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, January 12, 2015

Live Local Music on a Cold Winter Night

It don't get no better than this.
     The new year is upon us, and with it, a blast of cold Canadian air that turns our roads to skating rinks, our noses and ears red and our thoughts to warmer pursuits.  My favorite thing to do to beat the cold is search out some new bands playing hot music with the kind of heated passion that warms the heart and electrifies the soul.  When it came to my attention that two bands I've been dying to see were sharing a bill on a Thursday evening, I loaded up the Subaru and hit the road for the New Way Bar in Fashionable Ferndale.  Literally right around the corner from the house I used to live in, this fairly new addition to the trendy bar scene is bright, clean and--most importantly--home to great live music. Home to an eclectic group of regulars, quirky old-timers, new-age hipsters and the broad cross section of people you expect in this Detroit suburb, the New Way offers some of the friendliest, most attentive, and seductively competent service around.  From the hard working bartenders, polite bar backs, and even the pleasant bouncer taking the cover at the door, you get the feeling that they like their jobs, and love working there.  The fact that they give exceptional service is almost taken for granted--what else would you expect.  The ease with which they take care of their customers should serve as a lesson to many of the live music venues in South East Michigan!
A Nashville Belle
     The night kicked off with a short set by the Blue Mountain Belles...or at least one Belle (I appologize, I didn't catch her name) accompanied by a friend on the electric bass.  Playing mostly cover tunes on a well worn Martin guitar, she combined good guitar licks, with clear vocals and exceptional songwriting.  It came as no surprise to me when she announced she was now living in Nashville--her music had that combination of raw talent and polished presentation you find around every corner in the Music City.  While I don't usually care for that brand of singer/songwriter material, I was completely entertained by watching her show the songs quickly to the bass player and then launching into them.  I kept waiting for him to screw up (he didn't) or for her to simplify her songs (she didn't either).  Over all, the songs combined great storytelling and likeable melodies.  Rare in a young performer, she seemed genuinely comfortable on stage and had great rapport with the crowd.  Following the golden rule of opening acts, she remembered to thank the crowd, the bar and Billy Brandt for the opportunity.  A great opening act who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the chance to perform her material for a live crowd.  I'd love to see her with a band to really flesh her songs out.
Detroit Rock Done Right
     I was originally introduced to the music of Chris Degnore and the Black Drops by my friend George Heritier (you should DEFINITELY check him out!).  George shared some very cool blues recordings of him playing harmonica with Chris (like this), and I fell in love with his Telecaster work and vowed to go catch him the next chance I could.  I knew he had some serious guitar chops.  What I was NOT expecting, was the in-your-face Detroit Rock and Roll Smackdown he laid on me at the New Way.  Rocking a blood-red Gipson SG on this evening, Chris and his band the Black Drops hit the stage full-speed-ahead and never took their foot off the throttle.  Playing almost an hour set of mostly original tunes (with the exception of a kick-ass cover of the Who's "Substitute"--one of the best I've heard), you can definitely hear the blues influence in the band; and some funk; and some reggae; and some modern rock; and a whole ton of soul.  But there was something at the same time uniquely and quintessentially Detroit about their sound.  Whether it was Chris' throbbing rhythmn and electrifying lead work or his piercingly clear vocals, you can not avoid being caught up in the melody and transported to the cars and bars and weekend stars of the Motor City. 
     The foundation on which Chris builds his musical masterpieces is his rhythm section of Joe Bagozzi on bass and John Porter on drums.  You really have to hear these guys to believe them, they created one of the funkiest, driving and irresistible grooves I've heard.  Bagozzi somehow effortlessly combines crisp, clear bass lines with impossibly intricate runs and fills that drives each song relentlessly forward.  While unique, his style reminds me of the playing of John Entwistle in the how deceptively simple he makes it look as he plays compared to how incredibly rich and interesting it is when it comes out of the amplifier.  I've actually seen him perform with a couple other bands, but have never seen him really cut loose like this--it was some damn fine bass playing!  Likewise, Porter performs some rhythmic prestidigitation on the drum kit, combining standard rock licks with cool, sometimes almost syncopated rhythms and unexpected dynamic variations.  This guy plays so smoothly sometimes you forget he's there and assume the drums are just playing themselves.  But, just when you least expect it, a subtle stick twirl and a quick smile reminds you that you're in the presence of a master percussionist.
     The headliner of the evening was long-time Detroit songster Billy Brandt and his band the Sugarees.  This Ferndale native and local legend is about a "SemiBluegrass" as they come.  His blend of acoustic and electric, old-time and modern, serious and irreverant material offers something for everyone.  Like most of the acts I cover in this blog, all of his songs combine interesting storytelling with catchy melodies and infectious grooves.  Walking in the bar it is hard to ignore the gray-haired man with the twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and a hello or hug for everyone.  His genuine geniality make him immediately likeable and the center of attention.  When he takes the stage with his ever-evolving band of friends there is a very intimate, almost living room feel to the performance. 
Holk on bass and vox
     How do you define Billy's music?  It features--somewhat prominently--a pedal steel guitar so it's Country, right?  No....not really.  The guitar stylings of Chris Degnore make it rock or blues then?  Sort of...maybe folk rock or country blues?  The steady western-swing bass of John Holk must certainly pigeonhole their sound--alas--no.  What you have is a great songwriter, singing songs from the heart, and letting his friends play along.  Nowhere is this more evident than when Billy picks up his Telecaster Thinline and somehow turns even basic three verse ballads into hard-driving, high-energy jamband epics worthy of any bar or stadium that tries to hold them.  Another thing that set the performance apart was the outstanding three part harmonies, with Degnore's treble and Holk's baritone a perfect compliment to Brandts' remarkable warm and full lead vocals.   A Billy Brandt and the Sugarees show is not just a concert, it's an event, and you--and the rest of the crowd--are invited to join in the journey.  Go see him.  You'll love it.

More random pics from the show:

Degnore and Porter

Random "Dave" Sighting

Gotta Love Nashville Numbers

Singing from the Soul

Pedal Steel!

Photo Bomb!

Something about an SG and a slide!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your source for information about the Southeast Michigan (SeMi) Live Music Scene. News, Venues, Reviews...a community about us, for us and by us. Please consider contributing an article: semibluegrass@gmail.com