Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Music in Boston (And Nearby), Summer 2017

I try to organize my trips east in such a way that I'm able to catch at least a few good concerts. This time there were so many to choose from that I ended up missing artists like Dead & Company, Ellis Paul, Cloud Cult, Huey Lewis And The News, Aimee Mann, and Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin, all of whom were playing in the area, and all of whom I would have loved to see. But I did see Josh Ritter, Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars, Air Traffic Controller, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band.

Josh Ritter

I got to Massachusetts very late on the 14th (or very early on the 15th, depending on your politics), and the first concert of the trip was on the 16th in Derry, New Hampshire, at a place called Tupelo Music Hall. It was the first time I'd been to a show at the venue's new location. The place was nice, and had a relaxed atmosphere, but the stage lights for some reason were not very bright. Lots of deep blues, which tended to create a distance between the audience and the band, and also made some of us rather sleepy. Both Josh and opener Amber Rubarth delivered good sets to an appreciative audience. For me, the energy was a bit low, but several people were dancing, so the low energy might have been from me rather than the band. Either way, it was still a good show, and Josh played my favorites. His band included Mark Erelli, and toward the end of the show Mark sang lead on a song, which was cool. I didn't write down the set list that night, but rather just enjoyed the music.

Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars

My girlfriend and I attended two concerts on June 24th, the first being Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars at the Plough And Stars in Cambridge. Though billed as a CSARs show, the band was basically the Country Pleasures duo, with just the addition of trombone, and with Emily on vocals for certain songs. Things are loose in the summer, Josh explained before the show.  See, the lineup of the Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars changes from show to show, depending on who's available for a particular gig. That's part of the charm and excitement of those gigs. I love what Josh and Mark Earley do in the Country Pleasures, so I saw the lack of a lot of musicians as a positive thing. They did two sets, kicking off the first at 4 p.m. with "Baby What You Want Me To Do," followed by "France Blues" and "Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses." Mark Earley then chose "Sittin' On Top Of The World." Emily joined them on vocals for "Rockin' Chair Money" and "Jackson," the latter featuring a playful mock fade-out. The first set also included "Sugar Mama," "Stewball," and "You'd Better Mind." Emily then returned to sing on the last two songs, "Sweetest Waste Of Time" and "Step It Up And Go." The first set ended at 4:55 p.m., with Josh joking about the band's name, conflating Country Pleasures and Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars.

Josh said they'd be back in fourteen minutes, and thirteen minutes later they kicked off the second set with "Bright Lights, Big City." During "Long Way From Home," the trombone and harmonica sounded so damn good together. They followed that with "Outside Blues." We left partway through the second set in order to get to my brother's house early for the second concert of the day - Air Traffic Controller.

"Baby What You Want Me To Do"
"Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses" 
"Rockin' Chair Money"
"Outside Blues"

Air Traffic Controller

My brother hosts a series of house concerts in Billerica (outside of Boston), and during this trip Air Traffic Controller did an acoustic show there. I'd seen Air Traffic Controller a couple of times before, but never the acoustic version of the band. For this show, they were a four-piece band (Steve Scott wasn't there). It was the night before the official CD release show for Echo Papa at The Sinclair, but the CD was available for those of us in attendance, and they played some of the new material. They opened the show, however with "Pick Me Up," a song from Nordo. The first set focused on selections from the band's 2016 release, Black Box. From that album, they played "What You Do To My Soul" (with Adrian on mandolin), "Get It Over With," "Water Falls" and "Island." "Island" actually ended the first set, with Casey performing it solo. They also did "This Road," with Dave first mentioning, "This is a song that was written while driving," revealing it's about nearby Route 3. Before Casey played "Island," Dave said they'd play new songs in the second set. "We're going to go out to the van and learn them real quick."

They opened the second set with "Doubt," a song from the new CD, and followed it with a couple of favorites from Black Box: "People Watching" and "The House," the latter of which is one of the most ridiculously catchy songs I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. And it worked just as well in an acoustic setting. In introducing "Ready Or Not," Dave told the audience that it's not a breakup song, though many people think it is. "It's a let's-try-to-keep-it-together song." They followed that with a really nice version of "Warrior," before playing some more songs off the new album, including "It's You," "Live In" and "After Party." They also played "The Work" (I love Casey's work on bass on that one) and "Bad Axe, MI" (with Adrian on harmonica), and ended the show with "Are You With Me?"

(By the way, I picked up the new CD, and it's really good.)

"Water Falls"
"You Know Me"
"You Know Me"
"The House"
"Bad Axe, MI"

Yonder Mountain String Band

On June 27th, my brother and I headed up to New Hampshire for an outdoor concert by Yonder Mountain String Band. The show was part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. The music was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with Tyler Childers doing an opening set, but you could put blankets down starting at 3 p.m. On the way up, we drove through a hard rain and saw lightning in the distance. But the rain was supposed to stop by 7 or 8, so we weren't worried. When we arrived, a little before 4, it was raining, but several people had already staked out territory with blankets and chairs. Surprisingly no one had claimed the very front, so we put our blanket there, holding it down with several rocks we found in the area in case a strong wind accompanied the storm. Then we went off to get some dinner and beer at a local brewery, and to get dry.

Tyler Childers started his short solo acoustic set at 7:20 p.m., and I was particularly impressed by some of his lyrics. Several times during his set, certain lines grabbed me. And the rain had stopped. Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at 8:09 p.m., kicking off their set with a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues," leading straight into "Kentucky Mandolin," which featured a delicious bass lead and then a mandolin solo. There were some sound issues with Dave's microphone at the beginning of "Just The Same," but it was still a good version. As at the Troubadour show I saw recently, the band did several songs from their new album, Love. Ain't Love, which was released on the 23rd, playing a really nice "Bad Taste," "Last Of The Railroad Men" and "Take A Chance On Me." Dave introduced "Take A Chance On Me" by clarifying for the audience that it was not an ABBA song. During "Only A Northern Song," we could see lightning behind the band, and it wasn't long before the rain started to fall. And then suddenly it was announced the show was over, they had to shut down because of the lightning. It was 9:06 p.m., and so this was by far the shortest Yonder Mountain concert I'd attended. People were surprised, but everyone seemed to understand that it wasn't worth the risk to continue playing.

Tyler Childers
Yonder Mountain String Band

Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band

Josh Lederman, in addition to Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars and The Country Pleasures, leads a brass band called Be Nice Or Leave. On June 30th, they played at Bull McCabe's, which used to be Tir Na Nog, a venue where Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos often played (yes, I saw some excellent shows at this location). The band took the stage at 9:34 p.m., and during the first number, the cymbal attempted an escape. It didn't get far, and the band then played "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," followed by "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." The first set was a lot of fun, and it ended at 10:15 p.m. After a twenty-minute break, the band came back for a second set, which was even better and included "I'll Fly Away" and "Oh, Didn't He Ramble," as well as a fantastic rendition of "Blue Monk." Toward the end of the set they did "Down By The Riverside" straight into "This Little Light Of Mine." The second set ended at 11:21 p.m., with Josh saying, "Go Sox." The Red Sox were in extra innings at that point, and Josh said they'd play until the game was over. The Red Sox would win that game in the eleventh inning, but my girlfriend and I left after the second set.

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