(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Concert review - The Josh Abbott Band, with Jimbo Darville and the Truckadours

8 July 2010 (Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins CO)
On the surface, Jimbo Darville and the Truckadours are a good match with the Josh Abbott Band: each band features a charismatic frontman backed by a very competent country band. But there were a number of key differences beyond the musical contrast of the Truckadours' traditional country and Josh Abbott's modern rock and pop influenced country.

Despite the differences, though, the crowd enjoyed both acts. It was a high energy night of great entertainment.

Jimbo Darville and the Truckadours
The set started with the rumble of a mighty diesel starting. It was loud enough to pass for a sound system failure, but it fit perfectly with the huge Kenworth grill at center stage. It also set the mood for a set full of truckin' country songs, although other country themes got their time, too.

Band leader Jimbo Darville was the centerpiece. With his aviator shades and cowboy hat pulled down low, he had an iconic appearance. His matte black acoustic guitar and sharply creased pants added to the effect. His baritone voice wasn't quite a Johnny Cash growl, but he was in the neighborhood. Darville had a good stage presence, holding the crowd's attention. To some extent, his band accentuated this by not expressing a lot of personality to grab the limelight.

This is not to suggest they played poorly: they were very well practiced and each contributed their part with precision from the tasteful pedal steel to the tight electric guitar riffs. The touch of female backup vocals and serviceable bass and drum work rounded out the sound. But even during the short leads, players were careful not to upstage Darville and they didn't interact much with each other. The effect was like a talented pick up band assembled to support the frontman.

The Truckadours' setlist favored truck driving country themes, hitting a number of classic covers in the genre, starting with Red Simpson's Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves, then passing through Dudley Dave's Six Days on the Road and Del Reeves' The Girl on the Billboard. The songs all had a familiar sound but most people have forgotten the originals. To be fair, it was just a familiar sounding lyric that set me down the path of tracking some of these down.

The sound was textbook traditional country: lots of shuffle beats and cut-time. The leads were all on target. This crowd was primed for real country, so it went over well. The Truckadours have a clear niche and it's clear they have an audience for this classic sound. A looser sense of improvisation would have taken this to the next level, though.

Josh Abbott Band
From the moment the Josh Abbott Band took the stage, there was no question that the mood and the energy shifted. The opening music featured a funky jungle beat and hard rock guitar licks. Was this really a country band? The opening song, If You're Leaving (I'm Coming Too), set that to rest. It was modern country rock, with strong harmonies and some excellent fiddle work.

Throughout the set, the Josh Abbott Band pushed boundaries, ranging from Roger Clyne style Americana to a Cowboy Junkies grind or a classic rock shred. But it was always grounded in a direct, honest, country sensibility. My dad, the purist, would hate this, saying, "it's not really country", but it was sincere, interesting and fun. A big part of this is Josh Abbott's songwriting. His lyrics are genuine and his delivery builds on this.

In this way, Josh Abbott reminds me a lot of Roger Clyne. Aside from his sincerity, he has just the right amount and type of ego. He's confident, but he's also open, friendly, and approachable. While an audience can appreciate good theater and just enjoy a show, it can also tell when a performer is revealing themselves. That's why we responded so strongly to Abbott's songs.

Speaking of a good show, the band carried their weight here, as well. This band has a lot of fun on stage and they show it. Players were constantly moving and trading positions, so it was visually interesting. While all of them were expressive, the fiddle player (Preston Wait) really stood out. He was a bit of ham, playfully posing as he tore through the songs. He was like an Adam Sandler character with incredible chops, mugging for the crowd. Abbott was as amused as the rest of us at his antics.

The other musicians were strong, too. Gabe Hanson's guitar work emphasized a rock background, but his softly fuzzed guitar sound meshed with the fiddle to create a strong original tone, especially when they were twinning parts. Daniel Almodova contributed complex but balanced bass lines and good vocal harmonies. Drummer Edward Villanueva laid out a tight beat with effortless economy.

The collection of parts fell together perfectly, where each song flowed into the next without seeming staged or forced because the band maintained a loose feel. These guys have a sense for each other that lets their strengths build a unique sound. The only weakness was that Abbott's acoustic guitar was buried a bit low in the mix.

The bulk of the set was focused on the new album, She's Like Texas, with plenty of Abbott's older material as well. The crowd sang along with many of these, including the title track, She's Like Texas, and older songs like Taste. One of my favorite songs was Good Night For Dancing, from the last album. With a slower groove like the Cowboy Junkies' version of Sweet Jane, they set a mood and then built the intensity.

The band also teased us with snippets of covers, like a minute of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir on the fiddle, a short instrumental tribute to Michael Jackson, and a verse of Journey's Midnight Train. They also played a couple of full covers: John Mayer's Slow Dancing in a Burning Room and Tom Petty's Free Falling.

I'll raise a bottle of Shiner Bock (which I like a bit better than Lonestar) in praise for the John Abbott Band and a great show. I bought She's Like Texas and I may need to track down more of his back catalog as well. Whether you're a country fan or not, give Josh Abbott a listen; he's worth it.

More photos on my Flickr.

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