California based bands Poor Man’s Whiskey and their friends Hot Buttered Rum got together and paid tribute to one of the Paul Simon‘s most seminal albums, Graceland, before a delighted crowd at the Revolution Hall in Portland, OR last Friday night.  With such classic Simon hits such as “You Can Call Me Al” and “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” the album’s legendary compositions inspired these two bands to perform this music on the road. The lucky first stop?  Portland, OR.

The city of Portland is not only known for the quirkiness of its residents, and their conservationally minded “DIY” repurposing spirit.  The less than a year old Revolution Hall is a fine example of that spirit made manifest, having previously served the city as the Edenside Public High School.  Where students once prepared for the future, concert goers can prepare for a show with excellent acoustics from the floor to the balcony.

Kicking off the night, Poor Man’s Whiskey brought their laid rocking, earthy Americana set to the stage.  As their Northern Californian home base would attest, they’re no strangers to the area, and had a near capacity crowd waiting on them with the rest of the venue coming in quickly to join the show in progress.  The band took the crowd on not just a musical journey, but a spatially themed one as well, playing songs from throughout their repertoire named for places such as “Wyoming” and “Mexico,” and idealized water ways such as “Cripple Creek” and “Whiskey Creek.” In doing so, the band remained in motion. 

Josh Brough led the band, switching merrily between instruments, from banjo to keyboards, while his long time friends Dave Noble and Jason Beard worked together to fill the songs with power and sustain.  The rhythm section held together and provided a fine base for the rest of the band to work from.  Their closing number, “Willie,” showcased their explorative blues side.

Check it out below:

After finishing his set, Brough warned the crowd that the best was yet to come, and he was right, though no slight on his own band was intended. Hot Buttered Rum just released a new EP produced by Railroad Earth‘s Tim Carbone, and has a new look line up with the now-settled-in Zebulon Bowles. Sufficed to say, the band is in fresh form. 

Eager to take the stage, HBR bassist Bryan Horne actually played the entire PMW set as their fill in bassist for the night, before taking his turn with his regular band, then playing the “Graceland” set. He was clearly enjoying the work.  

Hot Buttered Rum’s sound has always been pleasantly diverse, with Erik Yates playing a variety of wind instruments as well as the banjo.  Drummer Lucas Carlton does a fine job balancing between presence and power, reminding you he is there but staying tight in the pocket. With roots in string music, the music of HBR benefits from Carlton’s fine use of restraint.  Bowles fiddling fits in just fine with Nat Keefe‘s sweet vocals, while Yates brings and aggression to the tunes he croons, adding yet more dimension to the proceedings.

Check out a couple of tunes, “Cherry Wine” straight into “Swing and Sway Hugs,” to show you just how fine and tight the band was: 

Finished with their fun, HBR cleared the stage, giving the crowd one last chance for a bar run before the main event.

Paul Simon recorded the Graceland album as part of his emergence from a personal and creative low point.  As he fought the blues, he repeatedly played a tape of South African music, and began envisioning the songs that would form the back bone of the album.  The album and Simon faced criticisms for his working in the country, ignoring the cultural boycott of the Apartheid its marginalization of the black populace through harsh institutionalized racism. 

he album also featured takes on Mexican and South American influences, traditional root music and many more to fill out it’s tracks.  At best, Simon was trying to represent the native music and cultures that were forming his then musical worldview…at worst he was stealing from everyone equally.  Whatever your point of view, the unarguable point is that he made a timeless album that lives in many hearts to this day.

Gamely blending their voices in an Americanized approximation of the great African choirs from the album, the hybrid band amazed the attendees with their unique interpretations of the source material. The album intro to “Diamonds” and all of “Homeless” were chill inducing, and the energy from the crowd was very high and joyous.  The age range in the room was far enough to ensure a mix of folks who remembered the album from its release and listeners who had lived their whole lives with this material considered classics.  Obviously, the roots-ier pieces were well within the players’ wheel house, with “All Around The World” a real standout.  

Check out this selection of tunes from the set, a free flowing run through some of the biggest hits from the album, “I Go Where I Go>Gumboots>Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes,” filmed from the balcony.  Highlights include an inspired Grateful Dead lyrical mash up and a very well received crowd participation segment that was infinitely less cheesy than these things often are.

The night was a total success for everyone involved, on creative and personal levels.  The crowd was enraptured, with one fan even shedding a few tears at the poignant message of “Homeless.” The crowd left singing the songs to each other, arm in arm, which is as fine a finish to a show as any band could hope for.  While the band packed up and headed to the next stop, the memories they made that night won’t fade anytime soon.

Setlist: Poor Man’s Whiskey at Revolution Hall, Portland, OR – 11/20/2015

One Set: Humboldt Ho-Cripple Creek, Old Jo, Wyoming, Let’s Go Out Tonight, Angeline, Mexico, Whiskey Creek, Willie

Setlist: Hot Buttered Rum at Revolution Hall, Portland, OR – 11/20/2015

Set: Weary Ways> Busted  In Utah, Cherry Wine> Swing And Sway Hugs, Lonesome Feeling> I’ve Just Seen A Face, Desert Rat, Amanda Lynn, Summertime Gal> Walls Of Times> Summertime Gal, Something New, Lovelight

Setlist: Paul Simon’s Graceland Tribute (Both Bands) at Revolution Hall, Portland, OR – 11/20/2015

Set: Boy In A Bubble, Graceland, I Know What I Know, Gumboots, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, You Can Call Me Al, Homeless, Mother And Child Reunion, Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard, The Boxer