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Monday, May 16, 2016

Some Refreshingly New Music from Border Patrol (Live at the Elizabeth Theater)

Border Patrol Singing in Perfect Harmony
Each spring as the weather warms up and the school year starts to wind down, I find myself  yearning for something new, something refreshing and something interesting to picque my musical curiosity.  After more than 60 articles on Semibluegrass.com and 20,000 unique page views, my connection to the very best live, local, acoustic acts in South East Michigan continues to expand.  It was through this blog that local vocalist/guitarist  Dave Toennies reached out to me about his new folk rock band Border Patrol and a gig they had lined up in support of their new CD "Toxic Though Machine"  at the Elizabeth Theater above the Park Bar in Downtown Detroit.  I listened to a track from the album and was immediately hooked.  It's definitely "SeMiBluegras" (because that rolls of the tongue much better than "Blueacocusticanna Folkrootgrass" that more accurately descibes my taste in music!).

Co Headliners "The Diving Bell" from Chicago
Located near the historic Filmore, the Elizabeth Theatre is a funky, cool upstairs space.  Ample attended parking is available, so you don't need to worry about your car down here.  As a bit of a commentary on the state of music, the parking ($10) cost double the cover charge ($5) this evening...and that was for three bands!  A small stage and dancefloor sit in front of a terraced audience area complete with waist-high rails for setting down a drink (or a camera lens).  The concert area opens on one side to a well-supplied circular bar.  The other side is curtained off to form a small artists' "green room".  A professional sound system and skilled sound guy really brought the music to life.  This truly is a great listening room, with warm tones and crystal clear audio. 

Thirty Men
The decor is spartan, but the hanging strings of glass lights and mixed bag of Navajo and Persian rugs decorating the the ceiling give it an artsy hip feel.  Judging from some incredible aroma's wafting up the stairwell, the food downstairs at the Park Bar promised to be excellent as well.  The opening act this day fit perfectly with the vibe of the room.  The misleadingly named "Thirty Men" was actually a duo featuring singer/songwriter Emily Rose on guitar and her friend Eileen (I think) on musical saw.  Their short set of original songs interspersed with some Nirvana covers featured killer harmonies with both ladies taking turns singing lead.  Rose's fingerstyle guitar work is complex and clean.  Somehow, the saw, played with a cello bow creates eerily haunting and warbling tones that perfectly accentuate the rather dark, minor chord feel of these songs.  I swear, at points during the set, I thought she was playing a theramin.  A set of idie-rock from Chicago band The Diving Bell  was up next.  I was more familiar with them as a acoustic Americana act (Like This) fronted by Steve and Clare Hendershot.  On this evening, they brought and edgier, aplified sound featuring multiple electric guitars and even an electric 5-string banjo.  Standout song of the evening was a steam-punky setpiece from and upcoming recording session they have planned complete with a story narative accompanying the song.  I'd love to here to whole thing start to finish--just a bit different approach to the "concept album" than you usually see.

Dave Toennies
Border Patrol took to the stage after a quick set change and lit the crowd up with their high-energy set of original tunes.   Toennies' songs are an honest look at the day-to-day life of twenty-somethings' and their search for their place in our rapidly evolving world.  With a clear, high tenor, he delivers upbeat songs is mostly happy keys with subtle minor turns to add some angst the lyrics.  His delivery definitely has an old-timey feel to it, but mixed a splash or hardcore punk.  Sung with passion and power, the rawness of the verses is swept up with thick, rich 3- and 4- part harmonies in the choruses.   I hear some Stray Cats in their voices, and some Devil Makes Three in their music.  Definitely some late-80s Squeeze in there as well. 

Instrumentally, the band has a lot to offer.   Starting with Toennies' easy-going lope in his guitar playing, the rest of the members of the band each contribute a layer of complexity, melody and rhythm to the Border Patrol sound.  Windsor native Cody Howard's banjo adds the perfect folk-feel to the songs.  Occupying a space somewhere between melodic and clawhammer, his style ranges from civil-war era twangy to modern-day melodies with ease, setting the mood for each song.  Howard's vocal harmonies are powerful and complex, really complementing his singing partner's voice.  Bassist Ryan Haggarty plays the upright, which is perfect for the band's sound and provides all the drive they need.  His harmony singing was spot on as well.  What makes the band unique is the addition of Walter Senko on keyboard.  Ranging form an electric organ sound on upbeat tunes to a classical piano sound on older, slower tunes, his solos provide all the emotion and soul a band could ask for.  Drummer Noah Kamisky fills out the band.  While he had a small kit with him, he plays mostly light snare, with just a bit of ride cymbal and kick drum.  It's funny how few drummers understand this "less is more" approach to backing primarily acoustic bands.  When it works (and boy does it work here!) it really adds a layer of complexity to these types of songs.

So three great acts in a great venue.  What's not to love.  In the mood for something refreshingly new?  Get yourself a copy of Border Patrol's "Toxic Thought Machine", kick back, and take a journey.  Feel free to use images and text in this review with credit to Semibluegrass.com.  Follow us for more great, live, local music in Southeast Michigan.  Or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instrgram.

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