Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cold and Hard Working Americans

Again I say, if you haven't heard [exciting new band], stop reading and go listen to them immediately.  In this case it's Hard Working Americans, an incredible band that's even better than the sum of its very talented parts.

It was formed around Todd Snider at Bob Weir's TRI Studios.  As Snider said live on WUMB yesterday, "I've been a folk singer for years.  I wanted to be a band leader and play music people could dance to."  The lineup is Snider on vocals and harmonica, Neal Casal on guitar, Dave Schools on bass, Chad Staehly on keyboards, and Duane Trucks on drums.  It was one of those wonderful things for me when I heard a track by them on the radio and said, "Who's this??" ... and then I heard another and I was in love with this band.  And then I saw that they were playing the Brighton Music Hall on January 24th, and you'd better believe I got tickets as soon as possible.

The core guys in Hard Working Americans are supplemented on their record by John Popper on harmonica, John Keane on guitar and banjo, and Jason Crosby on fiddle and piano.  And last night they were joined by Jesse Aycock on guitar and lap steel.  They're basically a cover band at this point (but what song choices and what great covers!), though some of the covers are covers of Todd Snider tunes.  They have such great talent in the band, and I sure hope they stay together and write some songs for themselves.

After a routine drive into Allston on a Friday rush hour, I found a parking space just a block from the Music Hall and dashed through the very cold evening over to Deep Ellum.  We've been having another cold spell in Boston and it was down to single digits already.  I grabbed the second-to-last table and Sarah showed up soon, as well as many, many others.  By the time we finished dinner (and some excellent cask-conditioned Jaipur IPAs from Thornbridge Brewery) the place was totally packed with people younger than us, some of them also gushing about the HWA show they were about to see.

We bustled over to the hall soon after the doors opened, with a stop at the car to warm up.  We grabbed some wall space over to stage left and the place filled up quickly.  Caroline Rose opened with Jer Coons accompanying on stand-up bass.  She did some great original gospel/confessional blues, though the place was just abuzz with excitement about the main act.  Then HWA came on and were as good as we'd all anticipated.

Don't know where to start here.  Snider was singing with the expression of an opera star, but the funk of a swamper.  Schools was not playing his Alembic bass (a Fender??), but was rocking those low, booming notes and dancing on the fretboard.  Casal and Aycock were crackling like fireworks on the guitars, Staehly was laying down a beautiful groove on the keys, and Trucks was a madman on drums.  He had some of the biggest cymbals I've ever seen and knew how to use them.  Snider was definitely the leader in terms of what songs they played with what style, but Casal was the rhythm leader, keeping eye contact with everybody in the band and strumming the beat.  These guys are pros.

Here's the setlist:
  • Down To the Well
  • Train Song
  • Blackland Farmer
  • Another Train
  • Is This Thing Working
  • Run a Mile
  • I Don't Have a Gun
  • Mr. President
  • Welfare Music
  • Straight To Hell
  • Mountain Song
  • Stomp and Holler
  • She Belongs To Me
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Guaranteed
Boy, these guys *know* the Great American Songbook.  In the WUMB interview, AlbertO asked them to play one last song and Snider said, "What do you want to hear?"  Albert asked for "Alejandro [Escovedo]" and Snider said, "Well, 70s or 80s" ... and Albert asked for "Van."  Snider said ok, told Casal the chord sequence, and the pair of them whipped off a soulful Gloria like you wouldn't believe.

I moved up front for the encore.  A fine-looking woman complained that I was taller than her and now was standing in front of her.  I offered to trade places and she declined, a little embarrassed that she'd spoken up.  So I grabbed her by the shoulders and we did the dosey doe so she was in front and I was in back.  She was delighted.  Then the band came out and did an incredible Dylan cover and then knocked us dead with the song I most wanted to hear, Welch and Rawling's Wrecking Ball, a masterpiece of American road/life/Weltschmerz/mystery.

We cheered and cheered and then they came out for a second encore.  I think the band was delighted with their reception ... there was certainly not a person in the house who wasn't delighted.  They rewarded us with another Todd Snider original.

Sarah took some excellent pictures:

In case you haven't already taken my advice and listened to these guys, here's their video of Stomp and Holler:

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