Wednesday is a difficult day to have to play a show. It’s the middle of the work week, when the daily stressors of life are at their highest point and many a man’s internal monologue is telling him to do only what he needs to survive. But then of course, Wednesday night is the perfect night to break up the monotony of the work week and release some of that tension in a productive, positive way.
So why not bob your head, sway your sides, and get caught up in some dangerously addictive bluegrass?
On the coldest night thus far this fall, the Steep Canyon Rangers turned up the heat and keep it going for a good, long while.
Joy Kills Sorrow opened the show with a nice set of songs. They played mostly tracks from their recent EP Wide Awake including a great cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” with some older tunes woven in, and even a new one, “Won’t Let You Down.” They played a great set and made everyone feel comfortable, which was helped along by how much each member bore an uncanny resemblance to a friend of mine (for all I know my friends are way ahead of me in their aims to moonlight as professional musicians… got to get on that). Also, the mandolin breakdowns were fantastic. These days a good mandolin player is a must on the bluegrass circuit, and their guy Jacob Jolliff is no slouch.
Steep Canyon Rangers took over soon thereafter and lit it up straight through the 11 o’clock hour. Whereas many a-new bands, bluegrass or otherwise, make their name with flashy visuals, madcap instrumentation, and/or other cutting-edge or “out there” elements like style and appearance, SCR eschews all that with straightforward songwriting, modest appearances, and barn burning musicianship. It’s no wonder Steve Martin decided to collaborate with them on his most recent forays into bluegrass music– they’re the perfect bluegrass equivalent to the comedic straight man character, though not without their own sense of humor.
Every musician on the bandstand was worthy of his instrument and then some, though no one was more deserving of his axe than fiddle player Nicky Sanders, who spared no time in throwing down some amazing breakdowns. Dressed as he was in keeping with the band’s simple, everyman’s style points, he was unmatched in terms of full-bodied, expressive delivery of craft, kicking about and leaning in and out of notes (I’m pretty sure I even saw him once or twice jump a foot off the ground).
The band was like a group of guys that had gotten together one day to play a little bit of music on the front porch but never stopped. As comfortable as they were with each other, they had no trouble playing with others and seemed to relish in any opportunity to do so. During the set they brought on two local musicians, a pedal steel guitar player and a second fiddler, and they brought all guests back up on stage for the encore. A fitting end to a warm and inviting evening of music.