It’s taken years, but with a good chunk of the band now residing in the greater Denver area, Greensky Bluegrass can finally call Colorado “home.” And that’s exactly what it felt like at the absolutely-packed Ogden Theatre on Thursday night, the first of three shows. The band’s music certainly feels at home in the Colorado mountains, as fans drove from far and wide for the show, some hailing from as far as Telluride, Grand Junction, and even Wyoming and New Mexico.
The sold-out crowd waited with extreme eagerness and unbridled excitement, with the band taking to the stage with “33443” before quickly dropping into “Kerosene”, the latter off of their 2014 release If Sorrows Swim. The song stayed fairly true to form, with mandolist Paul Hoffman and banjo player Michael Bont taking a pair of pristine, rhythmic solos. The group followed with “Handguns” off of the 2011 album of the same name. Anders Beck (dobro) took the old favorite on a lengthy ride, reminding us all why he still remains a very powerful addition to this band, the depth and dynamic range of his instrument providing some space for the ears and mind to wander. Following “Handguns”, the band dropped into the Stanley Brothers’ classic “Pig in A Pen”, also made famous by Old & in the Way. Paul took lead on the song, keeping it fairly traditional and true to form with bassist (and recently, dad!) Mike Devol holding up the foundation. The first set grinded on with “Dustbowl Overture” and “More of Me” off of 2016’s Shouted, Written Down, and Quoted. More of Me segued beautifully into “Demons”, another fan favorite, before a massive take on the “Broke Mountain Breakdown”. The instrumental meandered through a number of ethereal environs before eventually settling into a tight funk jam that slowly morphed into “In Control”. Following a brief hello and introduction to the next song from Paul, the band rounded out their first set with a cover of “Bone Digger”, a tune by their good friend Cris Jacobs. The bluesy, foot-stomping song was the perfect set closer, leaving the crowd raging and raring for more.
After a short set break, the band returned to the stage visibly stoked and clearly ready to dip into some deep improvisation. “Better Off” from Handguns led off the set, slipping right into “Broken Highways” off of their 2006 sophomore release, Tuesday Letter. Produced by Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, the old song was another reminder of the ever-growing breadth of Greensky’s song catalogue, now spanning almost 20 years. Continuing a massive run-opening set, the band segued into one of their classic covers, Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”. Hardly a surprise at this point, this was no quick cover; it magically morphed into a brief take on Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.” Considering Paul claims he put up quite the fight to convince the band to cover the song, it comes off wonderfully well as a bluegrass arrangement. “Dancing on the Ceiling” gradually built and teased around until it became an obviously identifiable cover of Phish’s “Tweezer Reprise.” The band and the crowd brought the song to absolute mayhem in true Phish fashion, before ultimately bringing it all back to “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” “Reverend” and “Blood Sucking F(r)iends” came next, the crowd happily singing along to the latter, a barroom-type song also from Handguns. The group crushed another quick tune in “A Letter to Seymour,” with Paul and guitarist Dave Bruzza both picking perfect solos, hardly missing a note. Already a monster in its own right, the set ended with the new Greensky sandwich of “Leap Year” into a cover of Railroad Earth’s “Head” and back into “Leap Year.” The songs mesh together perfectly, each with their own refrain of “oh ohhh’s.” Briefly before the final segue back into “Leap Year,” the band built a chord progression eerily similar to Phish’s “Runaway Jim,” another song with some “oh’s” of its own (hint hint, GSBG!). The return to “Leap Year” was of epic proportions, the second of two massive chunks of second-set improv. After a well-deserved bow and a very short break, the band returned to the stage for their encore. The group took a brief moment to thank their devoted fans “for choosing us to have fun with,” lovingly proclaiming “we choose you too.” As is often the case with such mind-blowing second sets, the band played just one final, rocking song, capping off the evening with their lively take on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues.”
Greensky Bluegrass returns to the Ogden Theatre tonight and tomorrow (January 12th and 13th), before embarking on the rest of their Winter tour. Check out the setlist and gallery below, as well as the full list of Winter dates here!
Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass | Ogden Theatre | Denver, CO | 1/11/2018
I: 33443, Kerosene, Handguns, Pig in a Pen, Dustbowl Overture, More of Me> Demons, Broke Mountain Breakdown> Funk Jam> In Control, Bone Digger*
II: Better Off> Broken Highways> Light Up or Leave Me Alone> Dancing on the Ceiling> Tweezer Reprise > Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Reverend, Blood Sucking F(r)iends, A Letter to Seymour, What Happened to Jim?, Leap Year> Head> Leap Year
E: White Freight Liner Blues
*Cris Jacobs cover, first time played.
Check out the full gallery below, courtesy of photographer Andrew Rios!