Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bearfoot w/ Hoots and Hellmouth @ One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME, November 20th, 2011

This past Sunday night, I walked up the hill for a lovely evening of music at One Longfellow Square. This was my second time at this venue, and I've grown very fond of it very quickly. In fact, I was first alerted to Sunday night's show at One Longfellow when I was there a couple of weeks ago to see Jorma Kaukonen. I had never even heard of Bearfoot until then.

I wasn't aware that there would be an opening act until after I arrived. Hoots and Hellmouth are a Philadelphia-based band--guitar, stand-up bass, drums, and mandolin--that played a mixture of mellow folk-rock and jazz, with a touch of spacey, psychedelic instrumentation. A couple of songs into the set, I found myself thinking about a group called The Secret Life of Sophia, which I saw open for the Black Spoons over 5 years ago, in New York City. TSLoS was a much harder, edgier group, but something about H&H's vibe reminded me of them. At any rate, the drummer was the man to watch, at least at first, as he switched off between sticks and brushes to dictate the feel of each piece. There were some great rocking moments on a song called "I Don't Mind Your Cussing" and there were some sweet harmonies, especially on something called "City Lights on a Country Ceiling." By the end of the set, though, I was paying more attention to the singer-guitarist, whose picking was nimble and confident. "Apple Like a Wrecking Ball" featured a particularly nice guitar part and, listening back to it now, courtesy of the band's website, it's making me want to buy their album. And I just might do it.

The featured act, Bearfoot, was every bit as good as I was hoping they'd be. They are a five-piece band--Angela Oudean on fiddle and Jason Norris on mandolin, Alaskans who founded the band 10 years ago, along with Nora Jane Struthers on guitar, PJ George on bass, and Todd Grebe (another Alaskan) on guitar--who play mostly original material (although I really enjoyed their cover of AP Carter's "Single Girl" and, for an encore, the Stanley Brothers' "Sweet Thing"). They performed all the songs from their recent album, American Story (2011), and they ranged from good to great. I was especially partial to the ones that Todd Grebe took the lead on--"Mr. Moonshine" and "Midnight in Montana" and "Must Be Hard Being You"--he apparently is in charge of the band's M songs. Nora Jane Struthers sang "When You're Away," the video for which One Longfellow had used to advertise the band when I saw Jorma Kaukonen there a couple of weeks ago. That's the one, in other words, that made me want to come see the band. She also sang a great song called "Country Girl Yodel #3," which isn't on the recent album, and one called "Come and Get Your Lonesome," which is.

Their music was mostly upbeat, and each band member had a moment to shine. PJ George had a solo or two, but he mostly was unobtrusive, alternating between stand-up bass and bass guitar. He was there to serve the songs, and I actually found myself paying a lot of attention to him, precisely because of how understated he was. I understand he's a newer member of the band--I hope for their sake he stays. Jason Norris sang some great harmonies and played some loud, flashy mandolin solos, although there was some problem with the placement of his mandoline mic for the first couple of songs. Angela Oudean had some tasty solos and harmonized wonderfully in song after song. And Nora Jane Struthers and Todd Grebe, newer members of the band (I've since learned) who did the lion's share of the songwriting for the recent album, were excellent hosts, introducing songs, chatting up the audience, and singing and playing with a lot of enthusiasm. At one point, the men left the stage, leaving Angela and Nora Jane alone to sing a duet. It took an uncomfortably long time for Angela to get her guitar in tune, leaving her bandmate to make small talk with the audience. During this sequence, Todd Grebe poked his head out from backstage and gestured intently to his watch. The song that the two women sang, "Romance," wound up being the only one for the duo, as the guys came back to help out with "Country Girl Yodel #3."

On my way out, I shook hands with a couple of members of each band. A bit tired, as the adrenaline rush of the show was already ebbing, I didn't stop to chat and pay them the big compliments they deserved. According to their website, Bearfoot won't be playing another show around here for awhile. But they're worth seeking out.

No comments: