Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Emily Yates
Hot Buttered Rum :: 04.02.11 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
There's no denying that it ain't easy to keep a band fresh, dynamic and together as the years go by. Personnel may change, motives may shift, and then there's the whole issue of keeping the music relevant and current. There are countless bands that have seen their stars rise, only to fall off the map after a few years due to any number of internal or external factors. There are few acts that are able to roll with the punches and come out standing tall, and Hot Buttered Rum is certainly one band that has had the resilience to evolve and emerge all the better for it.
|Hot Buttered Rum by Emily Yates|
After losing their founding mandolin player, the band made a difficult decision to switch gears and add a full-time drummer to their all-acoustic lineup, altering their sound considerably. Now, after a couple of years and some growing pains, Hot Buttered Rum 2.0 is well-oiled and ready to take on the world once again. Their Saturday night show at Great American Music Hall was a homecoming celebration of sorts, showcasing HBR's updated sound with ample special guests on hand to help out.
Fellow Bay Area band Ten Mile Tide got things started right with their own upbeat set of Americana originals. Ten Mile Tide has been weathering some lineup changes of their own, evolving from what was once a fiddle-led acoustic act into a guitar-driven rock band. Regardless of any growing pains, the warm vocals of guitarist Justin Munning still define their sound, and he nailed a take on the Dead's “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” The breezy original “River, Sun and Rain” proved to be the highlight of the set though, and was given a lengthy guitar workout that got everyone's blood pumping for the main event.
The new and improved Hot Buttered Rum soon took the stage to a flattering introduction by Wavy Gravy, the shamanic hippie clown whose mere presence made the night feel a bit more special. The band wasted no time in digging right into their feel-good repertoire of down-home country tunes. Taking just as much from the school of Hank Williams as the world of classic rock, the ragged-but-right acoustic arrangements were propelled by the chugging rhythm section of new drummer/washboardist Lucas Carlton and upright bassist Bryan Horne, who's driving, relentless lines were mixed very prominently. The ambling “Lulu” got heads bobbing before the bluegrass jaunt “Right Between Your Eyes” showcased Erik Yates' hot banjo chops and things really got rolling. The harmonies in The Beatles cover “I've Just Seen A Face” were flawlessly executed, and reminded me of just how much fun it is to hear rock music arranged in a bluegrass format: there's nothing like a banjo/washboard breakdown set to a Beatles’ melody.
The meat of the set came with a sit-in from James Nash of The Waybacks. His mandolin and acoustic guitar contributions helped the band lock into the jam of the evening with “Summertime Gal,” which flowed effortlessly from a furiously rocked out peak into an out-there, reverb-laced tribal groove, then back into the feel-good countryside-bluegrass refrain. A well-placed set closer of Neil Young's “ Keep on Rockin' in the Free World” turned the tune into a shit-kickin' hoedown anthem, and left us happy to get some fresh air.
|Hot Buttered Rum by Emily Yates|
Set two brought more catchy, melodic country tunes delivered by HBR's main singer/songwriter Nat Keefe. The set built momentum slowly, and once again kicked into high gear with a special guest appearance. ALO's Dan Lebowitz joined in on guitar and pedal steel for a fantastic take on “Ramblin' Girl,” an infectious, fiddle-led NOLA two-step groove which got everyone's feet a-stompin' right. From here on out the GAMH was one big barnyard hoedown, fed by a leftfield, high-energy take on U2's “Where The Streets Have No Name.” A super-jam soon ensued, and everyone took the stage for an epic Rolling Thunder-style sing-along on the old country swing dance tune “Stay A Little Longer.” This was one hell of a verse-trading, dosey-doe throwdown, and the group crescendo that ensued felt like one for the ages.
HBR came out unamplified for the encore, and successfully brought a buzzing, whooping audience to silence for a heartfelt, earnest take on their original “Blackberry Pie.” They then blew out the night with an amplified, anthemic “Poison Oak” that featured fantastic harmonies.
Overall, this show felt like an affirmation and celebration of HBR's renewed direction and purpose. Keeping a band together takes endless resilience and patience, and it's comforting to know that these guys are giving it all they've got to keep the music going strong.
Set One: Way Back When, Lulu, Right Between Your Eyes, City By The Bay*, Fruit Of The Vine, I've Just Seen A Face, Falls Bridge*, What To Do*, Missoula To Miami^, Summertime Gal#, Keep on Rockin' in the Free World#
Set Two: Busted In Utah, Muse, Entangled, Waiting For A Squall, Ramblin' Girl$, Be Kind Boys$, Where the Streets Have No Name$> Like The French*$, Stay A Little Longer*#$%
Encore: Blackberry Pie&, Poison Oak
* w/ Kate Gaffney on vocals
^ w/ James Nash (Waybacks) on mandolin
# w/ James Nash on guitar
$ w/ Dan Lebowitz (ALO) on guitar
% w/ Justin Munning (Ten Mile Tide) on vocals
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