I first met the Deadstring Brothers in the oddest place- The Performing Arts Center in Union, Maine, population a couple thousand. Close to ten years ago I was taking a class in Bar Harbor at Jackson Laboratories and drove over to Union to see my friends the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, who were touring with the Brothers. Of course, the band has changed quite a bit since then, and the only member of the band that I met in Maine who remains is lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Kurt Marshke. And of course, he is the most important one. His band these days consists of Jeremy who I already knew from Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, a young pup guitar player from Dallas named Robbie, and Nathan on drums. Little did I know that the latter has his own band, Nathan Kalisch and Wildfire, which my sound guy worships.
I do miss the female backing vocals and the organ, but the band today is a leaner, harder rocking version of its former self. They proved that out of the gate by opening with “Get Up Jake,” one of the bluesy highlights of the second record. It had been awhile since I’d had a full band in the basement and it sounded good. They’d only played for about 35 minutes when they announced they were going to take a short break, apparently Kurt hadn’t quite shaken the after dinner nap he took and he was still feeling a little fuzzy. That might have been a mistake as it allowed a few people who’d had a long week to sneak out, but after a Red Bull the band was back on track. They all seem very excited about the new record which will be recorded early next year, and staying out on the road for a very long time. I think it is safe to say we will be seeing them back here soon.
Matthew Grimm proved to be an ideal opener. The audience warmed to his outspoken charm and intelligent sense of humor immediately. He left his politics mostly at home and played a great solid set of music. “I had no idea,” one impressed regular told me after, “I’d never even heard of him.” Matthew hasn’t played that many shows since moving to Madison over a year ago, but I think it is safe to say he made some fans tonight. You can count the Deadstring Brothers among them. I am a big fan of Matthew’s music, but there is one song I’d rather not hear unless he is doing the PG version. Once the band heard about it, they wouldn’t let him not play it. It’s actually a cute song when he substitutes “Hug” for the f word, but in its original form it is a little more than I can take, the profanity so frequent it stops sounding like a word.
There was even an opportunity for collaboration. Matthew had promised someone he would play Steve Earle’s “Sometimes She Forgets,” and not wanting to play it on his own he asked during sound check if anyone else knew it. Robbie immediately volunteered, and their duet with him on lap steel was a highlight. The night ended when the beer ran out, somewhere around 3. But before that there a second impromptu show. The sound guy got a chance to be completely star struck after convincing Nathan to play a few songs, which led to Robbie playing a few songs and others joining in. It had been awhile since there was an after show jam, and it was pretty cool. Yep next time I buy more beer.