Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quick Review of the Spirit Family Reunion Concert


As you know, the missus and I went to see Spirit Family Reunion just the other night at Water House Music Hall here in town. I stumbled upon the band just this past Saturday, but now count myself as a fan, especially since they're almost local. The introduced themselves, almost apologetically as being from "downstate, Brooklyn, in New York City." Midway through the show the washboard player for some reason started listing off names of companies from our town; there were huge cheers from the smallish crowd when he mentioned Genesee Beer, which made me proud.

Their music speaks for itself, as evidenced in the videos posted on these pages over the last couple of days, with its "deep, subtle spiritual lyrics heavily influenced by traditional mountain string band music, with drums, an occasional accordion and lots of soul." No accordion the night we saw them, but I, who normally don't see the need for drums, liked the deep banging on the bass drums and toms. I was reminded a bit of the
Butthole Surfers, another band with two drummers and primitive percussion, when I saw them in '87. Indeed, the Spirit Family had the raw intensity and DIY spirit of '80s Punk. Sure, there are more accomplished musicians out there, but that's not what this is about. These guys were a blast! The missus started laughing out loud at one point. (A Korean, she had never seen anything like this before.) She said, "They're like a bunch of crazy people!" ("Crazy" has more negative connotations in Korean than it does in English.) They were; and we loved it.

Their a capella rendition of Man Of Peace by Bob Dylan, about which they were a bit hesitant (it was the first night of their tour), did not work out so well, but it got me thinking. Mr. Zimmerman's observation that "sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace" had me pondering the band's self-professed "open door gospel" approach, i.e. uplifting vaguely spiritual music not "burdened" by Christianity, almost bringing to mind the "The Holy Church of Christ Without Christ" from Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. What if Hazel Motes had a band?

But I put these theological musings aside to enjoy the the rest of the show. Opening had been the Wilco-like Clinton's Ditch, "a five-piece Progressive Americana act from Rochester, NY" whose "name pays homage to the Erie Canal, which passed through their home town and helped to spur the growth of the Mid-West," and whose "deep, churning sound that may be best described as Outlaw-Western Roots-Rock." Not exactly my cup of tea, but these guys could play their instruments and it is always enjoyable to watch polished musicianship. Still, I preferred the rawness of the headliners. I bet they make it reasonably big in the future.

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