Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Jared Kelly
The Devil Makes Three :: 05.07.11 :: McNear's Mystic Theatre :: Petaluma, CA
Let's face it: it ain't easy for an acoustic, percussion-less act to make a name for themselves in this day and age. If a group has the devotion to commit themselves to roots-based music, they damn well better have an especially unique sound to make up for the lack of sonic possibilities which amplification brings. It's no secret that such a feat is especially hard to pull off, which makes the incredible catalog of The Devil Makes Three all that more awe-inspiring. The number of timeless, sing-along anthems in this acoustic trio's repertoire is simply astounding, with each song's chorus more infectious and uplifting than the next. The only worthy modern songwriting comparison that comes to mind would be Old Crow Medicine Show's “Wagon Wheel,” only Devil Makes Three have got countless tunes that reach “Wagon Wheel's” level of anthemic grandeur (and Old Crow had help from Dylan!). Pulling together old-time country, bluegrass, rockabilly and ragtime into an irresistible blend of Americana, this band's sound is truly peerless.
|The Devil Makes Three by Jared Kelly|
So, it was no surprise that Saturday's sold-out crowd at the intimate Mystic Theatre was brimming with energy. This two-night run held a decidedly small-town vibe, and felt like a homecoming of sorts for the Santa Cruz-based band, which was recording these shows for a live album. Local Bay Area string band The Brothers Comatose got the crowd a-stompin' good with a rowdy opening set of skillful down-home pickin', highlighted by a fun bluegrass take on the Stones' “Dead Flowers.” But there was no anticipating the energy that The Devil Makes Three would bring out in its local fans when they took the stage. We were given fair warning with a worthy introduction, which classified them as “the only known drummer-less band to inspire mosh-pits,” and the crowd didn't disappoint in holding true to this statement.
From the start, it was clear that this band was all about the songs, specifically the singing of guitarist Pete Bernhard and the irresistible harmonies of guitarist/banjoist Cooper McBean and bassist Lucia Turino. Bernhard's lyrics mostly come from the perspective of a down-and-out, whiskey-soaked Everyman, but are delivered with a “such is life” exuberance that gives the songs a life-affirming infectiousness. “Gracefully Facedown,” sung by McBean, was the first real anthem of the night, a bouncy vaudeville ditty that saw McBean picking up his banjo for the first time, which had the words “This Machine Annoys Everyone” written on it, a worthy nod to Woody Guthrie. But it wasn't till the sing-along “All Hail” that the night really got started. This tune inspired possibly the most loving mosh-pit I've ever witnessed, the first of many to come throughout the night.
The crowd calmed down a bit for “Tow,” a bouncy gypsy-jazz number that featured a swingin' Django-inspired solo from Bernhard. An old-time country take on “Statesboro Blues” followed, after which the band got bluesy with the “Mystery Train”-like “Aces and Twos,” where Bernhard busted out some nice electric slide guitar work. At this point, the band invited fiddle player Philip Brezina from The Brothers Comatose onstage for the rest of the show, and his playing proceeded to lift the performance to another level, adding a welcome voice to the band's chugging rhythm. In a rare melancholy moment, “Graveyard” explored the dark side of a life of whiskey before “Plank” brought some prime gypsy swing violin work from Brezina.
|Cooper McBean by Jared Kelly|
But it was the one-two punch of “For Good Again” and “Do Wrong Right” to close the show that really brought it all home. These tunes truly delivered it all – great lyrics, uplifting harmonies, clawhammer banjo pickin', monster fiddling, and sing-along choruses that soothed our restless souls. The biblical rockabilly of “Help Yourself” was a fitting encore for a truly epic evening, and there was nary a hot head in the house without a shit-eating grin when the lights came on.
While The Devil Makes Three's songwriting is incredible in its own right, it's the band's cohesive musical identity which is their most impressive feat. They have crafted their own aura, a mystique that takes from Americana's dark past (a la Big Pink-era Band), but is imbued with the joyous transcendence of life's woes. This puts them in a league of their own, and also makes for the best drinking music you could possibly imagine. It is the perfect recession-era soundtrack, with its roots in Depression-era music. Their songs give a sense that these guys have got it figured out, which is something that everyone could use these days.
Well, most things that I know I didn't learn in class
The road don't go forever, so ride it while it lasts
If you're gonna raise a ruckus, one word of advice
If you're gonna do wrong, buddy, do wrong right
You wanna make a little mess
You wanna make a little crime
If you're gonna do wrong, buddy, do wrong right
Continue reading for more pics of DM3 at the Mystic...