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Published: 2011/10/24
by Sam Robertson

Grayson Capps, Sullivan Hall, NYC – 10/6

At one point during Grayson Capps’ show at New York’s Sullivan Hall, he maligned the fact that names like Levon Helm and John Prine draw blank stares from so many people. Capps is clearly well versed in and influenced by those classic artists, but what makes Grayson such a tremendously fascinating storyteller and performer is his more unusual influences. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, Grayson spent years hanging around the city, living in abandoned buildings while working as a street musician. During those years of playing all around New Orleans, Capps became not only a walking encyclopedia of New Orleans music, but also used his unusual life adventures to inspire his singular songwriting.

Grayson’s father is an author, which certainly helps explain how Grayson learned to tell such captivating stories. Grayson is such a talented storyteller that even during banter in between songs he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand and hanging onto every word. He told stories of “Washboard Lisa,” a New Orleans street musician with a tattoo of Johnny Cash flipping the bird, and “John The Dagger,” a tattooed, intimidating man fresh out of prison for murder that sent the audience into fits of laughter. “John The Dagger” and “Washboard Lisa” are people that Capps has stumbled into along his life journey, and these are the kind of bigger than life characters that wander in and out of his songs.

With his storytelling abilities, there is certainly a bit of John Prine and Woody Guthrie in Capps, who often tours as a solo acoustic folksinger. But Grayson recruited the services of a new backing band, The Lose Cause Minstrels for his new album, appropriately titled The Lost Cause Minstrels. The band is also supporting him on his current tour and is the perfect vehicle for Grayson’s songwriting. Though the band has only been touring with Capps for a short time, they’ve quickly developed a tight chemistry and the ability to jump between several different styles of music. On this night at Sullivan Hall the setlist drew heavily from the new album they recorded together, and the new songs were all received with surprising enthusiasm from the crowd.

The Jimi Hendrix-like “No Definitions,” with a heavy, pulsing groove and distorted, sparring guitar licks from Capps and lead guitarist Corky Hughes announced the arrival of The Lost Cause Minstrels with style. “No Definitions” is the hardest rocking song Capps has ever recorded, featuring a heavy, psychedelic rock sound that Capps can pull off now that he’s got the pure power of The Lost Cause Minstrels behind him. While “No Definitions” threw the crowd into air-guitar frenzy, his new ballads were just as well received. The haunting “Chief Seattle” left the crowd silently captivated, as Capps sang about white settlers buying land and slaves from Native Americans. Though Capps sang about history that occurred over two hundred years ago, lines like “How can you purchase the air that we breathe?” and “Don’t you know the man who goes to war comes home in defeat?” are eerily relevant to our world today. Of course Capps balanced out stirring, dark ballads like that with plenty of joyous moments, like climbing into the crowd to dance with and serenade his female fans during the final verse of “Coconut Moonshine.”

Capps has a lot of confidence in these new songs, even performing two, “Ol’ Slac” and “Rock and Roll” to close out the show. During “Ol’ Slac,” Capps even exhorted the crowd into a rowdy call and response sing-along. Rarely do crowds receive new songs with that kind of energy, but Grayson’s new songs are simply that good. Of course he did mix some older gems in with the new songs. “Poison” elicited a fun sing-along and “Big Ole Woman” created a storm of dancing, but on this night the new material stole the show. Grayson’s newest album, The Lost Cause Minstrels, is the best work of his career and finds him embracing a diversity of musical influences – from the Americana of Levon Helm and John Prine to easy New Orleans rhythms and foot stomping rock and roll. With The Lost Cause Minstrels, Capps has found the perfect backing band that can jump from one style to the next with ease, and act as the perfect foil for his exciting stories.

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