by Jane Roser
Located just two blocks from the White House and named after Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite Founding Father, The Hamilton is a prestigious venue which has hosted the likes of Hayes Carll, Emmylou Harris and Rebirth Jazz Band. It can at first be a bit intimidating for a band like The Delta Saints who are used to performing at gritty clubs where chatter is constant.
“When you just hear silence and you’re used to hearing people talk, it takes a moment before you realize that they’re just paying attention and listening to you,” Ben Ringel, lead singer of the Nashville-based delta blues band, told me after the show.
Fresh off their European tour (and first UK concerts), The Hamilton was The Delta Saints’ fifth stop on their Fall US tour. They delivered a fiery, electrical charged show to an audience who, based upon all the “yeahs!” I heard shouted out during some intense instrumental segments, loved every ounce of gasoline drenched blues these guys delivered.
Opening with “Dust” and the title track off of their latest LP Bones, the band dealt out a hand of fantastic lightening- fast blues guitar riffs (by guitarist Dylan Fitch) complemented by David Supica’s chill bass accompaniment.
Switching up to a beautiful resonator guitar, Ringel’s hypnotic voice filled up the room on “Chicago” and “The Devil’s Creek”. The band has been performing together for years now and even with the absence of keyboardist Nate Kremer (who had to leave the tour early) and the addition of new drummer Vincent “Footz” Williams, they sound tight and confident. You can tell they’re just having the best time playing their heart and soul out, and we’re all lucky to accompany them on the fuel-injected ride.
“So, if it’s not apparent yet, we’re gonna play some rock and roll for you and if it’s too loud, we’re going to be done soon,” Ringel joked, but of course the sound was excellent as always thanks to The Hamilton’s long-time sound engineer and multiple WAMMY winner Danny Schwartz.
“Death Letter Jubilee” is the title track off their 2013 LP and a staple at every Delta Saints show. It’s a show-stopping tune and I could even hear folks behind me singing along. “Sometimes I Worry” begins with a cool lick Fitch plays with a slide-the girl sitting next to me said to her date, “aren’t they great? I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask if you like this kind of music.” (Side note- he does).
“California” is a fairly new song that Ringel says will hopefully be on the next record. “I was in a bad head space and just longed for someplace sunny with decent tacos, so that’s how this song came about.” The audience laughed at this, so obviously they, too know where to find a good taco.
I’m afraid I may have fan-geeked out a bit on the next song much to the amusement of Ringel and the audience. When you have a favorite song and you were once told the band hasn’t performed it live in quite awhile, then you hear the opening chords to it-well, you would have a “Stairway To Heaven” moment, too.
“Out To Sea” is a hauntingly beautiful love song with poetically simple lyrics: “My old man raised a heavy hand and he passed it down to me/but in your arms I’ll do no harm, just headed out to sea.” Ringel said his wife had been giving him hell and told him to “write a love song you sad bastard” and this gorgeous piece was created. Ringel performed “Out To Sea” solo, then Fitch came back onstage for a spellbinding, subdued cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Supica and Williams returned to close out the song’s finale before going straight into “Butte la Rose” and “Cigarette” (I was pleasantly amused that the Saints had a song called “Cigarette” and Melodime later performed “Secondhand Smoke”, neither of which are allowed in DC venues anymore).
“A Bird Called Angola”, the title track off their 2010 EP, has a ripping chorus which Ringel belted out with an emotional, bruising punch. Williams took over with a drum solo, teasing the audience until they started whooping, then ending with a slow burn which built to a frenzy. It was oh-so-rock-and-roll and the audience, including several who had never heard of The Delta Saints before, just loved them. One man, a local musician named Sam Baumel, commented to me after the show how impressed he was by their sound. “They’re all such accomplished musicians and blend extremely well as a unit, but also showed off their individual skills as the evening progressed. They displayed both power and subtlety in their performance and I’ll definitely seek them out in the future.”
Local Virginia-based band Melodime are extremely popular here and perform to full houses and dedicated fans often. A very socially conscious group, Melodime announced they would be donating $1 from every ticket sold tonight to their charity Now I Play Along Too which provides musical instruments and lessons to orphans, victims of disasters and to underprivileged kids both locally and globally. Two band members recently returned from Haiti where they personally delivered several instruments to children in need.
At this point, most of the audience had moved to the front dance floor (which, to be honest, in all my years attending shows at The Hamilton I have never once seen filled). Melodime were rocking some pretty hip brimmed hats when they took the stage to open with their hit song “Little People”. Lead singer Brad Rhodes has an incredibly powerful voice and he enunciates each lyric so precisely that it’s easy to follow every song and the message it delivers.
“Big Wheels” and “Two Strikes” (which even had a drink named after it on tonight’s menu) followed. Melodime are very energetic and they easily fill the entire stage-dancing and head banging to the delight of their cell phone recording audience (they do head banging extremely well, so any YouTube-posted videos will never, ever come back to haunt them).
“Outlaws” is off their 2013 LP Where the Sinners & Saints Collide and is a powerful, catchy song that had the crowd waving their hands in the air when prompted to (“put your hands in the air now”). Keyboardist Sammy Duis also plays bass and had his guitar casually slug over his shoulder as he went back and forth between instruments-it was pretty much the hardcore definition of “rock and roll”.
“Underdogs” included a nice shout out to Melodime’s hometown of Virginia and “Halo” prompted a lot of audience clapping and singing along as Rhodes got to dancing across the stage.
“Jon [Wiley on lead guitar] and I just got back from Port au Prince, Haiti,” Rhodes explained. “We were there for six days helping to run a music camp and this is the song that helped start this charity.” “Brothers” is a lyrically powerful song which has become sort of an anthem for the group: “Yeah, the brothers played, played, played and the mother, she sang along, too/turning music into bread and strumming into the truth.”
“Little Thing Called Love” is a new song released this June before their Big Wheels tour which they wrote for “our loved ones that we say goodbye to when we go away on tour.”
The lights dimmed and Rhodes owned the stage singing a melancholy, if slightly bitter love song (I want to say this is called “Anthem of the Broken Hearted”, but I’m not quite sure I’m correct there). “Puppet” was sung sans guitar, so Rhodes, who is very much like an enthralling storyteller of yore, punctuated his lyrics with sweeping hand gestures which had an incredibly dramatic effect.
Slowing down for “Lullaby”, the ladies in the audience swayed along and looked at one another, smiling and singing along-you can tell this song holds a lot of meaning to the fans. “Our Time” was followed by “Secondhand Smoke” which sounded fantastically raw and gritty and with the red lights shining onstage, you could literally see the smoke rising (although it was probably just residue from the A/C, but it sure looked cool).
“Madman” then “10,000 Hearts” came next with Rhodes noting that “we’ve been writing more happy love songs than we have in the past.” Bringing out his acoustic guitar for the latter, Rhodes delivered a genuine, heartfelt, lyrically-driven performance accompanied by just keys and drummer Tyler Duis on shaker percussion.
The finale was a cheeky tune called “Love Songs & Hearts” which has some fantastic lyrics like: “The good girls drink the water/The bad girls drink the wine/The good boys date the good girls/But good girls are hard to find.” This was a crowd favorite and it’s easy to see why.
“I love playing at home more than anything in the whole wide world,” Rhodes said when he came back out for the encore. “We’re just trying to figure out what to play now-is Ryan still here? Why don’t you come up and play with us-we’re gonna try a cover jam here.” Bringing surprise guest Sister Hazel’s Ryan Newell onstage was certainly an exciting moment as they launched into The Marshall Tucker Band’s iconic “Can’t You See”.
The Delta Saints and Melodime continue their US tours through the Fall, so be sure to check out their websites and see where you can catch them next. Then just sit back and enjoy the ride.