by Rob Brind and Kathleen Larrick
Tim Easton’s tour history in Philly has resulted in less than overwhelming receptions. While he has packed rooms in Europe, Alaska and neighboring NYC, Philadelphia has yet to welcome this Nashville artist as warmly as he deserves. Despite this, Easton chose to return to Philly for a one night engagement at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties. We were glad he did. Ortlieb’s is a small venue, so small it’s like walking down a wide hallway from the front door to the back of the house. Strange then, that the stage should be set up as a platform in the center of this hallway, rather than at the back. To put this in perspective, we sat at a table approximately four feet from the edge of the stage with our backs against the opposing wall. Intimate is an understatement.
Upon sitting down, we noticed a banjo leaning against the stage and an upright bass against the wall near the door of the ladies’ room. Being bluegrass lovers, we were intrigued. Of course these instruments belonged to the White Cheddar Boys, the opening act. A 3-piece string band, White Cheddar Boys played a smattering of traditional, a Johnny Cash cover and a couple of original tunes. With no fiddle or supporting vocals, the ensemble still has the backbone of a decent bluegrass band. It would be great to see Huey drive a little harder on banjo fingerpicking and leave the rhythm to his guitarist.
Though he was headlining, Easton chose to take the middle performance slot of this triple bill while the room was full – and to accommodate the long drive to his next show in Boston. Wednesday night, Easton’s set ranged from the rockabilly singles of his new album Not Cool to older tunes he’s never performed live. When he took the stage, Easton grabbed his guitar, greeted the crowd then “got his drummer going.” The “drummer” was the base of a second mic stand used as a foot percussion platform. A bluesy fingerpicked riff and moving bassline followed, and it was a few seconds before we realized we were witnessing the sound check. He made a quick request of the sound man while entertaining with his guitar, and then segued into “What Shall you Do?”
Although it’s incredible to see Easton front a full band, he was nonetheless commanding alone on the stage. His breathy, growling vocals accompanied his bluesy fingerpicking and occasional strumming. He alternately rocked and tugged at heart strings, and the small crowd stayed with him every step of the way. Easton has a way with words, grabbing his audience with lines like, “Kneel at the altar like you kneeled at the boots of the man who took everything he could take from you.” He certainly knows how to get our attention, even amid the din of the nearby bar. “The Festival Song” was the highlight of the evening; fans sang along while new listeners relaxed and soaked up the lyrical sunbeams. “If you wonder why it feels so good, just look into a thousand pairs of eyes . . . When we all come together, it feel like the world is going to be alright.”
When promoting a new album, it’s often difficult to strike that perfect balance between pleasing fans with hits and promoting your new material. Based on Wednesday’s performance, Easton seems to have perfected the technique. It certainly doesn’t hurt that tunes like “Don’t Lie” and “Crazy Motherfucker from Shelby, Ohio” inspire even the most reluctant chair dancers in the audience. It was hard to sit still. Though these tracks include electric guitar, supporting vox and some great percussion work on the studio album recordings, Easton captures that same energy working solo. We later learned that’s his definition of a good song – one that can stand alone. Easton can certainly stand alone and not disappoint. In part we were unhappy about the crowd size, but at the same time it was wonderful to be five feet from this terrific performance.
We gave the third act of the triple bill, Boog, a few songs with which to impress us. Thick, heavy vocals that occasionally turned into screams and a heavily played guitar did not keep us listening. It is possible to scream on pitch- it’s part of inceptional rock. Hell, even the Beatles did it on “Dizzy Miss Lizzie.” Boog wasn’t quite able to pull it off, and we left during the fourth song.
Tim gave us a ride back to our car and the interview followed later, but that’s another story…it will be posted here in a day or two.
Here’s the link to the playlist: