We ran into Amy Helm outside before the show; she was trying to get in the locked back door and we pointed her around to the front door. I asked her if they were planning to play Ripple that night ... if you don't know the American Beauty project they did with such musicians as Jim Lauderdale, Larry Campbell, and Teresa Williams (at their last concert, Aoife O'Donovan sat in for Teresa!) then you have to hear it ... and she replied nicely that I should request it of Fiona.
Went inside and had a vegan dinner, talked with our table-mates, and waited for the band to come on. They came on and blew the place away. They opened with You're Gonna Miss Me and their incredible cover of Dirt Floor from their new record; they did Ain't No More Cane, a lovely All Heaven's Pearls sung by Byron Isaacs, a soulful new song by Glenn Patscha that evoked a New Orleans vibe; and just made music that came directly from that place good music comes from ... they even jammed into John Lennon's I've Got a Feeling for a few choruses in the middle of a song. Fiona McBain sang her great new songs, When I Remember to Forget and Wait For the Sun (possibly my favorite on their new album), and Tony Leone came out from behind the drums ((with some difficulty) while Amy traded off with him and did an excellent job) to sing the great Taj song, Lovin' In My Baby's Eyes.
And it just got better from there. Byron sang Brotherly Love, Glenn did an inspired Jesus On the Mainline (the first song of theirs I heard on the radio and made me run not walk to get their first record), Fiona sang the whining, spooky murder ballad Butcher Boy, Amy rocked our world with Soul of a Man, and then they wound up their set much, much, much, too soon.
I hesitate to critique them at all because any gushing praise I might give to one of those amazing musicians would slight the others and that's one of the incredible things about their band, that it's so well balanced ... and balanced at the highest level. One can't help but compare them to The Band, partly because of Amy's pedigree and partly because they attack songs with the same fervor, like they invented Americana music. The also have great musicians and great voices in every seat, like The Band did.
But the wonderful part for me was when they did their encore and Amy had apparently passed my request on to Fiona, who did a sterling Ripple. People sang along some but I think they didn't want to ruin the spell with too much crowd participation. And then of course they couldn't leave us without just tearing down the rafters with Before This Time ... the five of them singing as hard as they could. I *have* to see those guys again soon!