Review & Photos | The Infamous Stringdusters | New York

Images by: Suzy Perler
Words by: Chad Berndtson

The Infamous Stringdusters & Fruition :: 3.27.14 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY

Check out Chad's review below Suzy's gallery!

Jamgrass groups, newgrass ensembles, mutant stringbands, whatever you want to call them… we’re living in a golden age.

Broadly speaking, Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon, Uncle Earl, Nickel Creek, Cornmeal, Greensky Bluegrass - and host of others – are all thriving, or re- emerging, or re-inventing. Newgrass legends like Sam Bush and Bela Fleck – once the broader genre’s most talked-about disrupters – are still at it, still exciting and still able to surprise even though now thoroughly revered as elder statesmen. The middle-aged leaders like Yonder can pack in crowds all over the country, and behind them are the up-and-comers gradually busting out and forming a new vanguard.

It’s in this new vanguard that we find the Infamous Stringdusters, who thanks to a combination of felt-through songs, virtuosic playing, a balance of old-timey charm and insistent novelty and a live show that gets better and better and better, are the complete package.

Their current tour supporting the just-released Let It Go swung through New York’s Bowery Ballroom - a venue they’ve packed several times since 2012 – and it feels like the Dusters have hit a new peak: fans who know the songs, get into the jams and find unimpeachable evidence that the Stringdusters are one of the best string-influenced bands in the country right now.

NYC got a generous setlist, and from the word “go,” the Stringdusters went deep into their own “Lovelight” and behind guitarist Andy Falco dovetailed into a pronounced “China Cat Sunflower” jam. There were rib-tickling bluegrass breakdowns to follow, as well as defiant folk-country tunes, soulful harmonics and dazzling showcases by everyone from dobro ninja Andy Hall to fiddler Jeremy Garrett and banjoist Chris Pandolfi, all of it underpinned by bassist Travis Book’s uncluttered and uncompromised rhythm current.

Watching them tear through tunes like “Middlefork” and a well-appointed version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer,” what’s clear is that these five musicians think as one, but have also figured out how to let each other breathe – no easy thing in music that depends on hairpin turns and ace command of dynamics to sound anything better than sloppy.

They move through tunes as a twangy gestalt, but around every chorus and turn of phrase is a breakout for one or more of the musicians that doesn’t feel like “you solo, now you solo,” so much as a natural deference to whomever’s grabbed hold of a jam. They’d repeat the feat again and again, and balance raging uptempo numbers with down-shifted, bittersweet tunes and occasionally, a touch of melancholy, as in their version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.”

The Stringdusters have crossed the Rubicon of “up and comer” to “established,” and the next five years should be a fruitful period as they take their place among the elite string crews and further mature their songwriting.

Speaking of up-and-comers, that’s one appropriate tag for Fruition – the quintet that’s been supporting the Dusters most of the tour and is making the same kind of noise among fans of the scene as the Dusters were two or three years ago.

These five jam hard, as if every song in the world could be made better with sizzling strings and nerve. Their originals can sound shaggy but their jamming is lean and mean, whether on top of a chugging boogie or a good old-fashioned bluegrass romp.

Three members of Fruition sans most instruments would later front the Stringdusters for Bill Monroe’s “Gotta Travel On.” It was sure fun, but not nearly as much as when the Stringdusters Hall emerged, dobro in hand, for Fruition’s own “The Wanter” during the opening set. A mere cross-pollinating jam would have sufficed; this was a summit between Hall’s dobro and Naja’s mandolin you should kick yourself if you missed.

Set 1: Lovelight, Rivers Run Cold, Try Try Try, Mountain Town, Like I Do, Echoes of Goodbye, Middlefork, If I Had a Hammer > Place That I Call Home > Git It While You Can > Blackrock
Set 2: Ginseng Sullivan > Hitchhiker, Tears of the Earth, How Far I’d Fall > Red Fox, Get Down To It, 3 x 5, ?, 17 Cents, Gotta Travel On*, Long and Lonesome Day > Fire, Things in Life, Let It Go, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Machines
Encore: Fork in the Road, Sunny Side of the Mountain

* w/Fruition’s Mimi Naja on vocals, Kellen Asebroek on vocals and Jay Cobb Anderson, vocals and harmonica

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[Published on: 4/2/14]

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