Saturday, July 26, 2008

Atwood Summerfest with Tex Tubb & the Jokermen and the Deadstring Brothers; July 26, 2008; Atwood neighborhood

I’ve seen the Deadstring Brothers all over the US, from that first meeting in a tiny performing arts center in Unity ME to St Louis to Chicago to Madison. Despite having seen them so many times over the years, I often don’t recognize them. Of course, that isn’t my fault, it’s theirs. Seldom do they show up with the same line-up from the time before. In fact, a band that used to be steadfastly from Detroit now lists, Detroit and the UK as their location on their MySpace page. Despite the membership changes, I figured they would always at least sound the same even if they didn’t look it as long as their two leads, Kurt Marshske and Masha Marjieh, were fronting the band. So much for that theory. Kurt was there, but an imposter was in Masha’s spot, though we weren’t quite sure at first. She had the same hip hugger pants, long dark hair and powerful voice, but with her face hidden by a large pair of sunglasses, it took awhile to decide that yes indeed, another Deadstring Brother had been lost.

While they may hail from the Motor City originally, they want nothing more than to be the Rolling Stones. And they make a pretty good case for it. Kurt writes the kind of rumbling blues tunes that made up much of Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed, full of grinding guitars and dirty keyboards. Though I can’t say for sure, it is possible that the guy behind the Rhodes may be the only other original Brother still part of the band. While it’s also the reason they’ll probably never be able to play the basement, that organ is an essential part of their sound. As they rolled through their set, featuring songs from all three of their releases (the last two on Chicago indie label Bloodshot), the pedal steel player was featured prominently. So it was a bit of a surprise that he hailed from Madison. I never quite understood if he was on tour with them, or if they just picked him up for the day. Whichever the case, they wouldn’t have sounded as good without him.

The touring Deadstrings capped off a day of predominantly local music which began for us earlier that afternoon with Tex Tubb and the Jokermen. Local restaurateur and musician Kevin Tubb does a yearly Dylan tribute around the time of his Bobness’s birthday but that is usually the only opportunity I have to see what may be the best set of Dylan tunes outside of seeing Bob himself. Tubb’s voice is a dead ringer for his Bobness, though I am convinced that is just a coincidence. He’s obviously a fan (his son is named Dylan), and that comes through in his song selection- the same sort of mix of famous and obscure that Dylan himself typically chooses. In a set that included both “Cat’s in the Well” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” the highlight might have been an inspired version of Blood on the Tracks “Simple Twist of Fate.” Dylan’s heart-breaking tale of a one night stand that leaves at least one of the characters wishing for more has long been one of my favorite tunes. Tubb’s excellent band, which includes the eternally bow-tied Sean Michael Dargan, does a terrific job of interpreting Dylan songs, not as they appear on record or as he does them live, but as you could imagine him doing them live. And that is precisely what makes their shows as good as seeing Bob himself. I just wish they did it more often.

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