Quickie Review: Brown Bird, Joe Fletcher in the Green Mtn. State

Joe-Dave-MorganEveLast night, Brown Bird and Joe Fletcher of the Wrong Reasons played The Skinny Pancake in Burlington, VT. TSP, which has a second location in Montpelier, is VT’s version of La Creperie, with an extra bonus of alcohol, brunch and cool medieval-looking chandeliers. After the flagship TSP opened three years ago, great acts like folksters Josh Brooks & His Band quickly turned it into a solid musical venue. When TSP was closed for renovations longer than expected this spring, people practically revolted. Now it’s open again, with a spankin’ new bar, and life is good.

It was funny seeing these four musicians 260 miles away (7 times the width of Rhode Island! 5-1/2 times its height!) only a few days after I kept bumping into them (not because they know me–because I’m uncoordinated) at the Providence Phoenix awards at Lupo’s. The long drive didn’t seem to bother them, though. The show rocked.

I’ve turned my VT pal Will on to several RI bands, and last night he snagged us a good table, excited to see both acts. When I recently came to visit him after surgery, asking if I could bring him any treats, he only wanted The Low Anthem. I brought both their albums, and if he’d actually meant he wanted the band, he didn’t complain. His birthday is tomorrow, and I left a CD-shaped gift, freshly purchased at last night’s show. Hey, something has to tide him over until the next Providence band can come rock VT’s socks.

Joe-FletcherBut, the show. Joe opened with his sharp mix of Americana, country-rock, and Nick Cave, and I’m sad I missed several songs. As I’d rushed to the gig, notes of what might have been “Womanizer Blues” floated up College Street, blending with the jazz festival that had descended on Burlington. I arrived as Joe introduced the next song as something like “Drowsy Surgeon.” I didn’t catch the lyrics (they don’t call me Mondegreen Messier for nothin’), but Will, an English professor, was smitten with the lines, so I know they were good.

Joe then invited Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain of Brown Bird to join him for a few songs. The trio absolutely rocked on “Broken Down,” “A Better Place,” (which caused a drunk girl who mistook me for her friend to scream, “ISN’T IT CRAZY THESE GUYS ARE FROM RHODE ISLAND?!?” in my ear), “Better off Alone,” “Not Tonight,” and an amazing song, “Too Many Doors,” from Wrong Reasons’ upcoming album, “White Lighter.” The two bands are pretty different, but the trio’s chemistry made each song seamless. They ended their hybrid set with a bring-down-the-house version of Wrong Reasons’ “Who Makes the Knives.” Providence bands seem to have stronger relationships than other cities’ bands, and it showed.

Brown-BirdWhen Brown Bird launched their set with “Danger and Dread,” people went nuts. They’d only played TSP once, but most of the room clearly knew their songs. The band kept up the energy even when Dave broke a string on “Muck and Mire” and had to borrow Joe Fletcher’s guitar. To thank Joe, they played his favorite BB song, “Wrong Black Mare.” Surprisingly, “Bottom of the Bottle,” which is a fantastic song but more suited to a square dance than a college hangout, got the loudest cheers thanks to MorganEve’s June Carter Cash-esque voice, Mike Samos’ mastery of the dobro, and Dave’s perfect percussion. (The second-best-received song was a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Jackson,” so maybe it was just a Cash-lovin’ crowd).

Lately, my favorite Brown Bird song has been their cover of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” which they played with gusto along with other hits new and old. After playing their signature closer, “Mabel Gray,” Brown Bird was forced by the crowd to encore two more songs and had to promise to come back to VT soon (they will, for the Northeast Kingdom Festival in August). For us local folks, they’ll be playing with The ‘Mericans and Route .44 at Narrows Center for the Arts this Thursday—a mere 20 minutes from Providence. Pack a snack.

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