Happy Day Visitors Center
Boston Heights, Oh.
Fork in the Road
Lonesome as it Gets
You Can't Handle The Truth
Poor Boys Delight
The Glass Elevator? (Pandolfi Instrumental)
No More Leave You Behind
Dream You Back
The Way I See You Now
Deep Elem Blues
Webster defines "Teamwork" as:
"Work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole"
That definition could not be more apropo then describing the brand of bluegrass that The Infamous Stringdusters put forth on stage. They've been infamously absent from Ohio gigs for quite some time. So seeing a two set show in snowy Cuyahoga Falls was a superb treat.
The show kicks off with "Fork in The Road" from the debut album that received numerous accolades from the IBMA this past year. Jeremy Garrett's vocals emote a high lonesome sound with crisp emotion. Lead breaks from Chris Eldridge on guitar and Jesse Cobb on mandolin soar at the first lead break. These are answered confidently by Andy Hall's dobro. And the song kicks into high gear.
"Lonesome As it Gets" was next. The tune has an artifical start as Garrett slips one of the verses and stops the tune entirely. Consumate proffesionals, the band chuckles and jokes before launching into the tune once again with ferocity. The dobro work from Andy Hall glides across the top of the ensemble's sound with such grace and ease that you almost feel at times like the whole room is taking flight. As liftoff is acheived the teamwork kicks in and the lead is passed off to the next player in true bluegrass tradition.
Throughout the evening the band peppered the setlist with various new songs from their forthcoming album on the Sugarhill label due this June. "You Can't Handle the Truth" would definitely have made Jack Nicholson proud to have uttered the line, as it was a rollicking jam of a number with catchy lyrics.
Poor Boys delight and Starry Night are slower sweet numbers crooned over beautiful melodies with stunning leadwork from Andy Hall's dobro once again.
Chris "Pud" Pandolfi's instrumental "The Glass Elevator" (from the upcoming album) is a crystalline sounding number that swells with majestic lead runs throughout. His banjo work lays down a foundation for gusts of soaring leads from all personell. Garret's fiddle runs weave and bob around the banjo lines in and out and get passed off to Andy Hall whose dobro careens around the corner and lifts off causing the crowd to applaude hungrily. Back to fiddle runs for a short interlude and it's Jesse Cobb's chance to shine on the mandolin. The tune is now building with intensity. All members firingo n all cylinders. No particular person playing lines outside the rhythm....and the tune ends in synchronicity.
"Silence" features vocals again from Garrett. A song dripping with lyrics of regret and love lost, it sits right at home in the bluegrass setting. The tune seems to describe a failed relationship but uniquely it gives both parties the chance to explain their points of view in the verses. Pandolfi's banjo rolls nicely on the tune as it is coupled nicely with Cobb's mandolin work on duel leads.
It's at this point that the already properly lit fuse for this show reaches the explosive point. "Tragic Life" is another well written tune featuring a tale about someone running from the law and contemplating their own future demise. Garret's emotive vocals and the groups harmony are kicking in full gear on the chorus. The tune is literally a roller coaster as it moves forward. Fiddle and dobro swap lead lines back and forth, mandolin and guitar swap lead lines back and forth...over and over until numerous crescendos are reached. Chris Eldridge HAMMERED the song into submission with the most impressive solo of the entire first set. His guitar work here especially was nothing short of awe inspiring. EXTREMELY rapid fire picking to the point where you almost wonder if he's going to be able to bring himself to a hault when the rhythm comes back round.
The Dusters excel at riding the wave and the ebb and tide of instrumental breaks. Watching the teamwork that occurs when the band is in full swing on tunes like "Tragic Life" is a treasure to behold.
"No More You Leave Behind" rounded out the first set. The lyrics of the tune almost lead you to believe that the character fearing for his life in the tune previous somehow got away and lived to tell the tale and is heading home to his old flame. Straight forward slam the hammer down bluegrass.
This set in it's own right could have been the whole show. But I was all smiles as I picked up another cup of coffee and walked outside to check out the falling snow in beautiful Cuyahoga, anticpating another full set of bluegrass excellence.
Set two starts with the old timey sound of "I wonder". Vocal harmonies from Garrett, Travis Book, and Andy Hall are in fine form on the chorus. Flat picking from Ehldridge up and down the fretboard without one note out of place over and over.
The mandolin led instrumental "40 West" is a rip snortin number for certain. Pandolfi gets the banjo rolling again and lays the foundation for Cobb's mandolin and Hall's dobro to scale sonic walls numerous times. The key lick of "40 West" is a fierce run from the mandolin that at times is extremely piercing and is definitely the focus here.
Set the controls for high gear now. "Dream You Back" COOKS. Straightforward bluegrass played at a breakneck pace. The entire band shines here. Hall's dobro is literally stoking the fire daring the rest to move faster and faster with some of his finest work of the night. Ehldrige answers back with short bursts of fury. Fiddle lines thrown in....back to the vocals and a spot on finish.
After the fast insanity of the previous tune the band settles in for another slow number about regret, lost love, and past mistakes. "The Way I see You Now" is a vocal harmony led number. The harmonies hit very interesting points that at times seem outside the standard conventions of three part harmony but one can obviously see bluegrass tradition at work.
"Rovin Rambler" makes it hard to sit in my seat. Travis Book on the bass rumbles along nicely while singing the lead on one of my favorite tunes from the ensemble. His singing is just exactly right as it glides across the rhythm. Of all three singers in the band, it's Travis Booker that stands out for me, with phrasing and stylings that remind me of my affinity for John Cowan's voice.
Weary Hearts and Deep Elem are old time tunes that give the traditionalist in the crowd a chance to feel right at home while the lead lines from all parties climb the mountain one more time. Deep Elem is especially interesting as the band pairs down during the tune at various points allowing lead instruments to almost duet with one another as the song progresses. Mandolin and Guitar work are exceptional here.
No Resolution is one of my favorite tunes from The Stringdusters. The instrumental features several plateaus where once the band reaches them they can explore for periods of time before beginning the next ascent. Each time the crowd applaudes and off we go. True to it's title the song ends without resolution.
"Loving you" ties all the elements together. Superb harmonies, exceptional lead playing, and one helluva driving rhythm. The song ties traditional bluegrass sounds with a cutting edge exploration feel. It's tunes like this that in my opinion will define the future of this ensemble. Steeped in tradition but not being afraid to seek out the new. If the harmonies of this song do not get your attention the crescendo jam towards the end will ultimately COMMAND your attention. As they all rise up and the momentum builds precisely.....they slam right into the harmony chorus. One of the best played tunes of the entire show.
My Destination rounded out the set with more straightforward driving bluegrass focusing on the interplay between all lead players. Garret's vocals drive the tune nicely. However at this point I have to admit that I was still in the exploratory mode of the previous tunes. Not to worry as apparently the band was too. The encore quickly took us right back.
Moon Man was the song of the night. A brilliiant instrumental piece written by Pandolfi on their debut album that continued in the vein of exploration. The tune starts of with an almost classical feel with banjo lines from Pandolfi reminiscent of new school Bela. Andy Hall's dobro sings sweetly in answer to the banjo and you can almost envision a boat rolling cautiously through unchartered waters. With each step forward more confidence in the path becomes apparent and the intensity picks up until the hammer is thrown down and the ship and it's parties surrender to forward motion. There is no turning back at this point The dobro lines act like a beacon leading everyone up further and further and then Pandolfi brings em all home. The crowd applaudes...the path is chosen...all parties commit and the traditional bluegrass feel returns. Garret's fiddlework now takes COMMAND of the song. His lead lines here span numerous measures emitting numerous passages of notes in short paragraphs over and over. Upon his return to the rhythm the crowd erupts. The classical feel falls back in line.....and the song concludes.
Out into the snowy evening we roll all smiles.
Stellar evening with a band that will someday be a true giant in the bluegrass community and you would be hard pressed to meet a nicer bunch of folks for certain. I wish them all the best as their careers progress.
damn dude! that's a long review! will check it out when i have more time. where is boston heights?
Now that is a great review! Awesome job, Art, and many thanks for your words! Again...great review!