Words by: John Waldman
David Bromberg with Peter Rowan & Tony Rice
01.11.07 :: Palace of Fine Arts :: San Francisco, CA
David Bromberg returned to San Francisco with an inspiring show featuring world-class musicianship without a hint of phoniness. These ultra-professionals pour their heart and soul into the music with an honesty that is refreshing.
Warming things up on this cool Bay Area night was The Angel Band. The Angels are fronted by three female vocalists - Nancy Josephson (David Bromberg's wife), Jen Schoenwald and Kathleen Weber. Backing them were Bromberg (guitar, fiddle, vox) and his touring band, Jeff Wisor (fiddle), Bobby Tangrea (guitar, mandolin, fiddle) and Bob Taylor (bass). They feature soaring, three-part harmonies and, of course, hot pickin' by the band. They did several gorgeous numbers, their voices blending perfectly. They carried an "angel" theme through the set, including a nice cover of "Angel of the Morning." Bromberg stayed in the background but he and the band were tight.
After a short break it was time for Peter Rowan & Tony Rice with sexy Bryn Davies (formerly Bryn Bright) on standup bass and sultry Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin. They were "on" from the start, with a "Panama Red" opener followed by a fan favorite, "Hobo Song." Rowan was having fun, playing off everyone and directing solos. Gilchrist was intense and Davies was all over the place. But, it's Tony Rice who cuts the most dashing figure on stage. With his trademark ponytail, tailored suit, and taciturn expression, he has to be one of the smoothest guitarists of all time. After a particularly nice guitar solo from Rowan, Rice took over and just played rings around everyone - always in control, never flailing or exaggerating, just smooth as silk with a fleeting hint of a smile. They played a couple of instrumental jams that gave everyone room to step out, and a few songs from their new album Quartet, including the haunting "Dust Bowl Children." The only downside to the set was that it was too short, but with an 11:00 p.m. curfew, things needed to move along so that Bromberg had enough time.
Peter Rowan & Tony Rice
The house lights went down and David Bromberg took the stage. He looked great, relaxed and was clearly enjoying himself. The band, including his wife on backing vocals, started hot and stayed that way. Throughout the evening, Bromberg encouraged band members to take two solos where normally they would take one, and a few times three instead of two. This gave everyone plenty of room to show off their stuff. Opening with an old favorite, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," Bromberg absolutely tore it up. He has such a rich, nuanced voice that conveys various degrees of emotion. He can be boisterous one minute, reserved the next. The set included a gentle "Dark Hollow," a poignant "Summer Wages," and a rowdy "I'll Take You Back" (including the ad lib, "When we find WMDs in Iraq, I'll take you back").
David Bromberg by Mark Silver
A couple times Bromberg walked to the lip of the stage to sing a song without a mic. It was like having him in our living room for a private performance. At one point, Rice joined the band for an instrumental and again showed that, with all due respect, he was still the best guitarist in the room.
Later, Bromberg played a solo tune, but when he got to the final chorus, suddenly The Angel Band and other singers were spotlighted standing in the audience. Bromberg then introduced the additional singers, who he dubbed the "Cherubs" - Laurie Lewis and Linda Ronstadt. They all took the stage and sang vocals on the last few songs. Ronstadt looked healthy. Her eyes were bright and she had a quick smile. She didn't take any solos but was having a great time singing along with the others. The addition of all the backup singers produced the highlight of the evening, an incredible "Lost My Drivin' Wheel" with everyone belting out the chorus, sending chills through the audience.
It didn't seem possible to top "Lost My Drivin' Wheel," but Bromberg brought the house down with a spellbinding, wrenching, exhilarating and exhausting "Testify" with a full gospel choir. He poured everything out in that song, to the point where he had trouble singing the next song because his voice was spent. A standing ovation followed, and the band returned for a haunting "Kaatskill Serenade" encore.
David Bromberg Big Band by Carol Ann Barret
Bromberg said that these days when he sings, "What has become of my beautiful town?" he is really singing about our country and what has happened to it. He was not expressly partisan but clearly very upset with the attacks on the values and liberties that separate America from so-called "banana republics." He mentioned the loss of habeas corpus and the huge power grab of the Executive Branch. He asked that even if you support the president, do you really trust the next guy (or the guy after that) to have so much power? It was the only intrusion of reality into the evening, but it was done with grace and honor. The crowd gave another standing ovation as the lights came up at exactly 11:00 p.m.
Note: David Bromberg's first studio recording in 17 years, entitled Try Me One More Time will be released on February 26, 2007.
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