This year we had real seats, so of course it didn’t rain. The advantage of seats was being able to see the band’s faces and physical mannerisms. The disadvantage was that the stage lights were flashing and spotting up the audience far more than I liked. It was basically a migraine in two easy steps – LOUD! NOISE! BRIGHTLIGHT! – and certainly didn’t add to my enjoyment. (I’m an old fogey, and always have been one when it comes to concerts. I don’t appreciate the pounding bass or the flashing lights, and the music is always too loud for me. But if I can expect that going in, I can usually put it aside and appreciate the show for what it has to offer.) The audience spent more than half the time on their feet, clapping, dancing, and generally carrying on enthusiastically. It didn't surprise me, and so along with accepting the overwhelming noise, I made the effort to enjoy the on-your-feet, sing-along-with attitude, and mostly did.
We’d also had a year of learning some of their songs and getting to know their styles. They have a broad, incredibly talented musical range, from haunting recorder to complex rhythm/drums to fiddle to 80’s style guitar-and-bass lines. Oddly, the weakest thing about them is the vocals. None of their singers is drop-dead amazing. They are interesting to listen to, and the gritty sound on some of the songs goes well with the topics, but I’m certainly not swept away. It’s the history they offer, the perspectives into the human condition, and the sheer energy of their live performances (and their audiences) that are so attractive. And as I mentioned last year, it’s work to understand them, and to follow along, which can lead to more pleasure when everything does click and the words and music all come together.
The show opened...
"The Chemical Workers Song" - Love it. They may not have written it, but they sure own it.
I didn’t catch why there was a quick pull from Meatloaf’s “would you offer your throat to the wolf” monologue here. It was well done, but left me blinking in puzzlement. I’ll check their message boards later and update here if anyone mentions what was up. ETA: It was how the band member was introduced. He decided to ham it up.
"The Night Pat Murphy Died"
"When I'm Up (I can't get down)"
According to Alan, those four songs were the “prologue” and concluded as the warmup for the group. At this point, there was some banter about being “rock gods” and how Alan wanted to be a star. Among the names dropped were John Lennon and Freddie Mercury. So the introduction to the next song included call-outs to “Imagine” and “Bicycle.” And from this point on, there was a weird "rock god" guitar idiocy that kept coming up (especially with Alan) during a lot of the faster songs. I wasn't all that thrilled, though it was obvious he was having a good time with it.
"Safe Upon the Shore" - This is the title track to their new album. It's lovely, painfully depressing, and had beautiful harmony vocals that they had the sense not to drown with too much background music.
"A Boat Like Gideon Brown"
"Nothing But a Song"
"General Taylor" - This was a good singalong to get everyone on their feet.
"Yankee Sailor" - I loved it live, and it's ok on the album. It gained something through the body language and intensity on stage.
intermission The intermission was almost bang on an hour after the concert started. I was impressed that the energy had lasted so well. The intermission was reasonably long, but the Wolf Trap staff never rang bells or did anything obvious to indicate that intermission was ending, so I got caught out on the lawn chatting with Amazonmink when the first song started for the second set.
"Love Me Tonight"
"Dear Home Town"
"When I am King"
"Gallows Pole" – This wins for my least-favorite song of the night. It didn’t get any better when we listened to it on the album on the way home. It sounds like an odd mashup of blues and country, but has neither depth nor humor going for it. Oddly, it was co-written by Robert Plant. Since I'm not a Led Zepplin fan, this might help explain it.
"Helmethead" -- The introduction to this song was hilarious. Alan deliberately remarked on how polite and nice Canadians were, and how gloating was not a Canadian thing. He then congratulated the United States on their “very respectable” silver medals in hockey at the winter Olympics. I hope I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a well-delivered bit of standup there. Nicely done. So good-bye, fare thee well / I'm glad you shared my bed / But never trust a fellow with a helmet on his head.
"Consequence Free" -- This was introduced with a bit of a ramble about things the band had done, and parties they’d been to. It also included a quick run-down of all of their appearances in DC. They’ve played Wolf Trap something like eight times, and the Birchmere, the 9:30 club, and one other place that I can’t recall now. They also did shout-outs to a bunch of the bands for whom they’ve opened or who opened for them, including the Chieftans (an up-and-coming band with a bright future!), Eddie from Ohio, and Carbon Leaf.
---- Encore #1 -----
"Follow Me Back" (done with just two of them -- sang by Bob with Murray-on-guitar)
"The Old Black Rum"
---- Encore #2 -----
"Hit the Ground and Run" - I enjoyed this one. It's one of their new ones, and it's about a boy getting caught in a shotgun wedding. Great energy, and hilarious chorus.
"Excursion around the Bay"
Upon reflection, I think that if we go see them again, I will buy a seat as rain insurance, but plan to sit up on the lawn again. While I enjoyed seeing the action on the stage, and the physical projection of moods and energy, that enjoyment was not enough to overcome the obnoxiousness of the lights and the pounding of the loud. I'd rather lounge on the lawn away from all that and enjoy the flow of the music.