Friday, May 25, 2007

Last night we saw another concert, Tim O'Brien at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. O'Brien is one of the cross-over stars of bluegrass. Most of his fans come from either his days with Hot Rize or his work as a solo artist/songwriter.

This was a solo show so it was just him and his guitar (or mandolin or fiddle) for most of it. Normally I wouldn't buy tickets for a solo show but I got these from a friend who couldn't go at the last minute. Even thought it's not my favourite format, O'Brien does a good solo show. He is a skilled enough player on all the instruments to keep things interesting and he has a laid back stage presence that goes along well with the songs. At the end he was joined by the opening act, the Infamous Stringdusters. a young band from Nashville.

The Stringdusters are one of two bands I've seen doing a "post-modern" form of bluegrass that abandons a lot of the traditional roles for each instrument and instead creates a layered, tone-colour sound based on instrumental virtuosity. The other band that is trying something similar is Chris Thile's new band, recently renamed the Tensions Mountain Boys. Thile's band is strong enough that it overcame the problems I have with this new sound but the Stringdusters aren't. The layered sound they seem to be going for detracts from (and sometimes totally undermines) the driving rhythm that is a fundamental part of bluegrass for me. The songs they did at the end with O'Brien were the best of the night. O'Brien's more traditional approach and song choice added a nice rhythmic feel to the band.

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