Thawed out from the massive blizzard that brought more than two feet of snow to the nation’s capital, Greensky Bluegrass descended upon Washington D.C. at the 9:30 Club for three nights of intense string music this past weekend to close out what has been an exceptional Winter Tour.
Wisconsin natives Horseshoes & Hand Grenades opened Thursday evening’s festivities with some time-honored bluegrass, old-time and folk tunes around a single-mic stand, including “Weary Bones,” “Hoot ‘N’ Howl” and “Danville Girl,” even slipping in a cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” mid-set. The exuberant five-piece was wrapping up a 23-day stint with GSBG and did not disappoint on their last night of tour. You can listen to their entire set here thanks to taperjeff.
Building a reputation on their particular style of high-energy progressive bluegrass, Greensky Bluegrass delivered an opening set that demonstrated all at once their acumen for traditional bluegrass stylings, varying influences and original composition. After an opening run of the Louvin Brothers’ “Great Atomic Power” coupled with “Dry County” and Pink Floyd’s “Time,” the five-piece gradually ramped up the mojo in the room with standards like “Hit Parade Of Love” and “Working On A Building,” moving later to the vulnerable sentiments of “Lose My Way” from 2011’s Handguns. A sparkplug, Paul Hoffman-lead cover of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” was a perfect way to close the set out on a high note, sandwiching in a “Shucking The Corn” for the bluegrass purist in everyone.
“Grow Bananas” and “What Happened To Jim?” were warmly welcomed by the crowd to open the second set, with Anders Beck taking the reigns during “Roberta,” sliding up and down his drop-steel like a man possessed. A fitting cover of Bill Monroe’s “White House Blues” absolutely rocked the house with everyone getting in on the action, from banjo player Michael Arlen Bont’s unconscious banjo slinging to upright bassist Mike Devol’s constant, driving low end and Hoffman’s searing mandolin, it was bluegrass paradise.
One of the biggest highlights of the the night came during the final moments of the evening: “Tarpology” > “Gumboots” > “Tarpology.” It’s during these 20+ minute forays into the weird that the band elevates themselves from a five man bluegrass outfit to something more. Their ability to move in and out of sections and improvise between one another is something reminiscent of a jazz band, the way that the music transforms and serpentines.
To close out the evening and thank the guys from Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Greensky welcomed out David C. Lynch, Collin Mettelka, Russell Pedersen, Adam Greuel, and Sam Odin to play during the encore. The ten musicians gathered around the one-mic stand for memorable takes on David Grisman’s “I’ll Love Nobody But You” and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe.”
Baltimore-mainstay Cris Jacobs of The Bridge and his trio featuring drummer Dusty Ray Simmons and bass player Todd Herrington warmed up Friday night for Greensky Bluegrass, offering a heavy dose of soul and rock to the already packed 1,200-person venue. As a special treat, Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck joined the trio for a devastatingly groovy version of “Bone Digger” that found Beck and Jacobs dueling alongside one another. Take a watch below:
Easing into Friday night’s show with a “Blood Sucking F(r)iends,” the evening’s picking accelerated with a 14-minute “Leap Year” and a Bruzza-sung “Reuben’s Train.” Greensky tackled another pair of songs from 2014’s If Sorrow Swims, a terrific segue between “Worried About The Weather” and “The Four” before the a set closing sing-along to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” This slow roaster turned firestorm via Anders on the dobro was vintage set-closing material.
“Fixin To Ruin” and “Dust Bowl Overtures” lead off set two, night two, with versions of “Burn Them” and “200 Miles From Montana” also getting their time to shine, but the gettin’ didn’t get real good until Greensky invited Cris Jacobs back out for a run of songs to end the set. Beginning with “Fo Sho Uh Huh” and “I’d Probably Kill You,” Jacobs elevated the spirits in the room when he took over on vocals during a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” inbetwixt a jaw-dropping “Don’t Lie,” moving the 9:30 Club into one serious collective jig.
A sombre-toned “Black Muddy River” from the Grateful Dead canon served as the night’s encore, sending off the D.C. faithful after another night of crisp, grooving bluegrass, leaving only one final night of tour. No complaints.
The final night of Greensky Bluegrass’ Winter Tour was met with great anticipation by the nation’s capital, tickets selling out in advance of the show. Charlottseville, VA product Love Canon warmed up the stage for Greensky on night three at the 9:30 Club, showcasing some of their catalog of brilliantly bluegrass-adapted 1980s tunes. From Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” these guys are extremely fun to see play.
Taking the stage with an opening selection of “The Ghost of Richard Manuel” by Steppin’ It and The Band’s “Shape I’m In,” GSBG was not about to close their tour without a righteous pickin’ party. Bont absolutely shredded through “Runnin’ the Briers” and also did some heavy lifting alongside Bruzza and Beck during a scorching hot “Demons” with “Windshield” and a great “Living Over” accenting the end of the first set.
To close out their stay at the highly-regarded 9:30 Club, Greensky Bluegrass would etch out a non stop, jam-heavy stanza featuring several originals tunes including “Jaywalking,” “In Control” and a terrific sequence of “Kerosene” > “Wings For Wheels” > “Kerosene.” The centerpiece of Saturday night’s finale though was built around fan-favorite “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox,” once again showcasing GSBG’s outstanding collaborative and improvisational qualities as a string band with chameleon like attributes, pushing and warping the boundaries of the genre every time out.
The amount of palpable energy that Greensky Bluegrass brings night in, night out does not go unappreciated by their fan base either, as it is reciprocated time and time again, forging a unique and special bond through the music unlike anything else. So, when the clock rang midnight on Saturday evening, marking guitar player Dave Bruzza’s birthday, it was only fitting that the crowd would sing “Happy Birthday” to him. It was warm, authentic and another endearing moment for the Greensky Campers which lead to J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight” and a show-stopper in Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”
For now, Greensky Bluegrass will be back home relaxing, but you won’t have to wait too long, as the Kalamazoo five-piece will be back out on the road this Spring. Check out their upcoming dates here.
Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass at 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. – 2/4/16
Set I: Great Atomic Power >Dry County >Time, Hit Parade of Love, Working on a Building, What’s Left of the Night, Take Cover, Lose My Way, Little Red Corvette>Shucking the Corn >Little Red Corvette
Set II: Grow Bananas, What Happened to Jim?, Roberta, No Idea >White House Blues, I’m a Worried Man, Just to Lie > Bottle Dry, Depot Bay, Tarpology > Gumboots > Tarpology
Encore: I’ll Love Nobody But You % Small Axe %
% with Horseshoes & Hand Grendades on a single microphone
Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass at 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. – 2/5/16
Set I: Blood Sucking F(r)iends, Leap Year, Into the Rafters, Less than Supper, Reuben’s Train, Sweetwater Sea, Worried about the Weather * >The Four %, The Chain
Set II: Fixin to Ruin, Dustbowl Overtures, Burn Them #!, 200 Miles from Montana, Ties Down, Clinch Mountain Backstep, Fo Sho Uh Huh @&, I’d Probably Kill You @, Simply irresistible @, Don’t Lie @× > Simply Irresistible @ > Don’t Lie @
Encore: Black Muddy River @
* Leap Year tease
% Worried about the Weather teases
# Reuben’s Train tease
! “Keith Kennear, bluegrass tambourine player of the year”
@ With Cris Jacobs
& Bont & Paul misstart song, go back into Fo Sho Uh Huh
× “Rhapsody in Blue” tease Anders
Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass at 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. – 2/6/16
Set I: Ghost of Richard Manuel, Shape I’m In, Runnin’ the Brier’s, Forget Everything, Demons, Pig in a Pen, Against the Days, Radio Blues, Can’t Make Time, Windshield, Living Over
Set 2: Jaywalking, Just Listening, Broke Mountain Breakdown, Simply Irresistible, Ain’t No Bread In the Breadbox>, Cant Stop Now, In Control, Ain’t No Bread In the Breadbox > Kerosene > Wings For Wheels> Kerosene
Encore: Happy Birthday (Dave Bruzza), After Midnight, Atlantic City
[All setlists via Camp Greensky/All photos by Jon Rosenberger of PhotoFooFoo]