Greensky Bluegrass, B.B. King Blues Club, NYC – 4/17
Photo by Ethan Ausschnitt
Spotted upon entering the club: Railroad Earth’s Andy Goessling, playing it cool in the crowd, the telltale sign of great things to come. Not that I wasn’t already excited; its been over half a year since I’ve seen the boys of Greensky Bluegrass, and a North Plains, Oregon summer show is a far cry from the intimacy of the BB King Blues Club in the midst of Times Square.
In New York “Jaywalking” is the preferred method for crossing the street, so that seemed an appropriate place to start. Next was “Just to Lie,” a tune that impeccably captures how if you talk (or sing) fast enough, saying just the right thing, you can somehow fool a girl into believing that she’s not being used. From there the momentum kept building, right into Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner,” which plays faster than the cocaine everyone likes to quip that it’s about. Mandolin played Paul Hoffman segued into a plug for Strings & Sol, mentioning co-billers and “masters of the Northeast,” Railroad Earth, which could only foreshadow a sit in to come.
“Don’t Lie” is my favorite Greensky Bluegrass song (at least today). It’s exemplary in that it blends instrumentals, breathing room, and lyrics that explore untapped yet familiar terrain. The song took Hoffman over a year to do anything with, before he finally merged it with an instrumental dobro player Anders Beck had written. “Don’t Lie” actually seems like an apt lyrical response to “Just to Lie,” but it took this particular setlist for me to make that connection. The first set ended with “Dry Country” into Pink Floyd’s “Time” which, as a cover, let alone a bluegrass cover, is downright impressive. Doubly impressive when you consider how they make it their own and add a pithy little string signature at the end (also classic Greensky: fooling you into thinking another song’s beginning, when it’s actually the ending.)
“Dustbowl Overtures” opened the second set, which is a Steppin’ in It original, also Michigan string natives. Like every cover I have mentioned and will mention in this review, it comes out sounding like a tune they easily could have written. Curating a setlist is art for a lot of jambands, but it’s one of the things I find most impressive about a Greensky Bluegrass show. The way they play, the way they write lyrics, and the fact that I can never guess the setlist—it’s all counterintuitive and results in novelty most of the time, even if things can get a little weird.
“Multi, multi-instrumentalist” Andy Goessling—who also appears on the band’s recent live CD, All Access: Volume 2 —did indeed take the stage. He jammed on his Soprano Sax through the instrumentals “Foggy Mountain Special” and an extended “King of the Hill.” Hoffman shared the memory of picking with the Railroad Earth guys all night after a show in Cleveland, and their relationship with their soon to be Red Rock conspirators (mark your calendars Colorado) didn’t end there. To further the connection they played Anders Beck’s composition “The Real Johnny Grubb,” which is an ode to former Railroad Earth bassist Johnny Grubb, who you may now know as a member of the Emmitt-Nershi Band (one more fun fact: Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone produced their third album, Five Interstates).
“Dancing in the Dark” could be a risky choice this close to Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey home, but I’m standing by my previous statement regarding Greensky’s covers. Michael Bont on banjo, Dave Bruzza on guitar, and Mike Devol on bass round out the band that simply put, plays really well together. This becomes all the more evident during the really fast numbers, like the traditional “Jesus on the Mainline.” The end of the show had the audience rowdy, with Paul Hoffman in a power stance, wailing on his mandolin and singing “Demons,” an apt, tongue-in-cheek encore:
I was happy now I’m leavin’
Here’s the rest of my beer, goin’ home
Going home with my demons