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Published: 2018/01/04
by Kiran Herbert

Fruition and the Lil’ Smokies at Crystal Ballroom

Between the fires and floods, Russian hacks and North Korean nukes, record mass shootings and empty twitter rants—many Americans weren’t sad to see 2017 go. For Fruition, however, it was a good year, full of mainstage festival sets from Telluride to Puerto Morelos and the completion of a new album, Watching It All Fall Apart, set for a February 2 release. Although the quintet typically plays Portland, Oregon for New Year’s, it was the band’s first time headlining the legendary Crystal Ballroom, complete with Grateful Dead vibes and a bouncing floor. Reworking the old to create something textured and new ended up being the theme of the weekend.

Openers the Lil’ Smokies fired up the audience both nights, whether they were playing originals or giving the modern bluegrass treatment to tunes as varied as Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There to Remind Me.” But the best part about having the Montana band along for the ride? The collaboration that came out of it, whether it was Fruition covering the Smokies’ “California,” doborist Andy Dunnigan sitting in on “Laydown Blues,” or Jake Simpson adding his fiddle to a good seven songs. Other guests included longtime collaborator Brad Parsons, keyboardist Dave Dernovsek (of the live electronica band Yak Attack), and the ladies behind Biazarre Star Strings. The latter not only played on songs off the new album (such as Jay Cobb Anderson’s “Fear of Missing Out), but they also infused heavy-hitters—“The Meaning,” “Fire”—with violin, viola, and cello.

Fruition, more indie inclined than its jamband peers, repeated several songs over the two nights, including the first single off the forthcoming album, the gritty, rocking “I’ll Never Sing Your Name.” “There She Was” also got the two-night treatment, but for good reason: the first night debuted the new album version of the song, a less dancy-disco rendering that the old, which opened up night two. Also off Watching It All Fall Apart : Anderson’s “Lonesome Prayer” and “Let’s Take It Too Far,” a fitting testament of the night to come. If what we’ve heard so far is any indication, the new album is a step in a different direction: less acoustic roots music and more Laurel Canyon soul-psychadelia.

As it goes with hometown shows though, old-school gems played with heart, such as Mimi Naja’s “Wasting Away” on night one, or “Turn Your Love” on night two, can make a show. As it goes with New Years shows, covers are a must. Some—Led Zepplin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,” Doria Robert’s “Perfect,” and the sublime Leonard Cohen number “Suzanne”—we’ve heard from the band before. Others were new and epic, such as Cream’s “White Room” or the chosen midnight song, Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Still, as the weekend wound down, there was only one tune, a John Prine number, that could capture the anxiety of returning to a world unchanged. It was a “Long Monday” indeed.

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