Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Battlefield Band at the M&T

On Friday we were excited to go to the Me and Thee to see the Battlefield Band.  Normally intense trip on 128 to get there, and then absolutely madhouse-level crowds and traffic in Salem.  Here's a hint, don't go anywhere near Salem MA on the Friday before Halloween unless you're wearing a costume and want to wander aimlessly around.  But we got to Gulu-Gulu and got a fine crepe and some fine beers, then got the heck out of town and wound up in Marblehead.

No opener but Battlefield Band gave us two full sets of absolutely superb Scots music (note American use of the word "set," not Celtic).  The church was about 75% full, which was a much better crowd than we expected, but we got good seats in the third row.

Besides Mike Katz, their normal piper, their new member Ewen Henderson picked up the bagpipes off and on during their two sets and this was the highlight for me: hearing a duet of two instruments that I rarely hear and, when played well, are at an apex of the wind instruments.  Alasdair White was extraordinary on fiddle and whistle, but I would have loved to hear him play the bodhran too.  Another wonderful feature for me was Sean O'Donnell's style on guitar.  He had a finger-pick on his thumb but usually strummed with his other fingers and then hit a drone note with the pick.  This was not a rock or bluegrass style at all: his right elbow was at or below the middle of the guitar rather than held up high and he was almost pulling down on the strings rather than pushing them away.  He strums were always below the soundbox and he had just one pick-up, right in the middle of the sound-hole.

Here's a video Sarah took starting with Katz playing a wonderful bouzouki and Henderson on the pipes, then the dual bagpipes effect ... but listen to that goddamn guitar!

They didn't cook any squid on-stage, but they could have:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Zoe Muth in Cambridge

We were back from Maine early and so at the last minute were able to go see Zoe Muth at Club Passim.

Parking was a bitch ... Cambridge has decided to make the spaces around the common into resident parking for some ridiculous reason.  Where's Scott Brown when you need him?  There was a dirty old van with Washington state plates taking one of the best places and I figured they were tourists and would move soon ... then I realized that was the "tour bus" of the band we were going to see!

I finally found a spot and met Sarah across the street from Passim and then we sidled in there past a rude truck that was almost blocking their entrance.  Geez, the Boston area in the Fall can get very crowded.  We had our "usual" table and sat own at 7:?? or so for another crackerjack vegan meal and extremely limited beer selection.  They're so cute.

Anyway, then the band came on and were really fun and really friendly.  As I've commented before, her mando player (Ethan Lawton) is close to the top echelon to my ears.  Mike McDermott on bass had a funky hat and a few good runs.  Greg Nies on drums mostly played brushes but his timing and cymbal clashes were excellent.  Stell Newsome played some kick-ass telecaster ... nice old guitar ... and got some great sounds out of it, especially strumming the rhythm while Zoe crooned.

And boy did she croon!  Zoe writes and sings songs that are essentially straight-ahead country but she does them in a style that perhaps isn't as accessible as a Merle Haggard or (Dog knows) a modern "country" star. She looks to get at the feeling inside them and I think she gets there remarkably often.  At some moments last night I felt she really succeeded at elevating the song and the souls of all who cared to listen the way a Haggard or Williams would do.  She mumbles and slurs and skips over syllables and it's great, captivating, sincere stuff.  Go hear her!

The set list was great too.  She kills Dock Boggs' Country Blues on her new record, which is hard to do since it's been recorded by so many people, and they did that live even better than on the recording.  She did the "hits" like Walking The Line, You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying, Let's Just Be Friends, If I Can't Trust You With a Quarter, and Moonlight Hotel.  The band left her alone for two beautiful solo tunes (I can't believe I can't remember the second of them, which was just incredibly moving), and then they finished the set with her outstanding cover of the classic Get It While You Can, and my favorite song of hers, I've Been Gone.

Back for a quick encore and then off to the night.  They've been on the road for a while and I, for one, really appreciated them stopping by Cambridge!