Birds of Chicago/Steep Canyon Rangers

I had listened to the Steep Canyon Rangers before the evening of Friday, June 23rd at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, but to be honest, it was only because I had listened to Steve Martin and they were performing with him. My impression of them from that limited listening experience was that they were one heck of a good band, and they are. They have been racking up awards since 2006 when they won Emerging Artist of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association all the way up to a Grammy in 2012 for Instrumental Performance of the Year. They have good credentials so I was looking forward to a night of good music.

Image result for birds of chicago
I received more than I expected, the evening began with The Birds of Chicago, a trio from where else, Chicago. The band is led by the married couple JT Nero and Allison Russel, a transplanted Canadian formerly of the group Po’ Girl. They were accompanied with a third member on guitar and slide resonator whose name slipped by my ears. The Birds of Chicago had played at the Edmonton Folk Fest last year so we were familiar with them but the set tonight took me away to a very pleasant place, a happy place. The songs swooped and danced gracefully like a bird in flight. They held the audience in the palm of their hands. It is rare for an opening band to get a standing ovation but The Birds Of Chicago deserved it. A true delight to hear them live again. Fortunately, they are coming back to Alberta this summer on the folk music circuit, playing Grande Prairie and Edmonton in November.

Image result for steep canyon rangers
After a short turnaround, The Steep Canyon Rangers opened the show with what could only be called one hell of an opener. It built energy as each member of the band strolled onto the stage and built on that until it felt like they had given it all they had. They hadn’t, there was plenty more to come. They weaved between folk ballads, bluegrass, Americana, a few classical overtones and at moments it felt like a jazz jam session. One of the highlights for me was a number in which they all played their instruments as percussion, it worked and it was spellbinding. Percussion mandolin, percussion upright bass, percussion guitar, it was incredible. These gentlemen not only know how to play a great variety of music, they do it smoothly with both professionalism and intimacy. At times it felt like we were at a family hoedown and on one tune The Birds of Chicago joined them for a number where they all gathered around the microphone for a sing-along. Great stuff.
It was a magical evening of music that will linger in my memory for a long time. Another bonus is how personal they are, both groups did a meet and greet in the lobby after their sets where they signed CDs and we were fortunate to get a set list from the Steep Canyon Rangers that they all graciously signed. A perfect end to a truly memorable evening of music.

Reverend Horton Heat

It’s Saturday night and I’m in the Starlite Room. This is going to be a good night because those two go together like peanut butter and jam.Version 2

PB&J was not on the menu, however, tonight will feature The Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson and Igor and The Red Elvises. This is no cheap buffet at the hospital cafeteria, no sir it wasn’t. It was more like a smorgasbord of sound that became music for our ears.

IMG_8795

There was no time wasted warming up, The Red Elvises roared onto the stage and set a beat down that got the crowds attention, and not just because they had a good beat going, they were eye candy as well. The bass was actually a bass balalaika, huge, red and a very rich bass sound.

IMG_8790

The drummer was sequinned and was laying down a driving rhythm to accompany the bass and keyboard, and then Igor arrived. If anyone thought the band dressed flashy they were about to be awed by the leopard printed, and who knows what else, silk printed suit of Igor. Igor, the East Bloc Elvis plays a mean electric guitar and wings songs about the KGB, bacon, and Monsters From Mars. It would be too easy to dismiss Igor and the Red Elvises as a novelty act, they were talented, fun and got the crowd jumping, pumping and warmed up for the Heat that was about to come.

fullsizeoutput_1521

The Reverend Horton Heat that is, aka Jim Heath, the psychobilly whirlwind from Texas fed off the energy that Igor and the Red Elvises had started and wound the crowd up to a new level of frenzy. They plowed into Victory Lap, the opening track from their newest release on Victory Records and seldom lifted their foot from the gas pedal after that. Jim Heath is a talented singer and songwriter as well as a master of rockabilly and psychobilly guitar. A very personable man who interacted very well with the audience and told stories about the band and how those stories often became songs.

IMG_8825

About mid-set, I lost track of time, they had a short break and upon returning played one song and then introduced Unknown Hinson. Unknown Hinson is an American singer, musician, songwriter, and voice actor. He is perhaps best known for his role as the voice of Early Cuyler on the Adult Swim animated series Squidbillies. There was obvious chemistry between The Horton Heat band and Unknown Hinson because they rocked the house, Hinson is a very accomplished guitar player and was a joy to hear and see in person. I loved the suits that Unknown Hinson and Jim Heath wore, They were Texas gentlemen to a T.

IMG_8834

Unknown Hinson left the stage after about 6 songs and Reverend Horton Heat settled in for a few slower songs and a few more stories and then they left the stage. Coming back for the traditional encore, their drummer started a solo that covered every surface of his drum kit, the upright bass, random glasses held high by front-row audience members and then back to his kit for a power closer. And then the rest of the band stepped for a few more songs that eventually led to Hinson returning for an extended jam with the full band. It left me breathless.

The Starlite room raised the bar with this show, which I rate as one of the all-time best that I have seen at this venue. Every single musician gave their all for the show and the audience bounced, jumped, danced disco and even did a conga line to show their respect for the people on the stage. It was fun, occasionally funny, and totally engaging and entertaining. A good time, a really good party on a snowy Saturday night in Edmonton, with The Heat turned up.

IMG_8842