Sunday, March 12, 2006

Concert Review - Railroad Earth (March 10, 2006)

It has been over a year since my last real concert, something unheard of in Brewsterland. Sure, over the years my ability to go out and hear live music has decreased, but I’ve always managed to see a show at least once every few months.

I did go to the Strasbourg Music Festival last spring, but it was more about the madness and chaos of walking the densely populated city streets than really sitting and listening to one band play. Ah, a mad scene that was with local bands of all flavors playing on every corner, alleyway and sidewalk. You couldn’t hear one band for the three others playing down the road.

But other than that it was the summer of 2004 since I caught anything live or musical. Wow, just reading that makes me sad.

There is nothing like live music. With all the technical wizardry and beeps and gadgets they come up with in the studio, as amazing as some of it is, it just can’t beat the magic that comes from hearing a band playing live for all they’ve got. Standing in a crowd of people moving in one groove as the sounds pump right through your insides is nothing short of awesome.

I once saw Phil Lesh one hot Thursday afternoon in Oklahoma City. It was well over a hundred degrees and I was standing in a patch of ground that had been baked into dust. I came home drenched in sweat, sun burned beyond recognition and caked in dirt, dust. It was one of the best times of my life.

So, it was with great anticipation that I waited for Friday night to come and my chance to see Railroad Earth at the Bluebird in Bloomington, IN.

My wife laying low with a migraine I invited my friend and coworker to tag along.

Arriving I was a little trepidacious, having never been a part of the press corps, or guest list. I approached the ticket counter (actually a burly young man sitting in the first booth for the bar.)

“Do you have tickets?” he asked.

“Um, I should be on the guest list. It’s Mat Brewster.”

Scanning the two pages of guest list he asked me again what my name was. Peering at the same list I could see a Mat Hutchins listed with Blogcritics next to it.

“Yeah, that’s me, I’m from Blogcritics. “

Both relieved that I got in, and a little annoyed that they got my name completely wrong we went inside.

The Bluebird is an old country bar that saw its best days around a couple of decades ago. It is old and worn and best seen through a smoky haze, something you don’t get anymore since the city has outlawed smoking pretty much everywhere.

The stage has grown since the last time I visited. A couple of years ago I saw Sam Bush and his band could barely fit on the tiny platform. I’ve always loved the stage, though. It stands about waist high and is set up so that you can get within inches of the band.

I first came to know Railroad Earth, oddly enough, through a t-shirt of syndicated radio host, David Gans. After hearing him rave about them again on the Grateful Dead Hour I downloaded one of their shows on and found there really was something to rave about. Those boys can cook!

They are a hard band to describe. They play bluegrass instruments (banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, etc.) but have a drummer and everything is plugged in and amped up. You can hear influences from bluegrass to jazz to straight up rock and roll.

In an age where musicians get more hype for their clothes than their songs it is refreshing to hear a band really getting off on music, without even a glance at the bottom line.

Even with six musicians on the stage I could clearly hear each instrument. The band came to jam, and the improvisations often extended a song out for more than 15 minutes. Yet unlike so many jam bands their jams never turned into noodle fests. They were unique and interesting extensions and transitions of the songs, while still maintaining the integrity of the melody.

At the beginning of the second set, another fellow coworker showed up with some buddies, drunk off their arses, all three. Suddenly, I was in the middle of what I absolutely despise at concerts – a group who would rather talk, and make loud, dumb comments than listen. I hate those people, and now I was one of them.

What could I do, what can you do when you’ve got three drunks shouting at you that the place smells like a toilet and that there are no cute girls? Thankfully, they left after a couple of songs.

The crowd was fairly small, with the venue about half full. South-Central Indiana is a bit far off from their normal fan base. But those who were there were full of smiles and white boy dance grooves. It was an odd mix of frat boys, middle aged couples and neo-hippies.

God bless hippies.

Several beautiful young hippy ladies were dolled out in flowing, blowing long skirts. They danced, whirled and twirled on the second tier floor oblivious to everything and everyone but the songs.

My drunken friends returned and I had to swear that I was on my second beer (though I had only taken a few sips of my first) to keep my coworker quiet and calm. At this point they were so zonked they pretended to dig the band so they could hit on the girls.

Ignoring them I continued let the groove move me to other worlds. The psychedelic outings of “Warhead Boogie” and “Like a Buddha” left me more than emotionally erect, and fully satisfied. On these songs the band was so tight, so connected they moved as if they were a cohesive whole of one organism rather than six distinct individuals.

We headed home at 1:30. The band played a full 2 and half hours of joyful, mind blowing music. I made it home exhausted, but completely satisfied.

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