Words & Images by: Mason Cummings
Blueground Undergrass :: 04.19.08 – 04.20.08 :: The Pour House :: Charleston, SC
Blueground Undergrass made a two-day stop in Charleston where a handful of lucky bluegrass fans witnessed a pinnacle performance from the band's original lineup, which only a few short months ago was nothing more than vague remnant of a promising yet heavily conflicted past.
Jeff Mosier - Blueground Undergrass :: 04.19
"We were fighting like cats and dogs in 2001," banjo player and lead singer Jeff Mosier told me before the show. "But now we can't even remember why we were fighting." The newly reformed original lineup seemed as though it hadn't lost a step. Not even two songs into the first set it became abundantly clear that not only were these guys playing on the same page but they were having a lot of fun doing it.
Saturday night at The Pour House was one of those shows that you just feel privileged to be a part of: small venue, sparse crowd, great band. The original BGUG lineup seemed to click in a way that the band's various "replacement" assemblages had failed to do. They were clearly comfortable putting themselves out on the improvisation limb and really seemed to know what they were doing in the process. Each member chimed in at the perfect moments, constantly playing off one another in a fantastic mosaic of well-orchestrated jams.
While the crowd was jumping boisterously to Johnny Mosier's lively guitar picking one second, they were swept away by the whirlwind of Mark van Allen's pedal steel the next. "That instrument should be illegal," one fan kept saying as he danced clumsily with his jaw dropped in disbelief.
The first set was graced with a number of BGUG originals, some old and others from more recent lineups. "Archeology" and "The Clock Goes On" both featured particularly notable jams that illustrated the complex musical dynamic and intricate connection of these musicians.
Blueground Undergrass :: 04.19
The drum-tight transitions that meandered through the first few songs of the second set reminded me why I fell in love with live music in the first place. Fast-picking newgrass style jams morphed slowly and seamlessly into spaced out psychedelic oblivion, which gradually accumulated into an elaborate and powerful melodic climax. It was very refreshing to hear such intricate and well-performed bluegrass-rock after seeing many of the beat-driven electronic jam bands that have visited Charleston in recent years.
A suitable review of any BGUG show would be totally inadequate without proper mention of the legendary fiddler David Blackmon. Towards the beginning of the second set he stood up and said, "Charleston, we have a problem." While the tone of his words almost sounded mechanical, the violin playing that followed was anything but. It's the kind of raw talent that makes you want to quit whatever instrument you play. He's just too damn good.
The show closed with a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Black Muddy River" - a staple of the BGUG repertoire - which seemed slightly hurried due to time constraints. The crowd had thinned out by then, however, those still present seemed to still be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
It was an atmosphere very befitting a lazy Sunday afternoon in late April. The sun shone softly through the freshly budding trees as a few dozen patrons lounged casually with cold beers in hand. BGUG's "twang section" - consisting of Blackmon, Mark van Allen and the Mosier brothers – played a very informal yet impressive acoustic set to celebrate the inauguration of the Pour House's newly constructed back deck. Mark van Allen's pedal steel was replaced with a dobro in his lap, and the other three musicians were also fully acoustic. The overall ambience of the scene - and the day itself – was very conducive to an acoustic bluegrass session under the Carolina sun.
Blueground Undergrass :: 04.20
"So what do you guys want to hear?" Mosier inquired in a laid-back demeanor. The crowd sluggishly tossed around a few ideas, and they received several gems in return. "Friend of the Devil" was one of the favorites, again exemplifying the band's musicianship and capturing the overall mood of the afternoon.
Upon reaching the time constraints for playing amplified music outside, the "twang section" unplugged their instruments and relocated to the center of the deck for a couple fully traditional bluegrass numbers to close out the day. The short pow-wow-style jam session to close out the weekend was certainly a treat for those lucky enough to be a part of such an intimate experience with these talented musicians.
04.19.2008 :: The Pour House :: Charleston, SC
Set I: Forget the Past, Curve, Archeology, Man in the Glass, Copper Creek, Faces, Crawdad > Farewell to Lemmings, The Clock Goes On, Orange Blossom Special
Set II: African Hillbilly, Old Love Old Tune, Small Southern Town, Highwayman, Oh Death, Seven Daffodils, Jeff Davis > Deer, I Don't Want to Leave
Encore: Black Muddy River
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