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Published: 2012/08/06
by Chris Diestler

Infamous Stringdusters, Sol, Santa Fe, NM – 7/12

Photo by Tom Daly

The progressive bluegrass quintet Infamous Stringdusters brought the jams and even a little Jerry to Santa Fe, New Mexico, kicking-off of their 5-week summer tour.

Wait a minute, did I say quintet?

For those keeping score, Jesse Cobb (mandolin) is no longer in the line-up. It’s not the first time their lineup has changed, but it is the first change since their stellar eponymous release of 2008. And, rather than fill the mandolin position, they seem determined to forge ahead without one.

Their Santa Fe audience was a peculiar mix of cowboys, hipsters and hippies. The one thing they all seemed to share was a desire to get a little rowdy and move their feet.

A guitar cable glitch could’ve derailed the set in the first 2 songs, but even as a 4-piece, they chugged right along and turned in one of the jammiest versions of their 2nd album classic “Well, Well” ever. These guys are trained professionals; do not attempt this at home.

A straightforward but fiery rendition of bluegrass Godfather Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” made way for a new tune from Chris Pandolfi (banjo), tentatively titled “High Country Funk.” Now I don’t mean this as an insult, but if I look at the lineup the last one I’d peg as “funky” would be Pandolfi. He must be hiding all kinds of “stealth funk” under that studious, quiet-boy exterior.

I love getting new songs at a show, especially from a band that just barely put out an album (“Silver Sky,” their 4th studio release, came out in March). Perhaps they feel freer to do this now that they’re officially “indie.” If so, I say keep it coming. And by indie, I mean independently produced and distributed without record label auspices, as opposed to what the kids are calling “Indie” these days. See also the difference between actual “Rhythm & Blues” and what the kids are calling R&B these days.

Jeremy Garrett (fiddle) laid down “I Am a Stranger,” originally from one of his solo releases, and Travis Book (bass) took the lead on a ‘Dusters staple, “Long Lonesome Day,” which originally appeared on his old band’s EP (Colorado Playboys). The ‘Dusters have amassed quite a collection of solo recordings between them, but Andy Hall (dobro) told me future solo discs will be far fewer: “The way things are now it’s just really expensive to put a solo record out there.” I didn’t think to ask whether he meant with the new “no label” paradigm, or the fact that most people download / stream their music these days. Anyway, it’s clear that these gentlemen together are far greater than the sum of their parts, so perhaps this is a signal from Hall that they’ve made a conscious decision to roll with what works.

And several of their long-standing set list gems still work in spades, particularly the jiggy (and I mean reminiscent of traditional jigs) “Black Rock,” and the always-epic “Gettin’ Down the Road.” Like their jamgrass predecessors (Old and in the Way, Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band, etc.), the ‘Dusters have a knack for writing catchy songs that sound great on the album, but really open up and take off during live shows if the vibe is right, and it was right tonight.

Some great covers: a rousing take on The Band’s “The Weight,” which the boisterous crowd sang along to heartily, like it was an old sea chanty; and a surprise Grateful Dead number, “He’s Gone,” which made the transition to the Stringdusters repertoire delightfully intact. As it spiraled slowly to a haunting a cappella finish, I overheard a grinning Travis Book say to his bandmates, “I hear a horror movie in there.”

The biggest “wow” moment for me though, was an instrumental that followed one of the best songs from their new album, “Don’t Mean Nothin’,” an Andy Falco (guitar) feature they’re calling “Paddy in the Turnpike.” This may be a working title, and it’s an instrumental. It may never appear on an album, it may never appear under that title. It may have been 6 minutes of time that never existed before and never will again. And isn’t that what we all hope for when we go to a show? Some kind of indescribable exaltation, however fleeting?

“Fire” – not to be confused with the Hendrix song of the same name – adds another funk/bluegrass hybrid number to their catalog, and the set closer “Echoes of Goodbye” was everything you’d want a closer to be: expansive, archetypal, memorable.

Of one of the tapers in specific, but possibly of the crowd in general, Travis Book – who must’ve agreed to be the band’s spokesman for the night – said this: “It’s a good group of people around here that like to party, that like good music. Too many bands skip over this part of the country and I think it’s tragic and it’s sad and we’re glad that you’re here and we’re gonna spread the word.”

All in all, only 3 songs (out of 23) were from the new album though there were other “new” songs in various stages of finished. I think that ratio (and the cover of “He’s Gone”) indicates in whose footsteps they’re treading, and whose business model they’re trying to emulate. More power to them.

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