Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, The Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR- 2/27
A month into their current tour, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers braved the uniquely Oregon phenomenon known as ‘freezing fog’ to touch down in Portland for a two night stand at the Doug Fir Lounge.
Their adventure coming over the mountain pass seemed to indict them with a bit of “van lag,” as the opening night show seemed to have a little trouble getting out of first gear. What’s more the Doug Fir’s sound system didn’t do them any favors. It took a half-dozen songs of high pitched squeaks for the monitor mix to be correctly rung out, no doubt a distraction to the band. The house mix was sloggy, pretty much lacking any air around the vocals that are so critical to the band’s sound.
Still, Nicki was spectacular, as usual. She’s arguably one of the most charismatic singers working the stage today, her voice by turns as delicate as a flower and soulful as Sunday morning gospel. Lead guitarist Darren Ney brought some serious picking to the proceedings and, as expected, bassist Steve Adams anchored the affair with great taste.
After a mid-set, three-part acoustic reading of “In The Mountains” (written by Sarah Siskin, wife of The Infamous Stringdusters bassist Travis Book), the band launched into a spirited version of guitarist Dave Mulligan’s “Santa Fe” and the house started to wake up. Their reading of “Till I’m Blue,” a co-write with Portlander Scott Law, got the crowd’s attention, as well. With a virtually note-for-note interpretation of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good,” the show finally kicked into high gear.
“I Wanna Go Home,” melded with Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love,” was a blast and “Little Too Late,” from their debut album, was totally funky. After a pair of encore tunes, the show was done.
While the 90 minute show was a slight disappointment, this showing should be chalked up as nothing more than a tough night in an inhospitable venue. Their performance at last summer’s String Cheese Incident in Portland was out of this world so, if they hit your town, plan to go see them. And hope for better weather and a better tuned sound system.