The feathery, jazz-infused voice of Yankee Blood singer/bassist Ruth Kelly, supported by guitarist/vocalist James Karp and drummer Adam Verone, filled downtown Funk ‘n Waffles Thursday, September 3, with a lighthearted yet full sound that would never suggest they were short a keyboardist. A healthy crowd had gathered even before Yankee Blood got the show started, who were opening for local band Grayak. All three musicians casually donning t-shirts and jeans, the lazy, bluesy feel of their second song, “Sioux City” got the crowd swaying in an almost dream-like state.
They performed a brand new song titled “Savage,” which will be included on their EP coming out in October. The track started off as a slow rock number, but carried out a heavy instrumental buildup with head bang worthy beats. The egg crate stuffed into the bass drum quivered in approval. After their performance of “Blue Eyed Lover,” Kelly divulged how she normally plays the tune on upright bass, but winged it (very successfully) on her red lacquered Gretsch hollow-body electric bass.
Yankee Blood’s second to last song, “Beekeeper,” will also be featured on their EP. Kelly made sure to alert the crowd of Karp’s ironic fear of bees before adding that once the EP is out, copies will be distributed with jars of honey. Her witty quips between songs revealed an endearing and sharp sense of humor, painting the trio as the sort of people that would be fun to hang out with and share a few beers. Softly crooning the line “I want someone to love,” during “Beekeeper,” followed a theme present in several Yankee Blood songs concerning an honest yearning to share such tenderness with someone.
The five members of Grayak, who had been mingling in the crowd during Yankee Blood’s set, coalesced on stage to commence part two of the evening’s entertainment. Frontman Phil Grajko, sporting suspenders and a metal canteen slung across his torso, looked ready to embark on an intense musical expedition. Thinking logically, he opted to set the canteen by his feet rather than trying to rock it while simultaneously playing guitar. With Hannah Grajko assisting on vocals, Brendan Gosson on fiddle and mandolin, Blake Propst on upright bass and Tyler Dattmore on drums, they opened their set with a bouncy, optimistic tune titled “Seek It Still.” It describes a personal quest of persistence and determination to find truth and meaning in the world even if the path is rough.
The song functioned as a fitting kickoff for Grayak, a project which Grajko has been nurturing for quite some time, often playing solo, but finally able to showcase with a full ensemble. The crowd, heavily speckled with friends and fans whom have seen Grajko develop and transform his musical repertoire over the years, welcomed the distinctive guitar/fiddle intro to “Have a Beautiful Now,” quickly getting into a flowy dance groove and happily singing along to a song many audience members share a personal connection to.
The more reggae-style instrumentation during “Maya” provided a slight divergence and nice addition to the folk-centered genre Grayak largely falls under. The playful fiddle part literally chases the lyrics “I run, I run, I run…” adding an intriguing audio element that emphasizes the vocals. Before beginning “Together” Grajko announced, as he always does, “This is a love song but it’s also sort of about the apocalypse.” The introduction usually provokes people to smile and possibly feel slightly confused. After the song concluded, Grajko noted his musical troupe has only been playing together for a few weeks, adding to the impressiveness of their collaboration. The band polished off their set with Grayak’s title track, “Made of Light.” Opening with a low-key bass solo, the lyrics speak to the connectedness of humankind. It slowly builds with up-tempo guitar and runaway fiddle parts that might make someone wish they were standing in a breezy meadow on a warm summer’s day.