Trampled by touring bands

Jill Fisher

Larkin Poe at First Avenue. Photo by Jill Fisher

Another exciting week of music was in store for those intrepid enough to venture out in the snowstorms and icy conditions. Although I had thought to check out three other groups I haven’t heard or written about yet, I couldn’t resist taking in Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch once again on Wednesday, March 15, during their residency at Duluth Cider. It was a superb evening of great songs we are getting to know well and don’t mind hearing many more times, for example “Slip Away,” a nice slow dance number and “Sexy Laundry.”    

On this evening Jeff Gilbertson, who plays standup bass with the group, was absent; so Calvin “Calzone” Lund from New Salty Dog filled in with his bass guitar. That added a cool funky groove to the performance. Also sitting in with the group was Cavan Denning playing pedal steel guitar. The rest of the band that comprises the Jebberhooch was on hand to back up Boss Mama (Colleen Myhre): Caleb Anderson (keyboards) Jacob Mahon (electric guitar) and Owen Mahon (as always terrific on drums). Folks will have another chance to hear them at Duluth Cider on March 29.  

Two concerts by Pure Prairie League at the West Theater were on the calendar last week—when the first one scheduled for March 16 sold out, a second show was added on Wednesday evening. I had tickets to the original show on Thursday but didn’t sit in the assigned seats at all—which tells you it was a good dance band even though virtually all of the audience remained seated for the duration!   The line-up of PPL has been extremely fluid over the years.

No one member has been in it spanning the band's entire history, which dates to 1965. Of the current members, only John David Call (pedal steel guitar) has claim to being the closest to an original member, as he has participated off and on since 1970. As for the rest, Scott Thompson (drums, vocals) joined in 2012, Randy Harper (keyboard, vocals) came onboard in 2018, while Jeff Zona (acoustic & electric guitars, vocals) and Jared Camic (bass guitar, vocals) both joined in 2021!

Despite this, the sound and lyrical content closely mimicked that of the original breakout country-rock music the PPL embodied.   Harper, who did most of the talking by way of introducing the other band members and the songs, had an exaggerated Georgia drawl (the accent wasn’t noticeable in speaking with him after the show) calling this iteration of PPL “a band of brothers” and saying they were some of “the best musicians I’ve ever played with.” This after making rather ironic references to Vince Gill’s earlier contributions to the band (Gill was a member 1978-1983).  

The band performed eight of the band’s top 10 songs (identified by Brian Kachejian, the founder and Editor in Chief of ensuring that the audience would be pleased with the show. This of course included “Amie,” which was withheld until nearly the end of the concert. The song began with a slow melodic version of the hit before breaking into the familiar fast-paced rendition. Before that though, the band covered a number of other lesser known tunes and debuted one, “You Can’t Put a Price On Love,” that bassist Camic wrote a just couple of months ago and that the group reportedly first practiced earlier that day.  

One song, not on the top ten list, that had made the show worthwhile for one fan, was “Call Me, Tell Me” while my favorite was “Falling In and Out of Love,” both of which were on the band’s 1972 album Bustin’ Out. The only criticisms I and some others had of the concert was that it was a bit low energy and Zona’s vocals were not always on key. PPL continues to tour nationally and was headed to Wausau, Wis., for a gig the next evening after which they were flying to Puerto Rico to perform on a week-long music cruise in the Caribbean. Guess it’s too late to catch that performance!  

After seeing numerous nationally-known bands at the West this past year, I determined that it was about time I made a pilgrimage to the Midwest’s musical Mecca: First Avenue in Minneapolis. The building was originally a Greyhound bus station that was adapted for use as a concert venue in 1970, initially called “The Depot.” After financial difficulties and changes in ownership it became “Uncle Sam’s” and housed a disco for a while before finally morphing into  “First Avenue.”

Although I was a student at the University of Minneapolis, working and living in Dinkytown during the venue’s infancy, I never attended a performance there. Neither did I take in any of its offerings when I was living in South Minneapolis later in the decade and in the 1980s. To my everlasting chagrin, I missed the whole Prince phenomenon as it emerged at First Avenue. Thus, given my new avocation of writing about live music it seemed important to rectify this oversight.  

Larkin Poe was the headlining act this past Saturday, March 18 at First Avenue, with the Michigan Rattlers opening for the duo at 8 pm on the dot. The Rattlers were a showy and arrestingly athletic four-man rock band from Petosky, Mich., comprised of Graham Young (electric guitar, vocals), Adam Reed (bass guitar), Tony Audia (drums) and Christian Wilder (multiple keyboards). The striking appearance of lead singer Young and the hunky bassist Reed may have something to do with their success.

However, they have made real ripples in the larger music pond with two albums to their credit: Evergreen and That Kind of Life.   According to the Curmudgeon, the foursome’s music was “pretty unoriginal.” (He thinks he heard the influence of the band Cake in some of their early numbers.) I must say I agreed with him, as I heard little distinction between the songs they performed, perhaps due to all being very loud and similar in tempo. The one that impressed me the most was a rather psychedelic rock instrumental number. I was a bit surprised to read the glowing accolades the band has posted on its website.  

Our lackadaisical response to the Rattlers was dispelled by Larkin Poe when they took the First Avenue stage as a part of their “Blood Harmony Tour.” Silhouetted in dramatic fashion with a light show that dazzled the audience, the two Lovell sisters, Rebecca (electric guitar) and Megan (slide guitar) kicked off an hour and a half of the unrelenting, driving music on their “Southern Roots Rock” playlist. They hail from Georgia and a currently based in Nashville. To me their music seemed to be closer to electric blues, based on the performance we witnessed. (But these genre names get pretty blurry at times.) Rebecca stated that, in honor of blues man Son House, they always played his 1930 “Preachin’ the Blues” and announced that Megan was going to “preach the blues to you on her slide guitar.” (Megan was rip roarin’ throughout the show.) Another number, “Kick the Blues,” reinforced this impression.  

On this evening the two women were ably backed by drummer Vince Sutterly and a bassist whose name I could not catch or track down. Their harmonies were great—those genetically similar vocal chords sure do enhance their sound, hence the name of their latest album, “Blood Harmony.”

Not being familiar with Larkin Poe before this concert, I was at a loss to know whether they were playing all the songs from that album, but it was clear they were performing some covers as well. The duo’s music had some messaging about women (“She’s Gone Away”) and Rebecca offered commentary about mental health issues that were exacerbated by the loneliness caused by the COVID pandemic. A number (title unknown) reflected these thoughts. Near the end of the concert they sang “Might As Well Be Me.”  

Although the performance was energizing and had fabulous slide guitar licks, I’m not sure I would consider myself a full-fledged Larkin Poe fan, but I will explore their music further. My experience at First Avenue made me wonder whether groups that break out of their local music scenes and gain a larger audience must necessarily perform in the glam arena rock mode. Plus, it made me all the more convinced of the high level of our local Twin Ports talent. F

or the price I paid for two tickets to this show, I would far more willingly support local bands and musicians, sans light and fog shows.