Saturday, January 14, 2012

Burning Down the House

Category:  Concert Review

Sam Bush and his band knew exactly how to warm up a very cold Indianapolis night when they kicked off their 2012 concert tour at the Palladium in Carmel.  Bush and the band gave the crowd a healthy dose of his wonderfully eclectic music.

Bush is a masterful mandolinist, a disciple of both Bill Monroe's pure bluegrass style and Jethro Burns' hot jazz picking.  He does not, and has never, made any apologies for not being "true" to one style.  In fact, in March 2010 Bush's hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky held a "Father of Newgrass" day to honor the fusion of different genres that Bush brings to his music.  Think the entire Americana format in one person and you will get a hint of a Sam Bush show.  "For those of you who've seen us before, you know we do a wide variety of music," Bush told the audience. "And if this is your first time seeing us, we do a wide variety of music."  

Bush opened the show with two instrumentals including one he titled "The Mahavishnu Mountain Boys."  Bush explained the title came from a comment that a more traditional bluegrass fan had about their "complicated" music:  "Who do you think you are, the Mahavishnu Mountain Boys?"

The two hour-plus show contained something for everyone, from the purely bluegrass rendition of Grandpa Jones' "Eight More Miles to Louisville" to "Unconditional Love" from his Newgrass Revival days to an amazing electrified version of "Laps in Seven," the title song from his 2006 album that was inspired by listening to his dog's rhythmic water drinking.  One of the show's highlights was "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle" from Bush's most recent (2009) album Circles Around Me.  The song is the sadly true story of the murder of Dave "Stringbean" Akeman in 1973 by two cousins who were out to rob him of his Opry pay, which he always received in cash because he (as many others from the Depression) didn't trust banks.  A very terrible piece of country music history set to music and masterfully delivered.

Before playing the encore, a smoking version of Charlie Monroe's classic "Bringing in the Georgia Mail," Bush remarked how Charlie's brother, Father of Bluegrass Bill, would always criticize Bush's long hair.  "Every time I'd walk by him he'd say, 'There goes the mother,'" Sam quipped.

Sam Bush is hardly "strictly bluegrass," and he makes no bones about it.  What he definitely is, however, is a gifted performer and musician.  A Sam Bush concert is not to be missed.

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