The McCloskey Brothers Band
Fox Theatre | Boulder, CO | 1.30.03

In their first headlining appearance at their hometown's Fox Theatre, The McCloskey Brothers Band put on a blistering performance for a full house. The Brothers pulled out all of their influences from bluegrass to jazz to psychedelic rock to straight-up rock 'n' roll, and combined it into a thoroughly enjoyable evening of original music.

2002 Rockygrass Band Competition winners Hit & Run opened up the show with a 45-minute set of their own style of hard-driving bluegrass. The band ran through a nice mix of both original tunes and bluegrass standards that really got the crowd primed for the main event. It was obvious that Hit & Run was excited to play in front of the large crowd that had assembled and received warm ovations on many occasions. The combination of Hit & Run and The McCloskey Brothers Band was really interesting, linking more traditional bluegrass with the Brothers’ self-proclaimed “Grassid Rock” sound and pushing the boundaries of bluegrass to their breaking point.

After a short change-over, The McCloskey Brothers Band hit the stage for an extended 2 ½ hour set that and opened the show with a searing rendition of “Juanita.” I received a winter sample CD of the band last week at the Mountain Sun party, which included a live cut of this song that was a totally rocked-out rendition of the acoustic version on their studio CD. Needless to say, I was hoping they would play this tonight and sure enough, when David McCloskey began plucking the first few notes of this tune, I knew we were in for a treat. The next few tunes really displayed what this band is all about, as they moved through catchy bluegrass-influenced numbers like “Dream” and “Fallen” to all-out, full scale jamming tunes like “50th Street” and “Hideout.” The sibling interplay between the more stoic David McCloskey (who alternated from banjo to keys) and his much more animated brother Todd McCloskey on electric mandolin was a treat to watch. Todd picks the mandolin like a strat and struts around the stage like he is wielding a full size axe, rather than the miniature mandolin, while David is simply hands-down one of the most amazing banjo pickers I have ever witnessed.

An interesting thing about this band is the fact that despite the traditionally bluegrass instrumentation, more often than not the sound is trippy rock 'n' roll that is a bit on the dark side. All the while, the driving rhythm section of Steve Roseboom on bass and Dan Menchey on the stand up drum kit keeps folks grooving. Moreover, although this band definitely can jam with the best of them, it never seems as though the jams just get out there without a purpose and they are always couched in the Brothers’ solid arrangements, a testament to their skills as songwriters.

A few tunes later, the Brothers invited guitarist Jeff Hamer from Boulder’s Single Malt Band up on stage and he provided one of the highlights of the evening during “Son’s Going Down,” adding another layer to the already rich musical makeup of the tune. This is the first time I have heard the Brothers with a guitarist and it was a real treat. After an extended jam with Hamer and a few more tunes by themselves, Todd Livingston of Hit & Run joined TMBB on Dobro for a long rendition of “Sunny on Top” and the bluegrass instrumental “Soul Pole,” with Livingston ripping through some sweet Dobro solos. The crowd totally responded to these guests and it the band was clearly psyched to be playing in front of a huge local crowd with their musical friends.

Following Livingston’s exit, the Brothers immediately segued into an amazing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” before finishing the night with a nice little run of “Secrets,” “Smile” and the toe tapping “Together Home.” The house lights and music came up as the band left the stage but the crowd refused to leave, demanding an encore. The Brothers responded with a sweet version of “Let the Party Begin” and even though this one was ending, it felt like it could have gone on for a few more hours.

In the few times that I have seen this band, going back to last summer, they have made tremendous strides in terms of song selection, arrangements, musicianship and, not least of all, flat-out jamming. At the Fox gig, the band definitely seemed to have brought it all together and has clearly stepped it up to the next level. I would highly recommend checking them out when they are in your neck of the woods.

Sam Smith
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 1/31/03]

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