Friday Live Wire: The Devil Makes Three @ The House of Blues

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This was hands down one of the best concerts of 2013. Conditions were perfect: a balmy November evening just a few days before Thanksgiving, a crowd that was ready to have some good, slightly rowdy pre-holiday week fun, and two bands for whom it was in their nature to deliver the sort of experience their public requested. Ready, set, rock.

IMG_0217Alt-folk balladeer Shakey Graves (a.k.a. Alejandro Rose-Garcia) started the evening off with his signature brand of gritty, gut-wrenching tunes. His interests and influences may be Townes Van Zandt, Roscoe Holcomb, and Buffy Sainte-Marie among others, but the sound and stories he most often created were more reminiscent of the early delta blues flatpickers. Whatever the case, this is a man who obviously treasures the traditions of those who came before, and with an impressive attention to detail– and a good amount of natural musical talent– he has found sonic authenticity.

IMG_0222This attention to both sonic and aesthetic detail was evident throughout his performance: in the pre-war Kay arch top acoustic guitar he played, in the firey fingerstyle he employed on each tune, in the rough and ragged distortion quality produced by the vintage amplifiers on stage with him, and, of course, in his haunting and mournful vocal style. Add on top of this his tall, lean stature, stark manner of dress– wifebeater, dark-wash slim jeans, and smartly appointed stetson on his shaggy brown mane &  5 o’clock shadow– and the muffled sounds of his hardshell suitcase-turned kick drum reverberating off the walls of the cavernous hall, and you get a truly singular sound from a truly talented performer.

Later that night the main act appeared on stage to a rousing, hootin’-and-hollerin’-style reception from the near-sellout crowd fit to raise a barn or a 50 story skyscraper. And from there they  kept raising that barn higher.

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It was a romping, frenetic good time, led by the smartly-dressed trio of guitarist, guitarist, and stand up bassist, and assisted by an agreeable crowd hungry for some danceable, playful music to sing and roll along with. And quite the diverse crowd it was too with people of all shapes and sizes, tattoo/piercing preferences, and walks of life. Among the fray was also a contingent of hip, enterprising parents standing near me who’d brought their kids along to see their first live show. “Sure beats my first concert– Duran, Duran,” remarked one of the dads. As debatable as the family-friendly quotient of this concert experience was, the kids appeared to take it all in with wide-eyed wonderment (even if by “wide-eyed wonderment” I simply mean dumbfounded).

IMG_0249DM3’s joyful and bombastic mix of bluegrass, punk, and rockabilly sensitivities was infectious and the crowd was undeniably stricken. Their harmonies were calculated and fierce, their melody lines and breakdowns were clear and well-executed, and there was absolutely no doubt that they were having as good a time as we were. Guitarists Pete Bernhard and Cooper McBean often traded smiles, whoops, and yodels with each other and with upright bassist Lucia Turino who was herself a one-woman dance party–twisting, stomping, and moving with the best of them– all the while holding down the breakneck rhythms and beats (McBean also proved himself a whiz on the banjo and tenor banjo as well, complete with Guthrerian homage on its head that read “This Machine Annoys Fascists”).

Although they’d put out their third studio album earlier this fall, their set offered stories and sounds from all of their albums and EPs, and each song it seemed was given new life. They even threw a few covers in for good measure (their arrangement of Elvis Costello’s hit “Lip Service” was definitely a highlight of the night).

It was the sort of concert where by the end of the night the temperature inside was easily 30 degrees hotter than the city outside. It was a concert where strangers are made old friends in a matter of minutes by the nature of shared experiences, and by the end of the night there was no doubt we had just shared in something particularly special.

Listen Now!
– Shakey Graves – Late July and Roll The Bones
– Devil Makes Three – Gracefully Facedown and Hallelu

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Mr. Shakey doing his thing.
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that low, graveling, lonesome sound
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Mr. McBean on his devilish little tenor banjo

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without a doubt a rip-roaring good time.
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