The Barr Brothers – Thekla, Bristol

Thursday 17th July, 2018

A random ticket buy. July/August are slim pickings for gigs so you take what you can get in terms of bands in these months. This gig fitted in terms of date and price and I’ve a pretty good track record of random gigs – my instinct is good so I thought I’d take a chance on The Barr Brothers. This was part of River Town, a festival of Americana music, and as I love a bit of country I figured I’d probably be on safe territory with this gig.

Due to Colston Hall’s refurb (hurry, I miss you) this gig, which would probably have been in the Lantern (I really miss you) was hosted by Thekla instead. A gig venue on a boat, what’s not to love about that? I’ve had some cracking gigs onboard the good ship so I boarded with reasonable hopes of enjoying tonight.

I am glad I got there nice and early as the support band came on at 7.30pm to a very small crowd (I think 13 at the start!). Mt Joy they were called, a debut album of the same name was released earlier this year and it worth getting hold of. I liked them. A lot. By about the 3rd track I was thinking that I’d had my money’s worth out of this gig already. A young American 5 piece, they played a sort of mixture of late 70’s soft rock (not usually a genre I like) with country and soul. They turned their track Julia into a cover of Aint No Sunshine and did it justice. Astrovan was probably my favourite track.

The road crew bought out a lap steel guitar (oh yes, hello there, we are in for a good time), double bass (ditto), trombone and trumpet players appeared (now this is getting interesting), some sort of voice box/mic (hmmmm), a huge array of guitars and effects (what am I about to hear?) and then the band.

Oh wow. The best drummer. A solid bass. The brass. THE LAP STEEL GUITAR. The lead singer who could make sounds come out his guitar as if it were singing or howling. He made noises I did not know you could make, in ways that were as silly and creative as I’ve seen (piece of sting anyone?).

The lap steel is one of my favourite instruments and one that isn’t played live as often as it should be. To be inches away from it, its gorgeous noises hitting my ears, was such a treat. It just does something to me. Add it to the glorious mix of all the other very talented men on the stage and you had a heady brew. Blues, rock, country all thrown in together and stirred until music came out that moved my mind and my body. I couldn’t help it, the rhythm got me. Right at the start of this gig I gave myself permission to just move. I stand out like a sore thumb anyhow, short blonde hair, big glasses, green dress., no point attempting to blend in. Just let your inner weirdo out I thought to myself. Be free, enjoy the music and what it does to you.

Imagine mixing Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Abbey Road era Beatles, Dr Hook, Muddy Waters, BB King add a touch of Springsteen, Talking Heads and They Might Be Giants and you might get a flavour of how I felt listening to The Barr Brothers tonight. Man they can play. There was a guitar/double bass face off that was like a howling wolf and sounds emanating from a beaten up acoustic guitar that shouldn’t have been possible. And the drummer. Everything from gentle brush strokes on cymbals (frigging huge ones at that), bells enhancing the brass, to Animal from the Muppets rock n roll and everything in-between. This drummer didn’t just keep the time, he added flavours and colours to the music to take it all to another level. The brass was understated and superb (it was the first time they’ve had them on the road with them) and any bass player who can easily alternate between electric and double bass knows what they are doing. Despite having a set list I can’t really tell you which ones I liked because I loved them all.

Towards the end of the set a different mic stand, covered in lightbulbs, was bought into the middle and we were treated to a couple of stripped back numbers with beautiful harmony singing. It was unexpected, quirky and lovely.

As they’d overrun somewhere earlier on (having too much rocking out I suspect) the encore song was cut, so we had a sort of strange ending but nonetheless this was a gig I absolutely loved.

Sometimes when I leave a gig I want to savour it, trying to hang on to every delicious morsel. Sometimes I want to rush home to get these words typed so I can share how fantastic it was. Tonight was both. Random ticket purchasing strikes gold again. I shall almost certainly regret the dancing tomorrow, my feet and back are already aching and my ears are ringing like crazy, but for a few hours tonight I got to be young, free and soaring again. We all need to feel vital and alive, music, live music, done like this, makes me feel all of those things.

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