Hard Working Americans, Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA- 1/25
Photo by Stuart Levine
It’s difficult enough for members of different bands just to find the collective free time to record together in the studio, so when a brand new supergroup spawns, records, and immediately launches into a heavy tour like Hard Working Americans, it’s clear the members have tapped into something special that they enthusiastically believe in. Hard Working Americans finds folksinger Todd Snider playing through his own hand-picked book of American folksongs but backed by a band that can take them for a musical ride – bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), guitarist Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), drummer Duane Trucks (Colonel Bruce Hampton), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Aycock. Though the band had less than five live shows under their belt by the time they arrived at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer, the venue was packed and they lived up to the supergroup hype with a smoking 90 minute set.
As the biggest name of the group, Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools appeared to draw the bulk of the fans, and he made his presence immediately felt with a ground-shaking bassline on the slamming rock and roll of opener “Another Train.” Neal Casal set sail for his first dizzying solo of the night over the powerful rhythmic crashes of Schools and drummer Duane Trucks, Jesse Aycock answered with a plenty colorful solo of his own, and the band suddenly shifted gears into Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.” As one may expect from a band with only a single album to their name, Hard Working Americans played through their debut album, making the bonus Haggard cover a nice surprise. While perhaps a slightly predictable cover choice for Hard Working Americans, the band infused the song with their own slinking heavy blues style and fiery soloing, as Snider yelled out “There goes that’s workin’ man!” as Chad Staehly whistled away on organ.
Returning to the train theme, the band again looked away from their debut album for “Play A Train Song” from Snider’s solo career. Another dose of rowdy blues, “Play A Train Song” found Snider taking center stage with wailing harmonica and snide vocals before Staehly, Aycock and Casal passed around solos. Dipping back into album material, Kevin Gordon’s “Down To The Well” served as the perfectly placed ballad. With Casal lending gorgeous vocal harmonies and a particularly exquisite, bursting slide solo, “Down To The Well” allowed Snider and Casal to showcase their rootsy sensibilities as the thumping hard rock rhythms of Schools and Trucks took a backseat.
While the bulk of Hard Working Americans set consisted of snapping blues riffs and impressively loud rock and roll, “Down To The Well” and a couple other folkier ballads were flawlessly played highlights and gently balanced out the set. Snider’s voice has never sounded more natural and heart wrenching than on their cover of Gillian Welch’s “Wrecking Ball,” while Casal’s impossibly delicate guitar picking had the crowd completely silenced. As the band took the stage for an encore, they launched into Drivin’ and Cryin’s “Straight To Hell,” a perfect confluence for their rock, blues, folk and gospel influences. With a soaring, rootsy sing-along chorus, the band slowly built up the ballad to a powerful climax with spiraling guitars and crashing drums, as Hard Working Americans loudly announced that this is one supergroup that needs to stick around.