Poor Man’s Whiskey | Fillmore | Review | Photos

Words by: Bryan Tobian | Images by: Brian Spady

Poor Man’s Whiskey :: 11.11.11 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

Full photo gallery below review!

Poor Man’s Whiskey by Brian Spady
The sky cries rivers through the busy, rush hour streets of San Francisco while grey clouds hide the setting sun. A group of Occupy protestors camped on the corner of 5th and Howard draw honks from passing cars that inch their way towards a soggy night on the town. Despite the cold November rain, the chill is cause for jubilation in central California's vibrant Mecca of sense and style. As the air cools inland, the fruits of the North Bay's summer labor are harvested and the end to outdoor weather breathes new life back into the infamous Bay Area music scene as the people and bands flock home from vacations and festivals in places sunnier than the Fog City. This night falls in the wake of San Francisco's favorite holiday, the mark of summer's end, Halloween. A traditional Halloweekend glorifies many of San Francisco's favorite pastimes: dressing up in costume, intoxication, being at least a little weird, and dancing to some high energy live music. This year, Bay Area native sons Poor Man's Whiskey decided to extend Halloween a little further as they broke out their Wizard of Oz costumes, dusted off their Pink Floyd chops, and headed to the historic Fillmore Auditorium for a sold-out showing of their highly acclaimed interpretation Dark Side of the Moonshine with their friend Michael Kang filling in the ever-rotating role of the Tin Man fiddle player.

Poor Man's Whiskey is a cornucopia of thumping bluegrass, high flying rock and roll, strutting disco and twangy country grit served up hot with a glass of comedy to cleanse the palate in between courses. Let it also be known that the band loves their covers. Beyond their bluegrass take on Dark Side of the Moon, members of the band have taken on The Allman Brothers and last year, celebrating their 10th anniversary, hosted Peter Rowan of the 1970's Jerry Garcia-fueled, bluegrass supergroup, Old and in the Way, for an entire set of music from the band that they call their deepest roots. That special night was also their first appearance with the String Cheese Incident's jamgrass royalty and fiddle virtuoso Michael Kang.

Poor Man’s Whiskey by Brian Spady
As their song “Only a Rock Star on the Weekend” so cleverly states, they have not played many of the region's larger venues. Rather, they are a band that has thrived in the Bay Area scene because they are able to roll with the punches. This was none more apparent than when their lead guitarist (and the biggest jester of them all) decided in August to lay down his Whiskey hat to pursue his own, perhaps more mature act Huckle. However, never to crack under the pressure of one of their biggest gigs to date, the band introduced their newest addition, the hot-handed Sean Lehe (Izabella), stunning everyone with his slick-as-caster-oil guitar licks.

The band wailed through some original material, giving the audience a chance to get accustomed to the new guitarist as multi-instrumentalist Josh Brough, one of the founders and main songwriters of the group, took the reins in place of Eli Jebidiah. The banter was less open than usual, but the music was top notch. Lehe and Kang's interplay with the band and one another was stellar as Kang sat in for a good portion of the first set to the delight of the many Cheese fans present. The band really hit their stride in the final song of the set with “Abigail” as Lehe's soaring guitar drove the band through an Allman-esque jam that peaked heavily on the back of George Smeltz's attentive drumming while the light show sparkled fireworks.

Poor Man’s Whiskey by Brian Spady
The second set was, as promised, a high energy bluegrass romp through Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon album in its entirety as the band and friends walked out to the opening notes of “On the Run” with Brough dressed as Dorothy and every other character from The Wizard of Oz present and accounted for as they broke into “Breathe.” The main verses of the song raced on in double time following Kang's screaming fiddle and Brough's precision banjo picking until dropping into a twangy country shuffle as the band and audience sang “home... home again...” as the song found its lulling conclusion. “Great Gig in the Sky” followed as Kang's fiddle moaned on in place of the sensual operatics of the original. The next song started with clinking bottles, popping cans and bleating farm animals in place of clinking coins and opening cash drawers before descending into an eerie rendition of “Whiskey (Money)”. Releasing the tension, Lehe's acoustic guitar carried through into “Us and Them”, which hosted Kang's most fiery violin work of the night before dropping into the subdued “Any Colour You Like”.

Next the band jumped into the song containing the album's namesake lyrics “Brain Damage” as the audience belted, “See you on the dark side of the moon!” The energy reignited with “Brain Damage/Eclipse” as the band, lights, audience and energy all connected for a most exciting finale that left the room exploding with applause.

Poor Man's Whiskey proved again why they have made it so long in the unforgiving Bay Area scene. They are talented musicians. They are clever. They have something special to offer those looking for something to dance to and something else for those who want to be challenged by the music. As they gathered around the front of the stage for their traditional show-ending unplugged closer, the genuine smiles on their faces and unmistakable luster in their eyes showed that whatever they are doing it's for the love of the music. And the full house at The Fillmore showed they are not alone.

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[Published on: 11/17/11]

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