TLG/Hackensaw Boys | 01.24.09 | D.C.

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Words by: Josh Klemons | Images by: Ben Root

Tea Leaf Green/Hackensaw Boys :: 01.24.09 :: 9:30 Club :: Washington, D.C.

Hackensaw Boys :: 01.24 :: Washington, D.C.
When a show starts promptly at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, the opening band can usually expect to be playing for a sparsely filled dance floor. Typically, only the faithful, the headliner’s diehard fans will be there to claim spots in the front, along with a few loyal fans of the opener who made their way out early. However, this was not the case last Saturday in Washington, D.C. Tea Leaf Green was the headliner, but Charlottesville’s Hackensaw Boys kicked off the evening to a crowded room that was hungry to dance. In fact, by four or five songs into their hour-long set, the room was nearing capacity – not an easy feat for an opening band on a cold, winter night. They opened with “Radio” and only pushed harder and faster from there.

The Hackensaw Boys descended from the mountain, in part to scare your children, in part to inspire them. With a Kerouacian sense of timing, they beat and they bow and they hack away on instruments including upright bass, mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle, squeezebox and assorted tin cans. Yes, Justin “Salvage” Neuhardt, their percussionist, has built an entire drum set out of tin cans, half of which he wears like a marching band getup straight out of Sanford & Son. He plays spoons and a snare drum with his brushes, but the majority of his rhythms come directly from banging away on bruised, empty tin cans. He also uses the cans’ ridges as a Guiro to add complications and delicacy. They are all solid players, but when fiddler Ferd “Four” Moyse steps up to the mic or takes a solo on his violin, which he alternately bangs on with his bow or frays to the point of concern, time and place become debatable. Why couldn’t we all be in the mountains of North Carolina or Kentucky? Why couldn’t it be the 1940’s? He throws his bow on the floor just to be dramatic, and then pulls the mic down with him while he goes down to get it, never missing a beat.

They got a big response with their take on Dylan’s “Gospel Plow.” With one or two songs left in the set, mandolinist Rob “Mahlon” Bullington informed us that they do not get paid unless they actually warm the crowd up. “How did we do?” he asked. The answer was self-evident; and they probably should have made time and a half on this particularly cold D.C. night.

Tea Leaf Green :: 01.24 :: Washington, D.C.
Tea Leaf Green took the stage to a packed house and opened strong with “One Reason.” When they played “Reservoir” early in the first set there was extra emphasis on the line, “This is the season for change.” It had a special meaning for this crowd, just days after the largest inauguration in U.S. history. Keyboardist-lead singer Trevor Garrod‘s organ solo echoed Ray Manzarek (The Doors) under the solid rhythm section of Scott Rager (drums) and Reed Mathis (bass). Anyone who has never seen Mathis with his old band, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, can arguably not really understand exactly what is possible on the four strings of an electric bass. I have seen Mathis with JFJO, The Greyboy Allstars, The Steve Kimock Band and Tea Leaf Green. He is a different bassist for each project, which I suppose is a testament to his talent and professionalism as a musician. When he was supposed to be sitting in the pocket this night, he sat in the pocket. When he was supposed to be adding to and accentuating a solo, from either guitarist Josh Clark or Garrod, he knew exactly what to do. When it was time for him to open up on “Don’t Curse the Night,” he knew exactly how to get the capacity crowd moving and thumping with his big octave runs and long neck sweeps. They got dirty and gritty, Southern Fried rock style with “I’ve Got a Truck,” replete with a solid slide guitar showing from Clark. They closed out the first set with a dead-on version of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Wooden Ships” directly into “Gassaholic.”

When they came back out for set two, just minutes after midnight, there were balloons taped all over Garrod’s rig. He was spending the first hours of his birthday with us, and he was clearly excited about it. He put on a paper birthday hat that he wore for the remainder of the show, and they quickly let us know that first set was but a taste of the evening that lay ahead. They played straight through the 70-minute second set, rarely stopping between songs, just rolling from one to the next. They opened with “Freedom,” which at times sounded like Spinal Tap had taken the stage. When they pushed forward into “Incandescent Devil,” Garrod got up on his bench and rocked out on harmonica. Several times during the set, Mathis walked over to Garrod and used his bass to sing him “Happy Birthday.” As the set moved towards its conclusion, Mathis and Garrod did a duel intro into “Keeping the Faith” that showed they still had a few more in them. They closed out the set with “Devil’s Pay,” then exited stage right, but were back before the crowd even had a chance cool down. They knew they were up against time constraints and they were going to play right up until last call. The two-song encore began with a new one, “Monster,” much to the crowd’s delight. There were sections of it that could have come straight off a Yes album. They closed the show with rock & roller “Panspermic,” and sent the crowd back into the cold D.C. night.

Continue reading for a few more pics…

Hackensaw Boys
Josh Clark – Tea Leaf Green
Birthday Boy – Tea Leaf Green

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