Two powerhouse bands in one night made for an incredible evening of music at the Park West Chicago on 2/17/2018. Night two of the 2-night run was a packed house filled with gawking jaws agape at the Grammy-winning Infamous Stringdusters together with the loveable Leftover Salmon. It was one of those shows that leaves you knowing what music should look and sound like. The absolute precision of over 35 years combined music making was dripping from stage.
As I walked into the Park West, I got dusted as the band came from the upstairs down past me and on to the stage from the crowd. They walked by at a breakneck pace ready for go time. They opened with Where the Rivers Run Cold giving the crowd a good dose of banjo twang to set the mood firmly inside the Appalachian feel that both ISD and LoS are associated with in one way or another. From there, they got the party started with Think I’ll Stay Here and Drink. It was one hit after another when they bust into Gravity. The crowd roared for the urgent chorus from the Grammy-winning tune. The sonic storytelling continued with the uplifting song Soul Searching.
The unexpected cover tunes included I Want to Take You Higher by Sly and the Family Stone. The Dusters have played it before, but it was one of those creeper tunes - like, “are they? Is this? Oh yes!” It was a jam to be sure. Boom cha cha lacka! In that same sneak attack style came the hit of the evening, Super Mario Brothers. It was a bluegrass version of the classic 80’s NES game that led into the Koopa Troopa’s castle and then down a country road again complete with catching sound effects. They meandered down that country road garnished with mushrooms into Mr. Charlie by the good ol' Grateful Dead.
On their 7th album, Laws of Gravity, they struck gold. The Stringdusters didn’t even have to use cheat codes or warp zones to win the game. They jammed Gravity out for quite a bit, at least 15 minutes, giving each member a chance to shine. The structure of the band was evident but the loose jam for a Saturday night was intimate all at the same time. It never ceases to amaze me the fluidity in a bluegrass band to go from traditional to full-on jam. ISD has the chops to do just that. On the album, the tune A Hard Life Makes a Good Song is the quintessential jam/traditional cross blend. They nailed it. There is no question why a live Dusting is so good and why that album found critics acclaim with a Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album. They have found their stamp and put their mark on bluegrass music. What a win for jamgrass!
Speaking of putting their mark on music - Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass can only be described by the ever-lovable Leftover Salmon. What Drew, Vince, and Mark began years ago has only continued to keep time in audience’s hearts around the hills and cities of the US. Whenever Vince is in the house, the house boogies. The ever passionate LoS stepped out onto the Chicago stage with Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie. “Let’s Boogie!”
I thought that the show was supposed to close out with ISD, but to my surprise, LoS did the honors. It made sense once you get Alywin on drums, the setup is there for an all-star jam to close out. There is not much room on stage for a party like that. It was about making the best music possible, and no one much complained.
There is a decided mark between old & new Salmon. Andy Hall came out to play some new material, Breaking Thru, and then they dipped back into that old warm water of Mama Boulet. The zydeco style will always be signature for LoS, but the future holds something different for them. It’s evident that time and travel has changed the core of who LoS has become. The journey is in the jam. The songs grow and gain character with every show, festival, and mixed up all-star sit in.
Andy Thorn’s climbing banjo grew as they played Show Me Something Higher. The culmination of both Drew and Vince’s vocals over the carefully crafted climbing notes was a unique peek into what is happening with the songwriting of LoS. The overall feel of the entire evening of music was blended back to the strings. Whether it be labeled bluegrass, zydeco, jam, jamgrass, or whatever, the true hero is the stringed instruments. Leftover came crashing to the end of the show with their fire tune High Country that really nails who they are as a band right now. It featured the entire band shining with room for funny Vince-isms. When the all-star jam added the Dusters on stage, it got downright symphonic.
They stuck with traditional tunes for an encore: Ask the Fish, back into some High Country Funk and then a beloved Bill Monroe tune Working on a Building. Ask the fish why the river don’t flow!?! Vince rambled on into Dear Prudence lyrics. The crowd sang along. Round and round and round and round… Always building, always on another road to an unknown destination, the show came to a close for the night. Jeremy Garrett killed it on the fiddle and lights out.
One of the last times I caught LoS in Chicago was their 25th-anniversary show on NYE. Col Bruce Hampton and Sam Bush had come out to surprise them for the party. The spirit of Col Bruce Hampton was alive in this stellar encore. The music machine will always grind on but within it is a spirit and magic that can never be capitalized upon. Grammys and new albums and tours will never compare with that spark of magic that lives within the relationships of the music. The relationships and the magic were on display in this fine evening of magic. The cost of the ticket was well worth the ride along with some warm, magical music on this Saturday night at Park West Chicago.
2/17/2018 Park West Chicago
Where the Rivers Run Cold
I Think I’ll Stay Here and Drink
How Far I’d Fall >
I Want to Take You Higher *
1901: A Canyon Odyssey
Let Me Know
Thirsty in the Rain
Super Mario Brothers *
Mr. Charlie *
I Run to You
Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie
Gulf of Mexico
Get Up and Go > (w/ Andy Hall on Dobro)
Breaking Thru > (w/ Andy Hall on Dobro)
Show Me Something Higher
Bolin Creek (w/ Jeremy Garrett on fiddle)
Don’t Owe You a Thing
Encore: Leftover Salmon and the Infamous Stringdusters on stage (minus Travis Book)
Ask the Fish > High Country Funk > Workin’ On a Building