Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scott Kelly and the Road Home at the Railway Club, March 9

This was initially going to be a solid night of pickin’ and grinnin’, until those magicians at Nothing Is Heavy took it over the top and announced that they’d added Scott Kelly (Neurosis and Shrinebuilder) about two weeks before the gig date. I’d just seen Neurosis in Seattle in January and now one of their main singer/songwriters was going to grace our humble, hallowed Railway Club? This would be too amazing to miss.

Mike Hodsall was up first. He took a fairly self-effacing approach in his song introductions, which he didn’t need to do. He mixed up some dark, involved instrumentals and original songs, and despite admitting to being nervous in this intimate setting, he delivered superbly. The instrumentals reminded me a bit of Six Organs of Admittance in their phrasing and overall feel. He ended the set with a cool, somewhat jazzy interpretation of "Black Sabbath," a good choice seeing as there were a lot of metalheads in the crowd.

By contrast, Johnny Wakeham was real easygoing on stage. His material was decidedly more country-oriented, complete with bouncing bass lines and songs about trucks, motorcycles, and being faithful to your woman. The tunes were uniformly terrific and performed with foot-pumping verve. He chose a cover for his last number as well, going with the Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand,” which fit in perfectly with the rest of the set—Conway Twitty also covered the song, so it's already got a country pedigree. Thanks for the earworm, Johnny—I had it in my head for the rest of the weekend.

T. Nile brought along a full band of fiddle, drums and bass, while she herself alternated between guitar and banjo. Did they ever sound good, hitting a perfect balance between instruments, every musician understanding when and when not to play. Compliments to the soundman as well. Not only was the overall sound in the room great, he took the time to make sure every act was happy with what they were hearing on stage. T. Nile’s from Galiano Island originally, and that upbringing might have something to do with the free spirit she brings to the whole thing. She had a varied batch of songs that she performed wonderfully, and her band was tight-tight-tight while still looking like they were having fun on stage. The bassist gets Difficult Music bonus points for his Rush shirt. The peak of good times on the night.

More banjo, please! Gordon Smith and Blake Bamford brought their guitar/banjo sitdown duo next. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they’re from the band Percheron, whose tape I mentioned in a previous post. They played a low-key, enjoyable set. It felt pretty intimate, like they were a couple buddies playing in your living room, telling stories about near-death experiences and other misadventures, rather than playing in a club getting more packed by the minute in anticipation of the headliner.

First off, it was strange to hear Scott Kelly talk on stage, because Neurosis aren’t too big on between-song banter, choosing to focus exclusively on crushing you to death with their music. Secondly, I hope he didn’t hear my friend and I chuckling when he asked if anybody had been at the Cruel Elephant in ’92 when Neurosis and Sleep played there. Having seen our share of shows at that short-lived venue back then, we were instantly imagining what went down, and it was little much to take. Like I need another regret in life, now I know that I missed Neurosis and Sleep at the Elephant in 1992. I’d have to ponder this later, though, because here I was at a Scott Kelly show with the man not two metres away, acoustic guitar in hand. Flanked by Noah Landis (Neurosis keyboardist, here playing electric guitar and a midi keyboard/laptop setup) and Greg Dale on acoustic guitar and the aforementioned keyboard, Kelly proved that he’s a master of heaviness no matter what format he’s working in. Give Kelly an acoustic guitar, and he doesn’t suddenly turn into some casual strummer—he’s still Scott Kelly. The songs were as weighty and solemn as Neurosis material, only without the deafening crescendos. Compared to the material on his first solo album, Spirit Bound Flesh (the only one I’m familiar with), the new songs were a bit more tuneful and nuanced…beautiful, in fact. He ended the set with “We Burn Through the Night,” which he dedicated to the family he’d be going home to as soon as the tour was done. I left the club feeling enriched and, above all, thankful, during my own trip home.

Please check out Ted Reckoning's excellent photo gallery from the night. Thanks, Ted!

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