Review: Greensky Bluegrass w/Chicago Farmer at The Vogue-11/29/12

Greensky Bluegrass, the five-piece band from Kalamazoo, proved to be a very special treat at The Vogue. Recently, I’ve been attending a lot of EDM influenced shows. Which has been great, but I needed something different to maintain balance in seeing a wide spectrum of music genres. Bluegrass is exactly what I needed and getting to see Greensky in a club for the first time was an added bonus. Chicago Farmer was the opening act. The solo guitarist’s set was fun. The first half his set featured him calmly sitting, strumming his guitar and serenading the crowd. The highlight of this portion was his awesome cover of Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”. The second half of his set was more playful and energetic. He sprang from his chair, feverishly working his guitar and singing with intense emotion. The music was great, but his rants in between songs were awesome. His ability to connect with the crowd while seeming spacey was oddly effective. Chicago Farmer was definitely an excellent start to the evening.

Greensky opened with “Ground Hog”, a high energy yet playful song. It featured the mandolinist, banjo player, and guitarist stepping forward with full throttle play of their respected instruments, while the rest of the group tightly held the melodies together. Playful  swapping of vocals by Paul Hoffman, mandolinist, and Dave Bruzza, guitarist, were timed with  precision. It was a perfectly executed song in classic bluegrass form. After the high energy start, Greensky provided flowing tempo changes with intricate melodies. The build up was created by banjo player Michael Arlen Bont and Hoffman’s playful battle back and forth, ending with an incredible banjo solo by Bont. Greensky was playing wholesome bluegrass, but inching toward something different. The band fed off of the solo’s energy with each member playing faster and harder. The stand up bassist tightly held the sound together of the skillful improvisations created by the rest of the band. This was the emergence of Greensky’s signature progressive bluegrass style. Bruzza’s used the acoustic guitar to provide rhythmic grooves fast enough to keep up with the quick tempo bluegrass jams. Each member provided the perfect blend of sound as the jam intensified. The set ended abruptly, but showing what direction the band would take for the second set.

After getting a little sidetracked during set break, I floated back in just as the band was starting to play. I became giddy when I realized the song was a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere”. Their bluegrass twist on the classic was pleasantly surprising. It was actually quite beautiful. Forging ahead, Greensky began to play hard-hitting jams with very tight melodies. Anders Beck, slide guitar(dobro), created chilling psychedelic sounds blending perfectly with the uppity jams. The bluegrass fusion elements featured in the second set easily surpassed the first set. “Jaywalking”, another Greensky original, was played perfectly and was a beautiful display of their newgrass form of music. The masterful creation of sound began to take control of the crowd. Fans stomped and danced as the band kept pushing with high energy improvisations and playful presentation. The playfulness proved to be infectious as a conga line formed, snaking its way through the crowd. Shortly after, the set ended with the rowdy crowd wanting more. In typical fashion, after a few minutes the band reemerged to play the encore.

The encore started with Greensky churning out heavily psychedelic melodies. The tempo increased as the mandolinist took over during his highlighted jam, sending the crowd into a dance frenzy. Hoffman rapidly plucked away on his mandolin, taking the music to new heights. Things got interesting when Greensky started their final song. Within a few notes, it was obvious they had chosen to cover, “Money Ain’t for Nothin”, by Dire Straights. It was absolutely amazing. The crowd sang along with the band as they played a unique version of the classic hit. Greensky provided the perfect ending to an already amazing show. The flow of the show was very well layered. It was the perfect mixture of warm wholesome bluegrass and relentless jams. At several points through the show I heard elements of Jerry Garcia Band and David Grisman, both legends in progressive bluegrass. Greensky Bluegrass played one of the best bluegrass fusion shows I’ve seen in awhile. I thought the recent Yonder Mt. String Band show was amazing, but it didn’t even come close to this show. It was impressive. Anyone who likes bluegrass music needs to know who Greensky Bluegrass is, they’re that good.Words by: Alex Toy

Photos by: Aaron Lingenfelter, Wide Aperture Images