to experience live to fully appreciate. His albums are good but they pale in comparison to the performances he gives because he puts so much of himself into them. He’s humble, personable, and just downright entertaining to watch.

About two or three songs into his performance he looked out into the crowd and said “If it will help ease the congestion out there I’m okay with some people coming up and sitting on stage.” For reasons that are obvious if you’ve ever spoken to a woman about a musician about 95% of the people who took him up on this offer were female. I considered it because it would have been an interesting perspective for the blog but I was already front and center so I figured it would be better to let some of the people further back have a chance to get closer. In the end there were maybe 20-30 people seated around him on stage. That’s the kind of thing that you just don’t usually see and it had an interesting affect on the atmosphere of the show. He went from being in front of the crowd to being within the crowd and it just felt different. Whitmore himself said that it felt more like he was playing on a porch or in someone’s living room that way and it definitely gave the show that kind of super small venue feeling. He certainly seemed at home in that setting and I get the feeling that he’s played a lot of living rooms in his day and that that is where he truly feels at home.

He’s extremely personable, grateful, and humble too. He shakes hands with the crowd between songs, he drinks with them after the show. He’s a one of a kind artist who truly seems to enjoy his fans as much as they enjoy him.

Whitmore simply doesn’t disappoint and, as he doesn’t seem to tour that widely that often, if you see that he’s going to be playing near you take the opportunity to go see him it’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

I could easily post every damn video this guy has but I’m going to stop at three.

This second song he told us is titled from a line in a Public Enemy song. He then told us about how much he loves Public Enemy and about the time he met Chuck D at an airport in Australia. I love that kind of cross genre inspiration.

And this one is just really damn good:

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Serenity Now

SHOW #45: Gregory Alan Isakov with Jeffrey Foucault at Chautauqua on 9/21/12

This is another post in which I write about someone I’ve seen before. I feel like there have been a lot of those but maybe I’m wrong? There have probably been less repeats than there have been originals but maybe there have just been a lot lately. I feel justified on this occasion though because, despite the fact that I’ve seen Gregory Alan Isakov twice this year already I’ve yet to see him headline a show so when I saw he was playing at Chautauqua I really couldn’t pass it up. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Foucault, who opened for him, so you see it really couldn’t be helped. Now, you might wonder why I’m justifying myself to you internet. It’s probably because I like you and I want us to be super best friends, or maybe I just needed a rambling intro to this post and justification was the best I could do. You’ll never know for sure internet what lies in the depths of my mind. Now on to the music.

A brief apology for a lack of completely grainy and terribly composed pictures in this post. I’m on a strange computer and can’t access them right now. I hope to get them up eventually.

Jeffrey Foucault

I really love Jeffrey Foucault, he’s the kind of solo artist that lives directly in my musical wheelhouse. Part folk, part country blues, all beautifully lyrics and haunting vocals. The man is just an incredible musician that doesn’t come to Colorado nearly often enough. I saw Foucault open for Chris Smither ar Swallow Hill a few years ago and he was so good that I went to the merch table at intermission and bought two of his albums. That’s a pretty rare thing, that music is so good I must own it instantly. In the years since he may have returned to Colorado but if he did he wasn’t playing in any place I was aware of so I haven’t seen him since. Which is a shame because I’ve listened to his albums many many times and they never got old. Fortunately for me he became friends with Gregory Alan Isakov.

His music is powerful, and moving and exceptionally well written. Several of his songs could just as easily be poetry, which, to me, is the mark of a great songwriter. If you could strip it down, take away all the music and put it on paper and people would still be moved. To me that is a well written song. Not that the words are all he has going for him. He also manages to get more sound and more power out of a single guitar than any man has a right to. The power of the guitar coupled with the beauty of the words leads to exceptional music, the kind of music that people everywhere should be listening to. Seriously, with as good as he is I have no idea how this guy isn’t more famous than he is. Even if he isn’t going to become more famous he should at least come to Colorado more because what he does will always be appreciated in the musical environment we have here.

I owe additional thanks to Isakov for a particular part of this show because one of my favorite songs by anyone ever is Northbound 35 by Jeffrey Foucault and before he played it he said that Isakov had played it during sound check and reminded him that he had written it. Had that not happened we would not have heard it and while the show still would have been good, I would have felt it was missing something. So, yeah, good work Mr. Isakov. And speaking of Northbound 35, you’ll find it embedded below. Hopefully you like it as much as I do.

Gregory Alan Isakov

So what can I say about Isakov that I haven’t already said before? The man’s music is transcendent, beautiful, and moving. It’s also about as serene as music can be. It often has this sort of other worldly quality that sets it apart from other music, It’s also got this unique sort of olde timey (yes, so old timey that the old gets an e on the end. )I think that part of this comes from the fact that Isakov, (if his website, stage props and album artwork are to be believed ) has a certain affinity for old things, turn of the century things, and that affinity shines through in his music creating this new yet old feeling to everything he does. It’s pretty wonderful.

I’ve said before on this blog that I wanted to see Isakov headline because I wanted to be in a room full of people that were there for his music when he played and that’s what I got at this show. The crowd was quite, respectful, and raptly hung on every note, lyric and word. Those facts alone made this better than either of the other performances I saw from him this year. Also adding to the performance was the venue. Chautauqua is just the right size for him, his voice and his music fills the space perfectly and it just fits. Which isn’t to say that he couldn’t impress at a larger venue, he can, but his music seems tailored to small and medium venues.

Something else that, I feel, attributed to this show was that it was a homecoming. He lives in Boulder, some of the people playing with him I’ve seen in other local bands. He was on his home turf, playing for family and friends as well as fans. Homecoming shows just have a certain quality to them, perhaps it’s the joy of being home after so much time spent on the road, perhaps it’s know so many people in the audience, perhaps it’s just the feeling of driving familiar streets on you way to the show or spending a night in your own bed. Hell, maybe it’s all that. All I know is that there is something about the homecoming show that puts it a step above the road show.

I feel like all of these words really amount to one thing. See Gregory Alan Isakov. See him soon. His music will move you and you’ll be the better for it. Seriously, I implore you to see him. Do it. Right now. If you can’t because you’re at home reading the internet then just to the next best thing and watch the videos below. Then go see him after that.

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The New Old Fashioned

SHOW #44: Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside with A. Tom Collins at the Hi-Dive on 9/16/12

Hey Internet, it’s…well it’s been a while. Don’t worry though, I wasn’t off writing concert reviews for some other internet that I like better. I just had a pretty hefty amount of time between my jaunt to that land of 10,000 humidity producing om my god is it really this freaking hot lakes and my next concert (that being this concert). I could have shoehorned one in but, well, I’m way ahead of the curve right now so I didn’t see a need to. Which doesn’t at all mean that I’ll be becoming lackadaisical I still intend to bring you concert reviews on a nearly weekly basis until I hit 52. At that point…I, I don’t really have a plan for that point. I guess we’ll see. I don’t think I want to stop though.

A. Tom Collins

So this is the fourth time I’ve seen A. Tom Collins this year. I wasn’t specifically seeking them out they just happened to be opening for another band that I like but I wasn’t going to pass up on a chance to see them again. Of course there is the inherent problem f, what do I write about? It seems like I’ve said all the superlatives. Incredible, amazing, outstanding, and many others. They all still hold true. I would readily say that this is my favorite band in Denver, surpassing even The Lumineers. They are just that good.

I suppose I could tell you some of the things I noticed at this show. Like, there needs to be more clarinet in popular music and the reason there isn’t more clarinet in popular music is because it is literally impossible to look cool while playing the clarinet. When the rest of the band’s mic aren’t up as much in the mix it takes away from certain songs. Aaron’s voice is incredible and soulful and he brings it constantly but the songs where the whole band gets together and wails out some repeating chorus are much better when you can actually hear everyone. They have a ridiculous amount of energy and a ridiculous amount of fun up there. These are people who simply love making music together.

Look, all I can say is see this band. If you live in Denver then you really have no excuse. If you’re out of state, well hell, I don’t know. Road trip it or go to you local small venue and demand that they bring them to you. They are that good. These guys should be sharing their music with the world and the world should be listening and dancing. If you like music at all you will love them. It’s really that simple. See them, listen to them, enjoy them, because they are making some of the best music out there.

Sadly there is a startling lack of these guys on YouTube so I’m going to go ahead and post the video I posed way back when I saw them the first time in January. Its still really good, so watch it again, even if you’ve watched it before.

Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside

It should be stated that following A. Tom Collins is a tall order and I always feel a little bad for bands that have to do so. Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside did a hell of a job though and even if their set wasn’t better than what came before it it was as least as good, which is still a hell of feat.

Sallie Ford is wholly unique, she doesn’t look, or act, or sound like anyone you’ve seen before and that is a wonderful thing. While I watched her up there it seemed to me that she belonged in some kind of movie, and 80s movie perhaps. But she wouldn’t be the main character she’d be the main character’s quirky best friend who never conformed or changed for some popular guy. No, she just embraced her quirkiness quietly in the background joined the band and then stole the final scene by being awesome. That really what Sallie Ford is in a nutshell. Awesome.

This is actually the third time I’ve seen Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside and I was quite pleased to see that their fandom has grown so much. The first time I saw them they were opening for The Avett Brothers at The Ogden and I liked them so when they next came through town and were playing at Benders I made a point of going to see them. Sadly, I was one of the few. I was at the show with, maybe five or six friends and side from us there may have been there or four other people in the audience. They still rocked it that night but the lack of a crowd made the show feel a little awkward. This night there was a much larger crowd and many of them seemed to love her music and everyone was into it. It really brought a good atmosphere to the show and she and the band, seemed to feed off of it.

They are actually a very good pairing with A. Tom Collins because each of them has a fresh take on old music. A. Tom Collins tackles classic rock with a bit of ragtime while Sallie Ford takes on 50s rock with a unique twist and lost of flare. Possibly the highlight of their set was their cover of Buddy Holly’s Oh Boy! though she did start the song by saying Buddy Holly was a square, which is something I can’t really get behind. Maybe he looked like a square but I don’t think he really was. In any case their cover of it was different enough to be theirs and good enough to disregard the comment.

In case you couldn’t tell I really like this band, so you should go ahead and go see them. Because that’s how this works. I tell you things that I like and then you go see them. At least I think it is, I mean, that’s the assumption I’ve been operating under. So, yeah. Watch the videos below, then go and see them.

First a slow one:

Then something more upbeat

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One Show at 1,376 Feet

SHOW #43: Wanda Jackson at The Minnesota State Fair

So I’m on the road this weekend visiting some friends in the too humid state of Minnesota. One of the reasons I came out here was to see the much vaunted state fair. It was high time I experienced stick based foods (though actually none of what we ate came on a stick) and watched several thousand people look at live stock. No life is complete with out it. While I was at it I figured I’d better check out a show too, because I owe you guys that much. A random State Fair show. Sadly my favorite Minnesota based band Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps played the Fair a full week before I arrived. It was a bit of a stretch to find someone that I was willing to make a friend sit through then I came across Wanda Jackson who is, apparently, a living legend of sorts. Albeit one you may not have heard of.

Wanda Jackson

When Wanda Jackson took the stage she exhibited energy that one would not expect from a woman in her seventies. She was decked out in a tassle filled shirt and pretty much immediately started rocking. Well, as much as she could. It’s very possible that she’s lost a bit of rock over the years but she still had a fair amount. She started the show by singing us all a song from 1958, which is kind of hard to even grasp. I mean, my parents were teenagers in 1958 (I think. Is it weird to admit that I don’t know my parent’s exact ages? Because I totally don’t.) Still yes, old old song.

She was singing Rockabilly which she was apparently one of the pioneers of being directly influenced and personally convinced by none other than Elvis to give it a shot. That’s how long this lady has been around. Elvis opened for her. Just consider that. That is old school. Really, really old school. She could still sing though. Maybe not as good as she once could have but she can still get it done. She sang rock, she sang country, she yodeled, she covered Amy Winehouse. It was very interesting and fun to watch.

She told us what seemed to be a hundred tales. Tales of people she knows, people she’d worked with. She told us of her being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, about her best selling album being produced by Jack White. About how he pushed her and made her better. It was great to hear all these little tales, even if they did mean we got fewer songs. It was just a fun little look into a career musician, someone who has never really know fame but kept at it and always loved it.

Of course there was an awkward moment when she sang us her a song which was apparently her only number one hit. Except that it was a number one hit in Japan, and it was awkward because it was a song in which she was comparing herself to an atomic bomb and the way that she leaves her lovers devastated the same way she devastated those two cities. How this ever got to be a big hit in Japan is beyond me but I have to assume it had something to do with being lost in translation.

Awkward racial insensitivity aside the show was fun and the stories were great so I’d say give her a shot, so long as you don’t have to pay too much to do so.

I’m on an unfamiliar computer that is confounding me with image loading so pictures will be uploaded later.

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Mumford and Son of a Bitch That Was Awesome

SHOW #42: Mumford and Sons with Dawes and Slow Club at Red Rocks on 8/28/12

Mumford and Sons at Red Rocks. I’ll write more than that but in the end that’s all that really has to be said. It’s the perfect combination for a perfect show and perfect it was. I haven’t seen Red Rocks like this in a while. The lower GA section was almost full before the first opener started. Over ninety percent of the crowd stayed until the last possible moment. Voices rang out into the warm summer air and people danced. Oh how they danced. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and it might even have trumped Pearl and the Beard for best show so far. I’m still on the fence about that though.

Slow Club

Slow Club was the first band to take the stage and as can happen at Red Rocks the people filing in and the buzz of personal conversation sort of distracted myself and a large portion of the crowd from their set. Their first song was very energetic and danceable and I liked it but after that first song they slowed things down considerably and it became harder to remain focused on them. Which isn’t to say they weren’t trying, they were, and what they played was pretty decent but it never fully won me over.

They were really working to try to get the crowd to participate, which is an admirable and understandable goal, but the crowd just wasn’t there yet so it never really panned out for them. I don’t know, I don’t want to say they were bad, I think that maybe in another setting I might have liked them a lot more but the buzz of the crowd and the fact that we were still so far away from the band we had all come to see resulted in them getting lost in the wash. I feel like I should have more to say here but I didn’t really get into what these guys were doing which means wither, I was too distracted to take notice, or they just aren’t my thing. Neither of those is the band’s fault. I’ll just go ahead and show you a video of them and you can judge for yourself. Mind you, it’s a video that focuses more on the folk than the rock that they gave us last night. As a result I really like it. So, you know, just disregard everything I said above. Except the listen and judge for yourself part. That part is still valid.


Dawes really won me over. Pretty much right away. Not that I was hostile toward them to begin with. I’m never hostile toward a band before I listen to them but they had such an honest sound that I couldn’t help but be swept up in their music. Their music was pure and technically impressive, they even jammed (which isn’t really my thing but delighted my girlfriend) but they didn’t overjam. Which is totally a thing a band can do. Overjam. It’s a technical term, that I’m not making up at all. It happens. What really brought their music home for me though was their lyrics and their heartfelt vocals.

I feel like I use that word a lot. Heartfelt. It’s often appropriate to music though, or at least it should be. Music should always, always, come from the heart. If it doesn’t you’re doing something wrong. The tricky bit is getting it to be heartfelt when you perform it. I have a feeling that that might be one of the more challenging things about being a musician, especially a singer. Opening yourself up, exposing that which is raw and rough and unwieldy and tapping it to make the words sound true and right each and every night. Dawes nailed the truth of their music at this show. I can’t be certain that they nail it every single time as I’ve only seen them the once but I can tell you that it was so good that I feel like I have to see them again. It was just that kind of performance, a fan making performance.

Halfway through their set they were joined by Marcus the lead singer of Mumford and Sons and they achieved a remarkable feat. That being getting the crowd to sing along with a song that most of them didn’t know before they started playing it. It was pretty impressive. There is always this great feeling of joy in my heart when the band stops playing and the crowd sings on. For an opening band to get that moment in front of that crowd was pretty great.

I’d highly recommend seeing these guys if you get a chance. Their songs are well written and well performed, and they are well worth checking out.

This was my favorite song they played last night:

Mumford and Sons

I feel like there isn’t a lot I can say here that hasn’t already been said about Mumford and Sons. At this point I think everyone is familiar with them in some sense. They are everywhere and seemingly loved by everyone and that love is justly earned. Their music is everything to good music should be. Some of their songs managed to be energetic, honest, powerful, and sad all at the same time. Their tempo shifts are sudden and beautiful and the perfect thing to get your feet moving. They are really just incredible. Astounding. Outstanding. Remarkable. They are all that and more. I’d easily say that this is the best Red Rocks show that I’ve ever seen and that anyone would be hard pressed to top it. It was just that good.

They played a lot of songs from their upcoming album and every one of them was good. I’d say that this is one band that isn’t likely to suffer the Sophomore slump that so many bands do. During the show thy apologized for the lateness of their second album but I really don’t think they should because the time they spent on it is the reason it will be good. Possibly not as good as their debut but that’s a tall order for a lot of bands and especially so for them. That’s because a band usually has years and years to perfect their first album but very little time to even write for their second. So to them, and every musician everywhere I say. Take your time, record when it feels right. As listeners we’ll be better for it.

Halfway through The Cave, which was the second to last song, I experienced a Red Rocks first. Confetti. As far as the eye could see confetti. It filled the sky and covered the crowd. It was a sight to behold and added a great cap to an already astounding night and an incredible set. It really seemed like that would be the end of the show. The Cave and Confetti is a great way to end but then this happened.

What you’re seeing there (Or what you would be seeing if my camera wasn’t terrible) is every member of every band that played that night. Taking the stage together. At this point, my girlfriend Lisa turned to me and said. Is it bad that I want them to play a cover. I certainly didn’t think so and neither did the bands because we where then treated to a joyous version of With a Little Help From My Friends. They played and sang the song with reckless abandon and the crowd sang along to every word. If there’s a better way to end that show and that night I can’t think of it.

I really feel like everyone knows Mumford and Sons by now but not everyone has seen them live and really, truly, you must. It’s the kind of thing that is so magical, so incredible that you would be loath to miss it. So don’t. See them as soon as you possibly can.

Two songs in closing, both of which you probably know:

This song here, well, this was probably the highlight of the night for me:

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True Blues

SHOW #41: Big Bill Morganfield with The Delta Sonics featuring Clay Kirkland at Swallow Hill on 8/24/12

Before I talk about the show I’d like to talk about Swallow Hill, because Swallow Hill is amazing. I’ve only ever lived in Denver so I don’t know if places like this are common in most cities but I really hope they are, because every community should have an organization like this. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of folk, roots, and acoustic music. They hold classes for people of all ages year round and they present unique musical experiences at several different venues all across the city. The Big Bill Morganfield show was at Daniels Hall in their main building. There are two venues there along with a small stage in a cafe that is used for open mics. Neither of the venues are large but they are acoustically impressive, delivering great sound every time. Possibly the most interesting thing about seeing a show at Swallow Hill, at least at their main office, is that the crowd is extremely respectful. No one talks during the show. No one. Yeah people clap and stomp and even sing along, but no one talks. This might be partially because they don’t serve alcohol so no one can get really rowdy. That means that no one is there for the party, no one is there for just another night out. Everyone is there for the music and it’s a beautiful thing.

Now, on to the show. I grew up on the Blues. My dad listened to the Blues (Muddy Waters especially) when I was a kid. In turn I listened them extensively in high school. This might also have been in part due to Adventures in Babysitting but was probably more my dad. I’ve always felt that you can’t truly appreciate any western music without also appreciating a little Blues, because the Blues is the foundation of it all. Perhaps because he was who I was most exposed to and perhaps just because he is an incredible musician Muddy was always my favorite. To this day I can still set my iPod to Muddy Waters (where there are 247 songs) I just get lost for hours. He was an incredible talent who seemed to deliver excellence on each and every recording. He inspired the Rolling Stones name with this song, his song Can’t Be Satisfied was reworked by them into Satisfaction, he was transcendent and infinitely influential. Granted he wasn’t the only one who inspired, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and many many others left a mark on the world of music that can still be felt and heard to this day. Sadly, Muddy passed away in 1983, when I was only 6 years old. So I never had the pleasure of seeing him live. So when the opportunity came along to see his son Big Bill Morganfield I felt like I couldn’t pass it up. Sure it’s not the same thing, and I knew it wouldn’t be, but it was a rare opportunity to see a bit of Blues legacy so I took it and Big Bill did not disappoint.

The Delta Sonics feat. Clay Kirkland

The Delta Sonics are a Blues band that is local to Denver and as far as blues bands go they are pretty good. At this point the Blues tends to be all about Solos because the music itself is so simple and formulaic. It’s a nice calm cool back-beat that the guitarists and harmonica players can play around in and play around The Delta Sonics did. Technically they are sound, they hit all the right notes and they solo with passion but, for the first few songs when their lead singer (A bald guy I couldn’t help but see as Bruce Willis) well, when he lead sang. I just didn’t get any passion from him, his vocals were hollow and weak and without soul. He just didn’t have a Blues voice and it just didn’t work.

After a few songs they let the lead guitarist sing a few songs and it was like night and day. I was especially impressed when the first song he sang was B.B. Kings The Thrill Is Gone and he absolutely nailed it. Once the guitarist started singing and the singer started playing that harmonica they became a wholly different and a much better band. The singer was an excellent harmonica player and it was while he played that his passion and love for the blues really came out. He sang other songs throughout the night but it never felt quite right when he was singing. I fell that, overall, the band would be much better served if he stuck to his true love, the harmonica, and left the singing up to the lead guitarist who exuded the Blues like few people I’ve seen.

Speaking of harmonica, another local musician Clay Kirkland, who is an incredible harmonica player sat in with the band and when he and the singer were both playing at the same time it was a thing of beauty. There was this beautiful back and forth play that was just breathtaking. Especially if you love the harmonica as much as I do.

In the end I don’t know how much I can endorse seeing The Delta Sonics. I mean, they weren’t bad but there are better blues options out there. Maybe they would be better served in a bar or a club where dancing was the primary goal because they do play good music. I don’t know, if you like the blues and you just want a fun night you should probably give them a shot. If you’re looking for something more then they probably won’t do it for you.

Big Bill Morganfield

So, first things first. Big Bill Morganfield is not his father, not that I was expecting him to be, but I’d imagine that some people go see him in hopes of catching a glimpse of the man that was. He is not that. The man that was. He is however very much the man that is and while he may not be his father he is certainly his father’s son in that he carries with him that same love and passion for the Blues. Big Bill played with The Delta Sonics backing him and he made it instantly clear that in the blues the front man is everything. I suppose you could say that of any genre, it’s not like Queen is the same without Freddie Mercury, but with Blues music being so standard outside of the solos you need a big voice and a big personality to carry things between solos. There is a reason, after all, that Muddy Waters is a well known name but a lot of the musicians he played with aren’t. That’s because the front man matters. The voice, the passion, the personality that is required to take a song over the top. Big Bill has all of these and he knows how to use them.

Half way through the concert I wrote the following note to myself: There are people that play the Blues, and people that are the Blues. He is the latter. A tried and true bluesman who gave everything to both his original songs and the songs of his father’s that he covered. Speaking of those covers I really liked that he made them his own, they were his father’s songs but he didn’t fall into the trap of just mimicking what each song was before, he tweaked here and there, and added his own vocal touches. It was fun to watch. If I had to choose, I’d say that I like Muddy’s voice more but comparign them isn’t fair because Big Bill has a great blues voice it’s just a bit of a deeper, gruffer, blues voice.

I don’t know that I have much more to say here. He’s good, maybe even great, and if you like the Blues at all you should make a point of seeing him because he represents something that there isn’t a lot of these day. An honest to god bluesman.

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Wrong Music for the Night

SHOW #40: Murder by Death with Ha Ha Tonka and The 4 On The Floor at The Bluebird on 8/16/12

I hadn’t expected to go to this show, in fact I was thinking that I might take the week off. Then I won tickets and, well, I can’t turn down free tickets when I’m on this quest. So I went to the show almost completely blind. I’d never heard anything by the headliner or the first opener but oddly enough I’d seen the second opener a few months back when they opened for Langhorne Slim. Unfortunately for me and my girlfriend, who was in attendance too, there was a lot of tired from (for me at least) a few too many late nights battling the triads. Because of said tired this review may have been compromised. So, you know, you’ve been warned.

The 4 On The Floor

As is somewhat standard at The Bluebird the instruments were too loud for The 4 On The Floor’s set. I’m not sure that they lyrics mattered all that much but it would have been nice to hear them. The reason I say I’m not sure thy lyrics mattered is because these guys were rocking out exceptionally well. They had this great blues influenced rock that felt very southern despite the fact that they hail from Minnesota. The guitar work was energetic and soulful and the drums had just the right groove to them.

Perhaps the highlight of their set was the lead singer. He is probably the only person I’ve ever seen perform that sings with his hands. They were all over the place, gesturing to the audience, pointing to the sky, indicating where his heart is. The gestures were big and sweeping and, to me, highly entertaining. Though I may have found them entertaining in unintended ways. Which is to say that I found them funny and I don’t think they were necessarily supposed to be funny. Even when he was playing his guitar and thus unable to sing with his hands he still managed to wring a ton of emotion out of his face and body language. Really this is one of the most emotive singers I have ever seen. Perhaps a little too emotive as it all seemed a little over the top.

Still this was a pretty decent band who I’d probably like to hear in recorded form at some point so I can see what words went with all those gestures. I also wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again, maybe in a smaller setting with better sound, because musically I really did like what they were doing because I’m a blues man at heart.

Ha Ha Tonka

Everything I said about Ha Ha Tonka before still holds true. They were still a ridiculous amount of fun to watch. They were still creating great harmonies. They still had way too much in the drum department. I honestly feel that this band would be greatly served by a simplification or reduction in their percussion. A smaller drum set, maybe some more creative percussion away from the drums like the Lumineers do. Because there is so much good in their voices that burying them beneath a cacophony of drums just seems like a waste.

Now, I would never suggest ditching the drummer because he fits in with the group and he adds to the vocal harmonies they create I really just feel like it needs to be lessened. If they would just focus more on the strings and the words they would be so much better. Of course there is a high probability that this is entirely my own bias because I hate excessive drums.

All my drum ranting aside you should still make a point of checking these guys out because they have so much energy and they create this infectious, fun atmosphere that will lift your spirits and get you moving. They are having so much fun in what they are doing that you can’t help but join in. So do. Do join in. Go see these guys. You’ll have a hell of a good time.

Murder by Death

I had no idea what to expect going in to Murder by Death, aside from an intriguing band name. I had a friend tell me that they were very good and that the lead singer sounded like Johnny Cash. They were also describe to me as Alt-Country with a Cello. These are all good signs. These are all things that I like. Perhaps I got my hopes up too high.

Full disclosure, I did not stay for Murder by Death’s entire set. So I feel like I can’t really judge them. I’m not going to say that they are bad because I’m almost certainly missing a lot of the information required to make such an assessment. However I will say that on this night this was not the right music for me to be listening to. In the half hour that I saw everything felt very one note and that note was slow and dour. There was some angst there, and while I’m not opposed to a little angst in my music there was just too much for me. Also the slow sad sound sort of piled on top of my sleep wanting mind and created this friendly little cocoon in which I wanted to curl up and pass out.

Another issue I had with their set was the sound, though in this case it wasn’t the drums, at least not exclusively, everything that wasn’t the cello was loud. So the cello was essentially inaudible which removed a layer from their music that I was very much looking forward too. You can’t really blame the band for that though. A bad sound mix is a bad sound mix and The Bluebird is famous for those.

In the end, despite the affect my lack of sleep had on my experience I don’t know if I would see Murder by Death again, they just aren’t my thing. It was just too much slow, too much rock, and too much dour for me. There were plenty of people there who love them though and maybe you, dear reader, will be one of those people.

It’s actually kind of frustrating that there is a ton of acoustic stuff out there by this band that I love like this:

But their performance was much more along these lines. It could have been a much better show: