Thursday, August 06, 2009

Concert Review: The Big Surprise Tour

Last night, I went to the House of Blues to check out The Big Surprise Tour, a bluegrass-themed show (Well, not technically bluegrass- folk/Americana/alt-county would be a more accurate categorization) with four acts: Justin Townes Earle, The Felice Brothers, the Dave Rawlings Machine featuring Gillian Welch, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Each act played their own set and were eventually joined on stage by the rest of the performers, so a lot of the show was essentially Gillian Welch and Thirteen Dudes. I hadn't been to the House of Blues before, and basically, it's a roomier verison of Avalon. I was kind of surprised that they tour down the Avalon and Axis and spent a year to build something that looks... just live Avalon.

The show opened up with Justin Townes Earle (the son of Steve Earle), who played a fun, high energy, old-timey set. His act had a timeless quality- the tall, lanky Earle, dressed in a suit and performing traditional Americana music would seem just at home on a Kentucky stage in the 1950s as he was in Boston in 2009. He clearly relishes being on stage, in a good way- he chats with the crowd and brings other musicians into the fold with ease.

The Felice Brothers came on next, and although I like some of their songs, they didn't meld well into the lineup- their music was by far the most indie of the night, and the slower songs zapped the energy from the crowd. It didn't help that there was a long break after their set. They did have an cool accordian player and an entertaingly spazzy violist/washboardist.

Next up was Dave Rawlings with Gillian Welch, and they were great! The king and queen of the modern alt-country scene, Rawlings totally rips on guitar and his voice blends perfectly with Gillian's. I had never seen either one live before and was very impressed. They played a relatively short set, but did come back on stage at the end.

Old Crow Medicine Show were last to perform, although all of their members had appeared with the previous acts. Led by fiddler and vocalist Keith Sector (in absurdly tight jeans), they played a set filled with their trademark old-time string band music. And oh yes, the crowd went nuts for their final song, Wagon Wheel. I'll never get tired of that song. At the end of the night, all of the musicians returned to the stage for the encore, which included Gillian finally getting in the spotlight with "Look at Miss Ohio" and an fantastic group cover of ACDC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)." (YouTubed here) Overall, it was a great night of indie folk music and a chance to see a multitude of talented performers.

Update: here's an nifty article from the Wall Street Journal about the tour. (thanks, Dan!)

and lastly, the Boston Globe's review of the show.


Anonymous said...

"entertaingly spazzy violist/washboardist"

That's putting it nicely. I think I would've enjoyed the Felice Brothers without him. He was just painful to watch. I went to the NH show and they played way too long for the 2nd act. I loved the other 3 acts, and felt it would've been perfect without the Felice Brothers.

ephman said...

this show was so amazing. i caught the opening song with everybody on stage
it was so fantastic

eileen said...

Anon- yeah, Felice Brothers played an overlong set at the Boston show, too. I could have used less of them and more of Rawlings and Welch.