All words and photos: Mindy Barrett
Rare is the show that arouses no complaints from me at all. I’m naturally a bit of a “glass-half-empty (and also the liquid inside the glass is poison)” type of gal, to the extent that I have retroactively ruined shows for friends with even my most benign criticisms. I’ve torn apart shows that I’ve genuinely loved…perhaps because I’ve never learned to express my emotions properly. But that’s a whole ‘nother bag of beans.
I think I’ve already declared two other shows the best of 2011, so far. But deal with it, because now I’m saying this one was.
Opening act Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray are honest-to-goodness some of the most charming and alarmingly great musicians I’ve seen live. Their lyrics told the stories of young hillbillies paralyzed by the notion of success, ladies in loveless relationships with cities, and older hillbillies seeking safety from soothsayers. These topics could have come across as forced cliches of country music delivered by attractive hepcats riding the current wave of banjo enthusiasm. But instead they came across as clever, well-crafted, haunting little stories.
Miss Shevaughn has one of the most beautiful and powerful voices I’ve heard from a female vocalist. Nowadays every lady sounds like either Chan Marshall (indifferent and ethereal) or Joanna Newsom (maniacal and alien). No one assaults you with strength, loveliness, and the ability to sing in key. Miss Shevaughn did. I’m groping for the right comparisons, but I’ll go with Patsy Cline and Chrissy Hynde. Yuma Wray’s no slouch either, sounding a bit like an American Eugene Kelly.
Musically, they’re pretty darned skillful: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass drum, banjo, keyboard, harmonica, and finger chimes. All split between two people. The result is something a little like Blanche, a little like the Cowboy Junkies, and little like the dearly departed White Stripes (score one for Meg White if she was actually an influence on someone). They’d be a great compliment to These United States if the two ever toured together.
The Futurebirds are six unassuming young guys from Athens, GA, each more fresh-faced than the last (even the beardo weirdo on banjo). Guitars, drums, bass, and the first point in their favor: a pedal steel slide guitar. I have never been disappointed with one of those. I mean NEVER. They’re gold, I tells ya!
And this pedal steel player didn’t let me down. He might have been my favorite thing all evening, what with his finger-picking and nonchalant-beer-sipping. On account of this magical pedal steel situation, the banjo they busted out made a lot of since, rather than wreaking of irony. All of these instruments together created a fabulous little wall of twangy sound (a la Phil Spector, pre-murder. Also, twangy).
The Futurebirds were boisterous, they were full of boyish glee, and they were dancing around the tiny Black Cat backstage like some excitable Phish cover band (although they sounded nothing like Phish, thank merciful Christ). Vocals traded off between three of the six members, all of which sounded great. Maybe they didn’t strike me as profound as Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray, but they were incredible fun. I craved fried chicken and an IPA while they played.
What’s that a sign of? I’m not sure, but no band has ever made me hungry before. I suppose I mean to say they’ve achieved a nice mix of both marijuana- and BBQ-appropriate college-rock-alt-country-ness. For comparison: The Gun Club, The 13th Floor Elevators, Richmond Fontaine, and Wilco (if Wilco were ballsier). They’d also tour well with These United States.
Generally, I regret a lot of petty nonsense. But I bought both of these bands’ albums, and I don’t regret the loss of my hard-earned $12 in the least. How’s that for a glowing endorsement?