All Outlaw Roadshow art is done by incredible artist and friend Frank Germano of Man on Fire Designs.
Last week, I went to NYC for CMJ. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life convincing myself that it really happened, despite all of the proof that it very much existed. From the moment my husband and I caught the Amtrak in Ashland, KY (a city we’ve only known for its hospital, previously), everything seemed to become magical. We had a wonderful lunch on the train with a very kind couple who wound up being Joanna Newsom’s parents (we really enjoyed your company, Bill and Chris!)– which wound up being a pretty phenomenal beginning to a long, strange trip.
As a writer, I’m having a hard time knowing which details to include and which ones to leave out– I want to talk about everything from the train food to searching for Banksy art (we found it!). But as a music reviewer, I know that the experiences I had with bands and at the Outlaw Roadshow showcase are what you’re here to read. So I’ve decided to break this into a few posts: first, by day, I’d like to discuss the showcase itself; then I’ll also be devoting individual posts to a few bands and their records (black books, Daniel and the Lion, Tallahassee, Golden Bloom, one of my old favorites Runaway Dorothy, and maybe a few others). I also had the incredible fortune of getting tickets to the Long Winters show at the Bowery Ballroom, which was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I’ll review it separately.
All right. No further adieu…
One of the most unreal moments of the trip for me: listening to Counting Crows rehearse before their club show at the Bowery Electric later that night. Photo Credit: Daniel Pingrey
The Roadshow is unique because Ryan and Adam have created an environment that not only encourages creativity through friendship and mutual admiration, but because all of the music that comes out of it is so ridiculously good. One of the first moments of the actual Roadshow, for me, was realizing that we were going to be watching filming for private Ryan’s Smashing Life sessions. Tallahassee came in early– usually not a productive time for a rock band– and blew us all away. I immediately fell in love with the swaying “Old Brown Shoes” and the incredible cadence and vocals in “Minor Blues IV.” In fact, their new record Old Ways was the first one we bought when we got home. I’ve already listened to it over and over. The electric guitarist, Scott Thompson, is one of the most interesting guitarists I’ve seen in a long time: he’s steady and consistent, sure, but he also knows when to put a face-melting solo into a song. I am surprised and delighted every time I listen to their songs. Vocalist Brian Barthelmes has one of the deepest, most comforting voices I’ve heard in a long time. But what really makes Tallahassee special is the harmonies. I am absolutely floored by how good this band is.
Here is one of the beautiful songs we were listening to in the Garden while Ehud Lazin filmed: Tallahassee “I Try” (originally from www.rslblog.com)
We also had the pleasure of seeing Daniel and the Lion play three times (four, if you count just hanging out after the show– probably my favorite version of “Don’t Let Me Down” I’ve ever heard, though my 4 a.m. memory may be fuzzy…). Monica from PHOX was there to sing with them, too– and my God, does she have a voice. I actually recorded one of their live sessions on my voice memos on my phone (sorry guys, it was “Free Love” and I’ve listened to it a hundred times, starting on the train home). I can’t begin to discuss how good the band was– though it’s hard for me to talk about the music without talking about what great guys they are. Here’s where it gets tricky to talk about the Roadshow: the music is so good, I want to run in the streets and hand out records. But the people I met somehow trump everything I heard. I don’t know how Ryan and Adam attract so many wonderful people to the same place, but it was incredible. Thanks again for adopting me into the Roadshow family.
If I hadn’t heard stories that Jimmy Linville had to train himself to sing, I would say that his voice is something other worldly– it seems to be so natural and so pure. He’s got an incredible range, and it’s perfect for the thoughtful music they make. His voice is just so effortlessly gorgeous. Andy became so obsessed with “No Ghost” that I’d say it became the song of the Roadshow for us. Incredible writing, incredible sound. Perhaps my favorite part of Daniel and the Lion, though, is the piano– I am a sucker for keys, and Daniel Pingrey is an incredible pianist. He seems to always know when to come in and play (sometimes even literally, just turning up at the piano when everyone was horsing around). They played a one-on-one session, the VIP show, and then downstairs at the Electric. I probably would have sat through three or four more shows of theirs, even with all the other good music that was going on.
Daniel and the Lion, “Death Head” // Originally published at www.rslblog.com, thanks to Ehud Lazin
The one-on-one Outlaw Roadshow sessions were so good, it was almost hard to leave and go down to the Bowery Electric, where the showcase was taking place. Once we got there, though, it was amazing: there were posters up from old punk shows and two stages set up, one larger one downstairs and one upstairs. Both stages featured shows I’ll never forget.
Thursday night, Fort Frances kicked off the roadshow. They’re a phenomenal band out of Chicago, and I was surprised by how good they sounded in the basement of a small club. David McMillin’s voice has a classic sound– it would have fit in with the singer/songwriter voices in the ’60s and ’70s. That said, the band knows how to adapt their sound (which is beautiful and melodic) to rouse a club crowd: their live set is rocking and electric. Fort Frances is a versatile band, and it was one hell of a way to start (“start”) the Roadshow. Here’s my favorite song of theirs, “Ghosts of California.”
Here’s another problem in recapping an Outlaw Roadshow– absolutely every band there is incredible in some way or another, but there are thirty of them all together, and eventually, that gets old. So what I’m going to do is write brief reviews of the ones that made my hair stand up or really did something spectacular. This doesn’t mean that the other bands weren’t great– they were. But often, bands played at the same time, or sometimes, I had to go get some fresh air, and I’m sure I missed some moments of magic. (Seriously, overwhelming trip.) Here are a few more of the bands that really blew me away that night:
The biggest surprise of the evening was the (difficult to spell and pronounce!) Evolfo Doofeht, which it winds up, is one of the best funk bands I’ve ever seen. It was thrilling to see such a huge band on such a small stage, especially one that brought so much brass. But what was more thrilling was, despite the fact that I was exhausted and had actually found one of the few seats in the place, I didn’t sit for a single song. I was completely overwhelmed by the saxophone. It was intoxicating.
Nakia also had a stunning set, but I’ll talk more about his in the Friday recap– his one-on-one session was incredible. Another standout of the evening was Toy Soldiers, who have one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard in some time. It was rock, it was Americana, and I think it might have also been rockabilly. I was captivated. They had complete command of the stage, and it was incredible to see such a young band hold a crowd in their hands like they did. What was even more surprising (and this was the case for many of the bands, but it seemed obvious with Toy Soldiers) was how many people in the audience knew every word and sang along. Don’t take my word for it, though– check out “Tell the Teller.”
By that time of the evening, it had leaked out that Sonic Cow Grunt (if you enlarge Frank’s poster above, you’ll see them listed) was actually the Counting Crows, and the concert was getting packed. I’d wanted to see a Counting Crows club gig since I was too young to get into a club (but old enough to pirate the old Shim Sham shows!). It didn’t disappoint. I know the Counting Crows need no review at this point in their career, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that they are still one of the most impressive, most captivating bands of our time. Adam is still one of my all-time favorite frontmen, and my God. The new songs.
That’s right. New songs. We’ve all been waiting for this, and your wait has been rewarded with some of the best new songs I’ve heard in a long time. Any of us who were there have been singing the backup vocals to “Scarecrow” for a week. I’ve never had a hard time picking my favorite Counting Crows record (“all of them”), but it looks like the next one will be a perfect addition to an already perfect body of work. As usual, Charlie’s piano was gorgeous and well-placed– even in the songs they’re still working on, you can see where it’s going to work. It’s just incredible to watch masters work from so close.
This was the best shot I could get– as I am a very short woman and it was a very flat floor, haha.
All right. So that was Thursday. I’ll update with Friday and Saturday soon. Until then, check out these bands, fall in love the way I have, and I’ll bring you some new ones later this week.