The Giving Tree Band, The Ragbirds and Old Shoe, House of Blues, Chicago, IL – 10/4
Photo by Norman Sands
Unbeknownst to many The Giving Tree Band’s recent release Vacilador is a reference to a word found in the 1947 John Steinbeck novel Travels With Charley. The verb vacilar, Steinbeck contends, does not have a comparable word in English. It means that you’re aiming at someplace, but you don’t care much whether you get there and that once you arrive what you have done may far exceed what you anticipated was the outcome. It is telling is that the seven person ensemble embodies that mantra of the journey being the adventure and not the final destination the goal. The band’s lives are intertwined together from dusk until dawn and GTB’s stage presence is as natural as the wood which their instruments are carved which along with good honest lyrics make them accessible.
With a trip to Rhodes, Greece the very next day the not-quite-wayward vagabonds prepared for take-off in front of their hometown crowd. The curtain was drawn and like any good showmen display there was an element of choreography as they launched into the first track off Vacilador called “Cold Cold Rain.” Earthy acoustic and genuine lyrics that speak to all walks of life explaining why the Fink brothers and crew have racked up nearly 60,000 miles touring this year as they spread their environmentally friendly carbon neutral green gospel across the land. Their instrumentation and arrangement onstage has some comparing their sound to pretty grandiose company in The Band and Mumford & Sons. Living together in a house in Yorkville, IL where they originated and record their music it was easy to draw the line to The Band’s classic album Music From Big Pink. Late in the evening they even paid tribute to their influential brethren with the Dylan classic “I Shall Be Released” with Norm Norman on piano lending falsetto vocals. Vacilador has what The Austin Chronicle has called one of the best covers of 2012 so far in “Brown Eyed Women”, and GTB brought out another Grateful Dead classic from the cupboard in “I Know You Rider” as one of the two song encores (A Song For You by Gram Parsons being the other).
Covers drew the casual listener closer, but the set list was filled with originals that pulled from two of the GTB’s three previous releases Great Possessions (2009), and The Joke, The Threat, The Obvious (2010). “Peace On The Mountain” and “That’s The Time” off Possessions were placed together after the opener and sounded much sparser and rustic than the contrasting “River King” which had a distinctively Dylan circa ‘75 sound to it. Rich sounding with a base heavy drum intro and rhythm section timing reminiscent of “The Weight” Eric Fink’s down home vocals seemed to find a sweet spot in every ear standing in front of him. When the band played four songs off Joke: “Red Leaves”>”Moonlight Lady”>”Caged Lion”> “Circles” there was a feeling of contentment visible onstage and contagious as it spread to the pit where people danced, twirled, or shuffled. In a past interview the band indicated that these songs are most representative of The Giving Tree’s sound, and it was a welcome auditory experience to take in first hand.
Vacilador’s “Limbo” and “Dead Heroes” have a complexity and demonstrated the bands collective growth in arrangement, structure, and style. On this night “Limbo” was a bouncy jaunt around the block and a throwback to an earlier period of music. Swinging bass and horns along with some echoing grit and distortion effects to the vocals gave a hint of Beatlesesque rock.
Throughout the set backing vocals harmonized succinctly without overpowering whoever sang lead. As the curtain closed and the band took in worthy applause of their devoted following I wished these Vacilador’s safe travels and knew that whatever the path they took smiles and a warm comforting feeling was bound to follow close behind.