Monday, October 09, 2006
When you go to a bluegrass concert and notice among the instruments onstage a fender Strat and a Fender Mando-caster, you know it’s gonna get jumpin’ at some point during the night. And jumpin’ is exactly what it got Saturday night at Spirit Square when Suzy, my sister Bonnie and I went to see Sam Bush.
Spirit Square’s McGlohon Theatre (named after Charlotte musical icon Loonis McGlohon – look him up) is a beautiful place, a converted Baptist Church that 25 years or so ago was turned into a 700-seat theatre, while keeping some of the beautiful stained glass windows (by Tiffany) for house lighting, great seating arrangements that make everyone swear there’s no way that room seats 700, and just generally fantastic ambience. The room sounds great for acoustic music too, although a sound guy has to work a little harder than normal with the electric numbers.
Jack Lawrence, Doc Watson’s long-time sideman and Charlotte resident, opened for Sam, and put on a nice mellow set with some great picking. Jack’s a real virtuoso guitarist and makes it seem effortless.
Sammy played a ton of tracks off his new album (Laps in Seven), which I think might be his best studio release ever, but there’s a couple of moments that stood out for me in particular. The Allman Brothers Band provided much of the soundtrack of my childhood, as my brothers and sisters were huge fans (I have nieces named Angeline and Jessica after Allman Brothers tunes. Yes, really), so halfway through “Bananas” I could tell Sam was getting ready to go someplace different, and when he hit the opening riff to Whipping Post, Bonnie and I went a little nuts, leaving my wife (who has not been a 30-year Allman Brothers fan) to look at us a little like we’re crazy. I get that a lot at concerts, though. He stuck the entire tune – though not the 11-minute Fillmore East version – into the middle of that instrumental piece, and absolutely tore it up.
Then he gave the band a break, except for Byron House (bass player extraordinaire) and picked up an acoustic guitar, which I’ve never seen him play in one of his Sam Bush Band shows. Byron picked up a bow for his bass, and they took a nice moment with The Ballad of Spider John, a Willis Ramsey tune first released by Jimmy Buffet and then by Sammy on his Glamour and Grits album. Spider John’s been one of my favorite tunes since I first heard it in high school, and seeing this arrangement with the bowed bass was really great. The mournful bass sounds fit perfectly with the themes of love and loss in the tune.
Other highlights were the Jean Luc Ponty stomper from the new album, New Country, which saw Sam doing serious overtime work on the fiddle, since it’s a tune for double-fiddle and Ponty plays electric fiddle, which is almost faster than Sam. The addition of Scott Vestal on banjo allowed the boys to do true justice to John Hartford’s Back in the Goodle Days and On the Road, and well and Scott’s synth-banjo fun stuff on Spirit is a Journey.
All in all it was one of the best Sam shows I’ve seen, ranking right up there with the Van Hoys Campground show from August 2001, where he blew the roof off the joint. Now you folks wanna come up and hang with me this weekend, cause the Duhks are coming to town Saturday night and that’ll be a Canuck kitchen party like you’ve never seen (maybe outside a Great Big Sea show).
Posted by John G. Hartness at 12:53 PM