What is SeMi Bluegrass? It's a meeting place where live music fans in Southeast Michigan gather to exchange information about the live music scene: show reviews, cool venues, band profiles, product reviews and more.
Articles, news, reviews and band profiles welcome.
Email to: SeMiBluegrass@gmail.com

If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pure Detroit: Gasoline Gypsies, Royal Blackbirds & Longneck Stranglers @ The Magic Bag

Live, Local Music at the Magic Bag
     I sometimes joke about the "tens of viewers" this blog attracts.  I know it's actually a lot better than that (I'm well over 50,000 page views now), but it's still nice when someone "stumbles onto" something I wrote and likes it enough to reach out to me.  Such was the case when a friend of the Native Howl (reviewed here) somehow got my business card and invited me to see their band, the Gasoline Gypsies open up a 3-band ticket at the Magic Bag in my old home town of Ferndale.  A quick look at youtube told me this mostly electric band had some deep acoustic and "SeMiBluegrass" roots, so I immediately agreed.

In the Groove with the Gasoline Gypsies
     The job of opening band can be daunting at best.  Especially when the "headliner" is hosting their fans for a record release party--they want to see the main event an usually could care less about the opening bill.  When the Gasoline Gypsies hit the stage, the bar was already mostly full, noisy and buzzing with anticipation.  Instantly reading the room, they launched into a high-voltage opening number that grabbed the audience by the throat and delivered a musical sucker-punch right in their faces.  They had the crowds attention from the very first note. That song might have been a Jim Croce cover.  To be honest, I was so mesmerized by the band's performance that I forgot to write anything down.  I hardly remembered to take a few pictures!  Keeping the crowd's attention throughout the set was easy after that.  The band rolled out one hard-driving original tune after another before closing with a "Beatles meets Metalica" cover of Eleanore Rigby.  When all was said and done, the band certainly had the crowd's attention.

Malooley on Lead Guitar
    How to describe the Gypsies' sound?  They definitely encompass all that is great about the Detroit rock sound (even though they're from Port Huron).  Their original songs feature impressive lyrics with rock solid vocal hooks and vivid storytelling.  The band members take turns singing lead with everyone contributing to some well arranged harmonies.  Their melodies draw from the rock tradition, with strong nods and passing winks to funk, blues, soul, country and Americana.  Every song is built around a crushing bass/drum groove with pure, clean-tone guitar leads, and deliciously crunchy rhythm guitar work.  The bands' CD has been on near constant rotation in my car for the past three days (it's a damn good piece of work!) gives you the kind of songs that get stuck in your mind and make you want to sing along all day.  I even think I detected the sound of a banjo on a couple of tunes (and who doesn't love the banjo now days?).  The more I listen, the more I want to hear more of what this band has to say.  It's rare to find lyrics both interesting and intriguing now days, and these boys are spot on with their songwriting.

Makowski on the Kit
     Gypsy drummer Joe Makowski lays down one of the cleanest grooves you'll hear.  Readers of this blog know I love a drummer with a light, fast touch, and Joe is all of that.  He has also mastered the subtleties of dynamic range; playing lightly under sweet melodies and blowing up over the top of power-chord driven jams.  Unlike many drummers, Joe is intently focused on his band mates while he plays, allowing him to both keep them on time, and mold his drumming around what they are doing.  It's pure magic.   His rhythm section partner, Steve Briere lays down a funky groove that really gives life to their original songs.  His combination of complex walking lines with a pulsing melodic style lends a ton of drive to the band and helps set up a pocket that makes this one of the very tightest bands you'll here.

Schwei Getting It Done!
    Another of my very favorite things about a band is watching bands that like playing together.  It's like that scene in "The Rookie" where Jim Morris says "we get to play baseball today" with that stupid grin on his face.  We all love music.  And I love watching bands who love to play.  No where is this more evident than in the Gasoline Gypsies' guitar duo of Caleb Malooley (lead) and Robby Schwei (rhythm).  These two could not be more different, yet work together more perfectly.  Caleb played a surf-blue stratocaster with a light touch and crystal clear clean tones.  It was soaring and precise in all the right ways.  Schwei, on the other hand played the living daylights out of his Les Paul, with heavy strumming and deep, full, over-driven tube-amp tones.  His approach to rhythm playing gave the Gypsies' sound the same kind of in-your-face drive as a great banjo player in a bluegrass band.  On top of this is his infectious enthusiasm;  he literally throws himself around the stage giving "body English" to his playing and grooving with his band mates.  The GoPro rig on his chest is a nice touch as well.  I'd love to see the crowd from his point of view!  In case you can't tell, I love this band and can't wait to go see them again.

The Royal Blackbirds
    Up next was a power trio of young blues rockers, the Royal Blackbirds from East Detroit.  According to their Facebook page, the band averages 21 years old, but I don't believe it.  Sure, they look like teenagers, but they PLAY like veteran Detroit rockers, with all grit and grime to their sound that only comes from decades of playing dark, smoky clubs for free drinks and tips.  They are a lot of fun to watch and have a very unique sound.  Pretty much straight, modern rock, with a heavy dose of mid-eighties punk and a not-so-subtle homage to John Lee Hooker thrown in for good measure.
The Kid Can PLAY!
    Where the Gasoline Gypsies were polished and tight, the Blackbirds where raw and edgy.  They had the amps turned up to "eleven" and play their instruments with energy and vitality of youth.  Lead singer/guitarist Rebecca Saad is a remarkable talent.  While her choice of musical genre lends it self to the cliche' 3-chord, power-chord anthem, her lead playing is powerful, melodic and creative.  She doesn't sound like anyone else.  She sounds like her.  She broke out of a fairly "prog rock" vocal sound for a bluesy number (might have been called "Misery") and showed off a powerful, luscious, soul-driven voice that raised goosebumps on my arm and made my hair stand on end.  Drummer Jeanette Gadette puts her heart and soul into her playing, beating the drums until they scream for mercy, but keeping exceptional time and driving the band forward.  Not my cup of tea, but PERFECT for the bands' sound.  Bassist Dennis Burck is a real standout.  He may have been the best musician on stage that night, laying down complex and funky grooves as he sways and dances to the beat, usually with his eyes closed and satisfied grin on his face.  This kid can flat-out play!

A Little Bit Rock, A Whole Lot of Country!
    Country Rock band the Longneck Stanglers finished off the night.  Unfortunately, my tank was out of gas, so I only stayed for the first half-dozen songs of their set.  Make no mistake, this ain't your usual Detroit rock band.  Nor are they a pure Nashville country band.  Somehow, some way, they take the best from both of these scenes and blend them into a coherent, and crowd pleasing, show.   They hit the stage with a rock-star attitude.  From the clothes they wear, to their high-energy antics on stage, they are there to put on a show--and their fans love it.  Lead singer Ricky Lenz is just as comfortable belting out rock-infused power songs as he is crooning county-laced ballads while strumming his six-string.  He really surprised me by pulling out a harmonica and adding some killer blues harp work over a couple songs.  Rick Broworski helps drive the band onward, whipping the crowd into a frenzy both with his pulsing guitar licks, and hyperkinetic stage antics.  Likewise, bassist Kevin Davis is all over the stage keeping the band in high gear as they shift effortlessly from one song to the next.  Throw in wild-haired drummer Jeremy Kanouse and it's easy to see why this country band with a rock attitude inspires such devotion in their fans.

Assorted pictures below.  Feel free to tag and share with your friends.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pure Listening: Younce Guitar Duo wsg Miriam Pico @ Johnny's Speakeasy

A One-Of-A-Kind Place
     I am continually amazed at the quality of live, local music in South Eastern Michigan.  From spectacularly talented bands, to world-class venues, the music scene is as vibrant as Nashville, Memphis or Austin--if you know where to look.  Somehow, one of the very coolest of these venues has stayed under my radar until now.  This video explains Johnny's Speakeasy better than I ever could.  Owner and host extraordinaire Johnny Williams has created something wonderful in his basement.  Sure, anyone can build a stage in their basement (although, this is one COOL basement), hook up a sound system and decorate with quirky/cool memorabilia, but to create a true masterpiece of listening enjoyment obviously required the hand of a master.  When Johnny invited me to come see the Younce Guitar Duo play there, I was not prepared for the journey I was about to undertake.

Jerry Younce and Ray Shamma
   After introducing myself, and grabbing a great, comfortable seat (ALL the seats there are great by-the-way), the band came on stage and launched into a full-throttle, high-energy, driving version of a Santana instrumental.  The absolute musical talent on display was obvious from the first note.  However, I was quite taken aback by how intently every single person in the room listened to what they were doing.  You could almost see and feel the crowd connecting with the music.  And the band responded, pumping up the energy and throwing it right back at the crowd.  As the song ended, there was the briefest moment of stunned silence followed by enthusiastic applause.  Their hour-long instrumental set of mostly original music mixed with quality cover tunes only got better as the night went on.

Ryan Younce and a wee bit of Ty
     The core of the band is Father-Son duo Jerry and Ryan Younce, who take turns supplying the rhythm and lead guitar parts--Jerry on a Taylor steel-string guitar and Ryan on a spectacular nylon-stringed guitar.  Both guitars have a distinctly unique sound, and both men play with a distinct style.  Like so many of the bands I like, their musical style defies categorization.  If I was forced to call it something it would be "Jazz Folk Rock with a Latin/Flamenco Twist"...but that doesn't really do it justice.  Jerry plays with a blended thumbpick/hybrid fingerstyle approach and leans ever-so-slightly towards the melodic end of the solo spectrum, while Ryan alternates between classical finger-style and flatpicking styles with a slightly sharper, faster, more staccato approach to his solo work.  They both flow so easily between rhythm and lead that the listener is often unaware that they have switched.

A great night of music in a special place--perfection!

    Backing the band this night were bass player Ray Shamma and Younce Brother/Uncle Ty Younce on percussion.  Shamma played a beautiful wood electric bass with some terribly cool inlay work--a true work of art.  While I usually prefer a stand-up bass in acoustic settings, he was able to play subtle yet interesting bass lines that somehow fit perfectly with the music, relentlessly driving the band forward and pushing the energy to the limits.  Ty on the other hand is EXACTLY what I like as a percussionist behind an acoustic act. With a cajon kick-drum, two small mic'd bongos and a trio of small cymbals he is able to subtly blend sounds to perfectly complement the music.  He has an extraordinarily light tough, especially on the cymbals--sometimes, there's no front attack at all, the sound just seemingly swells up from nothing and rings with bell-like clarity through the woodsy guitar sound.  I also loved that he had a large "kit" of various sticks, strikers and brushes he used in addition to his hands--often switching multiple times within a song to get the perfect sound.  Truly one of the finest percussionists around!

The lovely and talented Miriam Pico
     After a short break singer-songwriter Miriam Pico took the stage.  I'm usually not a huge fan of the "single woman singer-songwriter" sound.  I could not have been more impressed by what she brought to the table.  Her songwriting is some of the best I have heard, with great stories, strong emotions, catchy vocal hooks and a poignancy that can not be taught--it must be earned through hard work and dedication.  She has an effortless rapport with the crowd with an easy-going personality and a quick smile.  Her voice has a perfect mix of deep soul and clear highs, mixed with an ever-so-slightly breathy quality to give it character.  Perfectly matched to the classic jazz ballad, she nevertheless effortlessly moved between her own songs, jazz standards and rock/pop covers from the Beatles, Jackson Browne and Led Zepplin.  Her signature song "It Is What It Is" (download this on iTunes, it's the best 99 cents you'll ever spend) involved a bit of crowd participation.  As the chorus wound around to hook, the crowd enthusiasticall joined in singing "It Is What It Is"...on cue...in time...and in perfect harmony.  It was amazing, and the beaming smile on Miriams face let everyone know she was as shocked--and pleased--as they were!  The night concluded with Miriam joining the Younce Guys for a short set of standards and cover tunes.  This was a special performance, in a remarkable setting, surrounded by people who share my enthusiasm.  I can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"A Serious Addiction to Rhythm": The Ragbirds @ The Ark

The Year of the Accordion Continues
     Readers of this blog must certainly know some things about me.  I'm obviously a serious fan of Live, Local music.  I love a wide variety of musical genres: bluegrass, folk, acoustic, blues, folk-rock, country, Americana and just about any type of authentic, creative music featuring great melody and honest lyrics.  Less obviously, I have a distinct preference for female vocalists and groove-heavy, funky rhythm sections.  I love small, intimate clubs, where you feel part of the music, and can see what the performers are doing--not just listen to them and watch them on a blurry "jumbotron" screen.  I love meeting the people in the audience who are there to see the show with you.  Lastly, I'm passionate about new, interesting and unique bands; those with a sound all their own, who leave you asking "why didn't I ever go see them before?"  So it should come as no surprise that when my favorite folk / bluegrass / country / reggae / jazz / conga / ska / rock-n-roll band, the Ragbirds, booked a show at the Ark, I'd be right there in the front of the line to see them.  Throw in a chance to see a show with my father and his wife Jann, along with my old friend Phil, and it didn't even matter that it was the third night in a row I'd attended a show--and what a show it was!

The Incredibly Talented Erin Zindle
     How do you describe the Ragbirds.  Lead vocalist and face of the Ragbirds, Erin Zindle summed it up pretty well when she called called herself a "singer/songwriter with a rock-and-roll brother, ethno-musicologist husband and a serious addiction to rhythm--with an eclectic collection of instruments."  Throw in the fact that they tour in a fryer-grease powered van (really, they do) and you know they're not like any other band you've seen.  Like all truly great roots musicians, the ragbirds start with a basic premise, and then borrow freely--perhaps exuberantly--from a multitude of rhythm-centric styles to craft a unique sound.  The band is fronted by Zindle and features mostly her original tunes along with an eclectic mix or modern and traditional (sometimes even classical) covers.  Their take on the Pete Townsend classic "Let My Love Open The Door" simply blew me away.

Josiah and Nicholas of Bennett
     Songs about the reality of being young, in love, scared or a new parent provide the backbone on which the band weaves its' groove; coming together to transport the audience to a magical place where drums, guitar and Erin's seemingly bottomless collection of musical instruments live, breathe and add their soul to the music.  The Ragbirds are more than entertainers; they're musical hosts, inviting you to share their music with them.  And it's obvious that they love what they do--every member of the band is quick to smile, moves with the rhythm and effortlessly connects with the audience.  A Ragbirds show is an participatory event, not just a musical exhibition.  You don't go see the Ragbirds, you experience them.

Nick.  A Great Young Fiddle Player
     Another thing you just have to love about the Ragbirds is their efforts to "pay it forward".  They frequently host new, upcoming bands at their shows, and this was no exception.  The band Bennett from Grand Rapids provided a short, but intense opening set.  This twenty-something trio of best friends, named after the street guitarist Josiah grew up on featured a groovy mix of fiddle, guitar and keys with some killer vocal harmonies draped over.  They have a very modern sound, and boy-band good looks (I mean that in the most complementary manner).  I'm sure they will find an eager and willing audience in the "Gen Y" generation--starved for high quality, authentic music.  Fiddle player Nick, in addition to some killer vocal harmonies, added some really great fiddle fills and breaks--something you don't often hear in young bands, and it adds a great deal of depth to their sound.   Their original songs were poignant, catchy and upbeat.  They play with great enthusiasm and you can tell they love playing together.  For a young band, they were very professional with a polished stage presence.  The finale featured a parade through the crowd with keyboardist Nicholas switching to the accordion.  A truly great ending, to a great band, with a promising future!

Percussionist Extraordinaire Randall Moore
     I do love a great rhythm section, and one could argue--persuasively--that the Ragbirds is really a brother-sister vocal act with a 5-piece rhythm section (yes, I know there's a guitar and fiddle on most tunes--and they play melody--but there IS a strong rhythmic element to their style).  At some point during the set every member of the band finds a way to play a percussion instrument of some kind---drum kit, bongo, djembe, conga, marracas, shakers, tambourine and variety of Afro-Middle Eastern traditional drums.   The funky groove is anchored by Chief Percussionist Randall Moore who also happens to be Erin's husband.  During the show, he is a whirlwind of activity, switching between an incredible diversity of percussion instruments, somehow laying down just the right syncopated, funky, oh-so-right-but-not-what-I-expected rhythm line on which the band builds their pocket.  If Erin is the heart of the band, Randall is definitely the soul; drawing on the best rhythmic traditions of Africa, South America and the Middle East (and probably a few other places as well).

John Brown on the Drum kit
     Holding down the more traditional rhythm section role on drum kit is percussionist Jon Brown.  As you probably know from reading this blog, I tend to favor drummers with a "less is more" attitude, both in their approach to drumming and their drum kit and Jon is the prototypical example of this.  His drumming is rock-steady on just on the front edge of the beat (as it should be) laced with subtle, yet infinitely skillful licks and fills.  He's confident enough to make a quick "rat-a-tat" statement without resorting to the cliche', rock-god Tommy Lee roll that proceeds down the drums and up in volume.  Likewise, his kit is simple (snare, tom, floor, kick) with a few cymbals and a tambourine mounted.  What it lacks in size and complexity, it more than makes up for in tone.  This is a well tuned--and well played--kit, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Jones Rocking the Hat (and the Bass)
     Jon's partner in rhythm section crime is bassist Dan Jones.  This bald-headed behemoth of the bass guitar lays down one of the steadiest, funky grooves around.  His prowess was on display early in the set when he played the melody part in unison with Erin's fiddle--pure genius.  Unlike many bands, where the bass guitar is relegated to a back-room role behind the guitar player, Dan plays right out front.  His sense of style (both in fashion and music) make him hard to miss!  Often closing his eyes and moving to his own beat, his easy smile and bright eyes show he's in total harmony with his music and enjoying every minute.  A couple times during the show, after playing some super cool lick, he kind of stares and smiles like he's thinking "Holy Crap!  That was awesome!"  I love his approach to his instrument and his contribution to the Ragbirds' sound.

Another Zindle on the Guitar
    Erin's brother TJ Zindle brings a Rock-n-Roll edge to the band.  He's hard to miss with his rock-star hair, bright red pants and frenetic antics on stage.  I saw moves like Pete Townsend, Chuck Berry and Angus Young from him--and that was just during the first song!  In addition to both acoustic and electric guitar work, TJ sings lead with a powerful, pure soul voice.  His greatest singing, however, comes when he sings harmony along with his sister.  There is something about sibling harmony that is hard to explain, but awesome to see.  There voices loop and soar, supporting each other as they climb new heights.  Often, when they sing together, you can see their eyes meet and the quickest of little smiles touches their face.  There's is a partnership built on years of singing together, and caring about each other.  

     TJ's guitar work is spectacular, blending many different styles.  It starts with a rock guitar bass, but adds a definitely Jazzy use of chords, some incredibly powerful rhythmic elements, and some uncommon scale/mode work (there's definitely an Indian and/or Middle-Eastern flare to some of his leads--coupled with some classic electric blues elements).  His tone, especially on the acoustic guitar is full, rich and luscious, with cutting fills and licks up the neck.  I would go see ANY side project he fronted--he's that good.

One End of The Drum Line
     Like most Ragbirds shows, the band left something special for the end.  After a soulful and touching second-to-last number, the band shifted into their "everyone grab a drum" mode and started on an African song (some type of love song/ballad?).  They were quicky joined on stage by a U of M Latin Percussion Band "Vencedores".  Their Brazilian Carnival influenced rhythm, complete with street whistle brought the crowd noisily to their feet.  Building on the crowds energy, and with beaming smiles, they brought the night to a pulsing, pounding, dance-in-your seat close.  As I said before, you don't go to a Ragbirds show, you experience it.  And I, for one, am so very glad I did.

More Pictures From the Show:



Monday, October 20, 2014

A Night of "Motor City Americana" at the Old Miami

One of the best dive-bars in the country
     I'm always looking for something new--a cool band, a funky venue, a new event, etc.   When my buddy Bill told me he and his band, MindDrive, were putting together a three-band, co-bill at a quirky little venue in downtown Detroit, I was all ears.  I've seen MindDrive a number of times, but they were rolling out a new drummer, and some tweaks to their sound, so I figured this was a great way to see the changes.  Adding to the draw was the fact that they'd booked a fairly traditional bluegrass acts, Behind the Times, as an opener--a band I've been meaning to see for some time.  Filling out the bill was a band I was not real familiar with, the Native Howl.   I really didn't know anything about them, but the fact that their ReverbNation page featured guitars and a banjo, and that they were all over Google and social media piqued my interest, and got me thinking they might just be "SeMiBluegrass" enough for me.

Something is watching you...
   Everything pointed to this being a cool way to spend a Friday night in "the D".  What I didn't expect was how totally cool the venue was.  It's rare that a bar steals the show, but  the
 Old Miami is the kind of funky old dive-bar that doesn't just demand your attention, but grabs you by the collar and head-butts you in the face.  How does one describe this place?  Vietnam Veteran's clubhouse meets hipster hangout?  Frat-house party meets New York punk club?  Your best friend's basement meets garage-band rental space?  A visit to a cultural museum and Central Park at night?  Words simply can not describe the overall assault to your senses that is the Old Miami.  Vietnam mementos adorn every scrap of available wall space.  Old guns hang from chains.  The beer for the bar back-line is stored in mismatched old refrigerators.  And then there's the back yard.  It's not an alley.  It's not a patio.  It's not really even a back yard.  It's a big chunk of green-space in a uniformly gray downtown.  There's random statues and a stone gargoyle.  A fire pit welcomes you to start a fire and hang out with your friends.  There's a hot-dog guy...with gourmet dogs....and home-made toppings...who cooks to order.  The beer is cold (and cheap--if you want to drink Black Label), the staff works their butt off, and they offer live music.  This place feels kind of like home to me.

Behind the Times
     Behind the Times is a stellar acoustic trio from the Waterford, Michigan area consisting of Rachel Pearson (fiddle, bass, vocals), Ben Luttermoser (guitar, bass and vocals) and Benjamin Teagues (mandolin, vocals).  Their sound is primarily bluegrass and roots oriented, but they definitely stretch the boundaries to include reggae, old-tyme, country and rock-n-roll sounds in their set.  I usually don't like smaller acoustics groups as they tend to sound a bit thin in an club setting.  This could not be further from the truth with Behind the Times.  They rock the one-mic set-up like professionals capturing the subtle nuances of their performance.  Their vocal harmonies are spot-on, often sounding like a single voice singing all three parts.

Rachel Handling the Bass Like a Pro
     They are proficient technical musicians as well, handling changes of key, genre and instruments with ease.  Rachel's fiddle playing perfectly complements the songs and helps fill them out.  With her smooth vocals and instant charm, she is an easy crowd favorite.  Ben plays guitar and sings with an obvious intensity, mixing solid rhythm playing with guitar leads that are packed full of blues and soul, a nice change from the usual blistering-fast, "I-want-to-play-like-Tony" stuff you so often hear.  His bass playing is solid, and really stands out when he tackles more complex parts and takes the melodic lead with the bass.  He is one of the best stand-up bass players I've heard.  Period.

Ben Giving it All to be on a Steam Powered Aeroplane
     Rounding out this dynamic trio is mandolin player Benjamin Teague and his turn-of-the-last-century A4 mandolin.  His twangy, pure country-soul vocals perfectly complement the rich, full, woodsy tone only a century of music can pull out of a mandolin.  His penchant for western hats, jeans and plaid shirts, along with a quick smile and the twinkle in the eye can easily bring on visions of a young Jimmy Martin.  True to their name, Behind the Times pays homage to classic Bluegrass and Old Country Standards.  What really sets them apart, however, was their inclusion of some fantastic, and original covers of less traditional material, including a reggae infused Taj Mahal number, a killer version of John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aeroplane" and a great spin on the Little Feat Classic song of love gone wrong, "Dixie Chicken".    Towards the end of the set, the young hipster crowd began filling in to see the Native Howl.  I was wondering how they'd react to Behind the Times.  I wasn't sure they'd "get it".  These worries were unfounded, as the crowd gathered around the front of the stage and took it all in, smiling, dancing and cheering.   I guess great music, and great talent, can simply transcends genre, audience and era.  Go see Behind the Times.  You will simply love them.

The Native Howl
     What to say about the Native Howl.  Billed as an acoustic duo, this twenty-somethings band features guitarist/songwriters Jake Sawicki and Alex Holycross.  Their blend of acoustic rock with a metal, folk and/or punk edge makes them a wee bit hard to define.  Start with a cross between Chris Stapelton and James Hetfield on vocals, mix in some surf-punk meets grunge band.  Throw on some Greenday bass lines and a thundering drum kit with the obligatory Djembe solo and you get close. Sort of.  They are very unique, featuring a mix of instrumentation, and an identifiable sound.  Once you've heard them, you would know they were playing before walking into a club.  Their vocal harmonies are surprisingly good for the genre, and it's obvious they spend a lot of time working on their arrangements.

A Truly Powerful Voice
     Their mostly original set featured plenty of hard-driving, high-octane melodies belted out with grit, soul and angst.  Acoustic guitars played through a variety of effects creates a lush sonic tapestry to drape songs featuring rust-belt images of young love, rebellion and coming of age.  There is a certain jam-band feel to their music, with a both guitars sharing lead lines, and rhythm work--each in their own distinctive style  And their fans love them.  Three notes into each song they lose their minds, cheering, dancing and crowding the stage.  The band obviously feeds off this energy, pushing themselves to soaring heights both vocally and instrumentally.  Make no mistake, this is a rock show.  Pure Detroit rock.  And it's great!

MindDrive Co-Frontman Bill Arnold
     Closing out the night was MindDrive, with their unique blend of electric- and acoustic music fittingly refer to as "Motor City Americana".   Debuting a new drummer, and some tweaking of their arrangements, the band hit the stage with a vengeance.   The changes to the band have certainly re-energized the band and songs alike.  The new drummer has that rare--yet essential--ability to shift between soft, quick beats to complement acoustic instruments, and the louder, more beat-forward work required behind electric guitars.  He also gets points from me for playing a smaller, stripped-down kit (my preference) and even more for working closely with bassist Les Miller to provide a unified, steady heartbeat to their songs.   Once this rhythm section sets up the pocket, the groove takes of and just keeps running.

Getting In The Groove
     Like all the bands at the Old Miami that night, MindDrive's sound is hard to pin down.  At their core, they're a rock band with an electric bass, drum kit and electric guitar on most songs.  But, almost half of their songs feature acoustic guitar and/or mandolin giving them a definite folky edge.   Bill Arnold's dobro adds a bluegrass feel to some songs, his lap steel calls up classic blues sounds, and his Telecaster is pure Nashville country.  Lead singer Jeff's clean tenor vocals slide effortlessly between jazz, British-invasion rock and prog-rock / trance-rock feels, while his complex leads and fills on the guitar add a layer of complexity to the band's sound.  Andy David is just as comfortable ripping off a stinging lead on the acoustic guitar, as he is throwing classic blues rock licks around on the Stratocaster. 

Layin' Down Some Hot Licks
     MindDrive's set list this night featured 100% original music (a fitting tribute to a 100% original venue).  OK, one of their "encore" songs may have been a deep-cut Beatles tunes...but none of the youngsters their at last call are old enough to have guessed that!   In this era of disapearing live music venues; streaming and "on demand" music; overproduced, autotuned and ultra cliche' pop; and cookie cutter top 40, most bands have to choose between pursuing their art, and making money.  Luckily, MindDrive chooses to make the hard choice, writing songs about love, loss and dissatisfaction.  Their song "Goodby Summertime", allowed to grow, evolve and mature, had moved from a fairly standard power-ballad, to a rock-anthem ode to warm weather, good friends and good times.  No music factory around today could ever create a song where the band sings "Goodby Summertime, I miss you my old friend" and have everyone in the crowd feel the intense happiness of the great times, and overwhelming melancholy at their loss.  This is the mark of a great band.  Taking words and transmogrifying them into living, breathing beings capable of transporting the listener away from their daily lives and wrapping them in layers of melody and rhythm, until your feet start to move, you lips begin to smile and your heart sings with joy!  Say what you will about Detroit, but there is still magic here.  An beauty.  And love. An you will find it anywhere there is great live music, played by a great local band, in a great local club.  Go find some.

Random Photos Follow: