Sunday, December 2, 2012
Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine
I find that I start to feel a little over-concerted towards the end of the year. I hadn’t seen a show since Halloween in a deliberate concert break, and I was so excited to see Brooklyn’s Spirit Family Reunion in early December. I caught their last couple of songs at the Newport Folk Festival last summer, and they were energetic and powerful and the crowd was totally into it. Here’s the recording of their set at Newport Folk Festival. I was determined to see them live at some point. I’d seen Trampled By Turtles twice—once by chance in Skagway, Alaska, which is a magical place, and again last year in Portland at Port City Music Hall. They also played last summer’s Newport Folk Festival. Check out their live set from the Paste Ruins at the Festival here. They are incredibly upbeat and talented musicians, and I enjoyed their exuberant energy both times I saw them. I thought this evening of music fell a bit flat, though. Maybe it was just me, because I’d gotten some troubling news from a dear friend earlier in the day, but also because I’d built my expectations for the show up too much in the first place.
Paste Magazine’s description of Spirit Family Reunion on their website is spot on. Spirit Family Reunion plays “homegrown American music to stomp, clap, shake and holler with. Ever since they started singing together on the street corners, farmer’s markets and subway stations of New York City, their songs have rung-out in a pure and timeless way. When Spirit Family Reunion gather to sing, there is communion.” SFR plays with warm and friendly energy, traditional American instruments, and genuine, raspy vocals that impress. I preferred their set, actually.
I found my way to PCMH after dinner at the new-ish Kushiya Benkay on Congress Street with Hedda, my friend from high school, and her husband, Kevin. I saw a young woman standing alone reading a book in the second row, saw space next to her, and went for it. Amanda (who works at the awesome Café Miranda in Rockland) was reading (and recommended) Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All. I ended up in a great pocket of fun and considerate young people and even saw Julie, who I’d met at an Audra Mae/Matt Nathanson show back in January. It was nice to have people to chat with—Hedda and Kevin were planning to come, but the show sold out before they got their tickets.
Spirit Family Reunion opened with “Leave Your Troubles At The Gate,” and I quite liked “To All My Friends And Relations.” I love the timeless instruments they play—banjo, washboard, fiddle, guitar, upright bass, and drum. Their voices are powerful and homegrown—perfect in their imperfections. It would be hard not to like them or to keep from stomping along. I don’t know the names of many of their songs, but I loved the one about walking with eyes open wide. They didn’t banter much with us (and I love banter), but the guitarist said how nice it was to come back to Maine “where my boots are made!” He held up his foot to show us his Bean boot, and I’m sure half the crowd (myself included) had on the same pair.
I LOVED “On That Day.” “Woody Guthrie” was great, and the fiddler took the lead vocals on “Green Rocky Road.” Woah. His voice is inspiring. Their banjo player has a completely unique power folk voice, too. Their sound is interesting and gospel and folk all at once. Check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert and this Boston Globe feature.
They played a quiet slow song after “Green Rocky Road” that I really liked. There was a pretty line in it, something like “you said that the freight train made a sound like my name.” They ended their set with a sing-a-long—“I’ll Find A Way.” It felt pretty good to sing along with the lyrics “don’t worry about me/I’ll find a way.” I think SPR is very much worth seeing live. There’s something organic about them that makes them extremely likeable.
The amply plaided crowd was really pumped for Duluth’s Trampled By Turtles. I liked “Victory,” “Sorry” (which was so energetic), and I loved “Widower’s Heart.” Amanda had moved up to the barricade just in front of me in a lucky move and offered me her spot when she took off early on her two-hour ride home to Rockland. I was pumped. There’s nothing like the front row.
TBT played “Valley” and the crowd favorite was definitely “Alone.” I should amend the word “played.” TBT shreds—they rock, they give their music all they’ve got. There is a lot of energy during the songs. I was hoping for some energy between the songs, though. I can’t remember anyone in the band saying much at all during their set and I found that kind of cold and disappointing in juxtaposition to their upbeat, super high energy songs.
They slowed their set down with “Beautiful” and brought it right back up again (and beyond) with “Wait So Long” which was the other crowd favorite of the night and is probably TBT’s best-known song. The guys had been lined up across the stage all night with their stringed instruments—Dave Simonett on guitar, Erik Berry on mandolin, Tim Saxhaug on bass, Ryan Young on fiddle, and Dave Carroll on banjo. They created a wall of sound. They left the stage and the audience was frenzied. They had left it all on stage—if they’d talked to us at all, I would have thought it was a phenomenal and well-rounded show.
TBT takes pictures of all of the crowds they play for. Here we are!
The audience was not going anywhere. They were pumped and so ready for an encore. TBT’s mandolin player Erik Berry took the stage alone and played a Christmas song for us as the beginning of the encore. The rest of the guys joined him for three more songs, and they closed with the lovely “Midnight On The Interstate” from their newest album, Stars and Satellites. Here are the lyrics:
Midnight on the interstate
And I didn’t feel so great
Until I saw the city
And I was younger
And open like a child
Man, it’s been a while
Since I felt that way
More and more I hesitate
‘Cause I don’t know
You didn’t want to celebrate
And I was an hour late
And you fell apart
Sometimes I change my mind
And I don’t have the time
No, we never do
Love and love and nothing else
It’s all I need”
I think it was wise for TBT to play a slow song at the end of the night. It was certainly the best way to calm down a very appreciative crowd and prepare us to say goodnight. They’ve been together for a decade now, so they have a solid idea of how to please a crowd. I said goodnight to the people around me as I took my leave for my own midnight drive on the interstate.