Ramble Dove, Irving Plaza, NYC- 5/31
NYC ROLL-TOP: Rumble Dove
As the man said, there are just two types of music in this world: country and western. Within that vast spectrum, though, there's room for incredible variation: the string-abetted big bands of Ray Charles, the glossy harmonies of the Everly Brothers, the lonesome ache of Hank Williams, the outlaw jazz chords of Willie Nelson, the vaguely psychedelic overtones of The Byrds, the badonkadonk of… well, I'm not sure. I kinda just wanted to say "badonkadonk." (I'd like to say that one more time: "badonkadonk.") Mike Gordon and Ramble Dove, too, play both types of music, and do so in a style previously unknown to most of the country: that of the Vermont coffeehouse.
Despite the once-and-future Phish bassist's marquee name, the band's clear leader and frontman — at least when they took the stage at Manhattan's Irving Plaza on May 31st — was guitarist Brett Hughes. By the time the sextet slipped into their second number, George Jones' "Milwaukee Here I Come," it was clear their approach to country was every bit as unique as any other, and that a large part of that was that they weren't going to pretend to be from anywhere but Vermont. Frequently defined by Gordon's distinctly punchy basslines and Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski's post-Allmans leads, the music was simultaneously busy and casual.
As they ran down numbers like Jerry Gillespie's "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" and Gordon's titular "Ramble Dove" (his first of disappointingly few lead vocals of the night), it was obvious that Ramble Dove loved their honky just as much as their tonk, though the performance wasn't without its ironic distance. With a crowd of Phishheads before them, they weren't playing country music to a community of country music aficionados, or even an audience looking for comfort in good, sad songs. Blame it on the context. It's hard to properly appreciate country music, especially of Ramble Dove's casual variety, without cheap beer — something Irving Plaza lacked in abundance.
The band's jams were loose and lazy — such as a meandering segue from "Ramble Dove" into Jacqueline Ertel and Terry Slate's "Bowling Green" — the work of a bar band who got together to play because they wanted to, and not because they had any great statement to make. The crowd went predictably batshit when Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio emerged near end of their first set for "I Got Loaded," after which the jams only got looser. Gordon's "Weekly Time" — an outtake from Phish's Billy Breathes sessions — was only marginally country, but that hardly mattered: the Phishmates found those old familiar harmonies within the song’s slinky groove.
Anastasio stuck around for most of the second set, too, picking up songs as he went, like Dolly Parton's "In Each Love, A Pain Must Fall" and Lefty Frizzell's "Gone, Gone, Gone," and fading comfortably into the background unless called on. The music was hardly groundbreaking, for the musicians or the world at large, but that was hardly the point. It can be exhilarating to create harmonies, as vocalist Marie Claire and Aye Inoue did throughout the night, or to hear a pedal steel pull silver threads through the rest of the ever-darting band (as Burlington vet Gordon Stone did). When the band launched into Phish's "Possum" — the closest to native music the outfit played all night — the crowd went double-plus batshit. With irony built right in (or at least some sort of humor), all were free to let their hair down. Who let the doves out?
Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com