[4 January 2012]
When Brown Bird took the stage at Fitzgerald’s, it was a bit perplexing to see that lead singer/guitarist David Lamb was apparently going to sit down through the set. The reason for this quickly became apparent, as it turned out that Lamb also handles all of the duo’s percussion duties in a live setting. While MorganEve Swain mostly stuck to upright bass and occasionally fiddle, Lamb switched back and forth from banjo to guitar all the while playing kick drum, tambourine, and wood block with his feet. This setup was something to see, and it’s impressive that Lamb can do three or four things at once and keep it all together.
Their set started with the dark, languid “Ebb and Flow”, with Swain playing arco bass and Lamb on banjo. Their set featured a variety of folkish songs with unusual arrangements. That slightly off-kilter take on folk music made them a good fit to open for The Devil Makes Three. The highlight of their show may have come when the band played the speedy instrumental gypsy-style stomper “Shiloh”, featuring MorganEve’s brother David on fiddle. The bulk of the set featured songs from their new album Salt for Salt, and they had the highly diverse crowd riveted from the start.
The Devil Makes Three’s ambitious fall tour took them all over the United States in support of their new live album Stomp and Smash. By the time they hit Houston they’d been on the road for over a month and were in fine form. A packed house on a Friday night was primed and ready for a good time, and the trio delivered. They hit the stage decked out in snappy ties, vests, and hats. It’s a fashion style that goes nicely with their brand of Americana. Their music incorporates elements of blues, folk, country, bluegrass, and yes, a dash of punk attitude. Lead singer and songwriter Pete Bernhard’s lyrics tend towards the autobiographical, and his confessional, “I’ve had an eventful life and I don’t regret it” style gives his songs a partying, good-time quality even when he writes ballads.
The show included songs from all of the band’s albums, but focused heavily on tracks from Stomp and Smash. Even though they hadn’t played a show in Houston in years, the crowd that turned out knew the songs and sang along all night long. Early highlights included favorites like “Tow” and the band’s ode to Jack Daniels, “Old Number Seven”. The new song “This Life” had people on the floor dancing to Bernhard’s life on the road stories. The band gave guitarist/ banjo player Cooper McBean the spotlight to sing lead vocals on their Blind Willie McTell cover, “Statesboro Blues”. Meanwhile, bassist Lucia Turino added backing vocals all night long while displaying a ton of enthusiasm and moving around as much as possible with her bulky upright bass. Mostly this amounted to her stretching out her arms as far as possible and throwing her head back a lot, but her energy was infectious.
As the set wound down, The Devil Makes Three pulled out more highlights like the funny “For Good Again” and the jaunty “Do Wrong Right”. The Irish-jig style “Black Irish” seemed to be missing a bit without fiddler Andy Lentz in attendance, but the band’s high velocity playing made up for his absence. The band returned for the encore by playing the excellent rocker “Help Yourself”, which had the audience howling for more. The band obliged with one final song, bringing out Brown Bird to play along on “St. James”, which crawls along for its first half before launching into a high speed stomper. It was a great way to close things out, and the crowd left the club with big smiles on their faces.