Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
New Multitudes :: 03.13.12 :: Union Transfer :: Philadelphia, PA
Photo gallery below review!
People’s eyes were opened to the truth steeped in deep and powerful music and words of Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie. He made his mark on so many by crafting his insightful views and experiences into folk songs using his machine that could kill fascism - a guitar. Now in 2012 as the country celebrates the anniversary of his 100th birthday, another set of musicians paid tribute to the Dust Bowl Troubadour. With the blessings of Guthrie’s’ daughter Nora, Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and Anders Parker (Varnaline) dug through the archives of the Woody Guthrie Foundation finding words of Guthrie’s that inspired them. Unlike the earlier Mermaid Avenue project, Farrar unknowingly focused on the Los Angeles period of Guthrie’s life. This short period found Guthrie living in L.A. and Topanga Canyon and had a unique blend of dark and light moments. Farrar invited Yim Yames aka Jim James (My Morning Jacket) into the project, and Yames recommended that they pull in Will Johnson (Centro-Matic). The New Multitudes tribute to Woody Guthrie was born and released into the world last month on Rounder Records with a short tour that quickly followed.
|Yim Yames by Jake Krolick|
The seventh show on this ten stop tour carried this new round of folk heroes to Philadelphia’s newest venue, Union Transfer. The blend of musicians executed a stunning two hour set that touched upon the whole New Multitudes album and more. While the album itself sounded softer and hazier, the live interpretation was more exploratory and packed more oomph by adding some fiery new musical dimensions to Guthrie’s words. Like the Ying Yang dynamics of Guthrie’s time spent in L.A., this group was also evenly composed of prolific energy and thoughtful poignancy. Jay Farrar’s distinct and even keeled voice broke through the darkness of the room on “Hoping Machine.” He sang, “Music is the language of the mind that travels it carries the keys to the laws of time and space.” The decades-old words courtesy of Guthrie couldn’t have rung any truer today. Farrar’s voice was as steady as a surgeon’s hand, and as he worked through “Careless Reckless Love” with meticulous care that drew upon the audience’s sighs.
Farrar’s style was counter balanced by Yim Yames’ soul wrenching voice and wild man flair. Yames offered his unique, howling, lonesome vocals on the evening’s versions of “My Revolutionary Mind” and “Changing World.” It was equally a joy to hear and watch him thump away on the bass, leaning heavily on the fuzz peddles during “No Fear”. As each song peaked, he pulled out his characteristic moves, wailing on his instrument and thrashing his head and attention towards the drummer of the moment.
|New Multitudes by Jake Krolick|
Anders Parker and Will Johnson traded positions all evening, sharing rhythm guitar and drumming duties. Parker sang “Old L.A.” with gritty purpose, letting his eyes close as he dug into the song with his worn Texas fury. When the music took heavier turns and Yames would get chummy with the drummer, Parker would eye him up, dig into the guitar, and kick out a leg. He seemed to enjoy the change of stage scenery and let a rare, subtle grin slip out from time to time. Johnson had some brilliant moments linking up with Yames as he drummed with gusto. They had formed quite a vibrant and fluent musical communication during their days touring as Monsters of Folk and we benefited from it this evening. Johnson had his own vocal proficiency and presented one of the most thoughtful moments of the evening singing “Chorine My Sheba Queen” with his unique, quavering voice pulling from a far off well of recollection.
Instead of a set break each artist sang a selection from their own catalog solo. They continued again as a group touching upon several other New Multitudes songs and a sing-along cover of My Morning Jacket’s “The Way That He Sings.” They ended the night with and a long, dark, winding jam. The ending minutes were an interesting peek at something different. They let emotion drive the music instead of lyrics as Yames let his haunting vocal tones take over as Farrar and Parker zealously worked their guitars. Each musician exited the stage leaving only Johnson pounding out a simple drum beat. This music presented its own truth that flowed out in the strokes and cries of its creation.
These four musicians help to carry on the ideals of Woody Guthrie to another generation, showing that his words are as relevant and moving as ever. The group will play again this summer at the Newport Folk Festival and should surely be one of the festival’s most memorable highlights.
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