Live at 1884 Lounge, Memphis, TN
October 1, 2014
By Randy Harris
Every time Greensky Bluegrass comes to Memphis, the crowd gets bigger and bigger, and this trip was no exception. Fresh off of their brand new, chart topping studio album, If Sorrows Swim, the band has never been hotter. Memphis showed up big for the band’s first show of October, packing the 1884 Lounge from wall to wall, even before the band started, and Greensky’s performance reflected the wave of energy exuding from the rowdy Memphis crowd. Paul Hoffman’s crooning vocals and speedy mandolin were on, as always, while Mike Devol’s thumping bass kept the band on track and tighter than ever. Anders Beck’s dobro lines were at the helm of the dark, melodic feel, while Dave Bruzza and Michael Bont cranked out the fast-picking rhythms on acoustic guitar and banjo, respectively. Michael Bont was especially on his game that night, which definitely says a lot, because the entire band seemed to be at the top of its game already. Finally, Greensky’s beautiful vocal harmonies filled in every gap, making their sound full and rounded.
Before Greensky took the stage for their triumphant return to Memphis, however, a local band called the Mason Jar Fireflies was chosen to open up the evening. This formidable trio of exceptional musicians was celebrating a special night that evening: the 21st birthday of vocalist Kyndle McMahan. When they first took the stage, quite a bit of the crowd had already arrived, but everyone was mostly hanging out in the bar area. By the time they finished, however, the bar area had practically emptied and the band was met by thunderous applause and loud cheers after each song. Besides Ms. McMahan, the trio consisted of Adam Gowdy (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Greg Carmack (lead acoustic guitar). The band’s sound stems from the soaring duet vocals of McMahan and Gowdy, as well as the bluesy lead guitar of Carmack (including some very crafty slide playing). Self-categorized as rhythm & greens and soul country, I would add acoustic soft rock with a folk influence. Mason Jar Fireflies was a great warm-up act for Greensky Bluegrass.
With the venue packed and the crowd ready to rage, Greensky Bluegrass stepped onto the stage in their usual humble manner. The band started off fairly conservative, except for a big bustout of the Bob Dylan penned “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” first recorded by The Band, as the second song of the night. Five out of the first eight songs were from the new album, consisting of “The Four,” “Windshield,” “Burn Them,” “Worried About The Weather” and “Demons.” Greensky started off extremely tight, jamming enough to keep things interesting, but primarily warming up for the madness that was to come later on. One thing that is so remarkable about Greensky Bluegrass is their ability to gradually ramp up the energy until, by the end of the set, the audience has absolutely no idea what happened, but they know that they just rocked their asses off; and that’s exactly what happened. The band started to heat things up with a cover of Red Allen’s “Send Me Your Address From Heaven,” and then they really dug deep on a fast-pickin’ “Break Mountain Brokedown,” followed by an epic cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Wind Cries Mary,” and they ended the first set rockin’ out “Broke Reprise.” By this time, the crowd was absolutely insane, and the band took their set break to a massive response from the audience.
The second set kicked off with a couple more tracks from the new album, the more country-based “A Letter To Seymour,” sung by Dave Bruzza and the ballad “In Control” with Paul Hoffman back on lead vocals. A fast-paced cover of New Grass Revival’s “Can’t Stop Now” followed, which really got the crowd moving, before another string of new tunes rode the wave of energy surging throughout the 1884 Lounge. The string began with a reeling ballad “Wings For Wheels,” followed by a beautiful tune with a relatable story called “Forget Everything.” Then came the deep, dark “Kerosene,” which kicked the tempo back up and the crowd jumping all over each other, and the string finished up with “Demons.” The band finished off the second set with a run through the speedy, uplifting “Shuckin’ The Corn” by Flatt & Scruggs, a slower Greensky Bluegrass original favorite “Jaywalking” and back to a more upbeat ”King of the Hill.” As the raucous crowd clamored for more, the band came out for a “Before Bring Out Your Dead” into “Bring Out Your Dead” encore that will be forever etched in the minds of all in attendance.
This band gets better and better every time I see them. Their continuous effort and vigorous passion for their music and their fans pays off more and more, and the success of their latest album has given them an obvious boost in confidence and energy. This was by far the best show I’ve ever seen them play, even since August, less than two months ago. The new tunes are transferring nicely into the live setting, and Greensky’s ability to work a crowd is at the top of its game. Keep an eye out for the continued success of Greensky Bluegrass, and catch them now, before they are selling out Red Rocks and tickets are impossible to get. Thank you Greensky Bluegrass for an amazing night in Memphis!