Pennsylvania based bluegrass outfit Cabinet rolled into the Buffalo Iron Works this past Thursday night. The stop was one of the band’s first on a lengthy fall tour that takes them across most of the Northeast and as far west as Colorado.
As a band, Cabinet has enjoyed a steady climb within the festival community including their own festival, The Susquehanna Breakdown, now in its third year. The six piece has carved a unique niche for themselves by showcasing a new breed of bluegrass. Their recent show at Buffalo Iron Works proved exactly why Cabinet has been a festival scene favorite. It only takes one Cabinet set to realize that their brand of bluegrass is a celebration from opener to encore.
Simply stated, it’s the best kind of bluegrass throw down. Cabinet has struck a perfect balance between the vintage history of the genre by infusing bluegrass with the best of driving rock rhythms and the soulful heart of blues. In songs like “Bottom of the Sea” (the show opener), the boys created a slow but heartfelt drive that, despite its lulling time signature, somehow managed to set an energetic pace to the night.
The evening’s set list was the perfect blend of fan favorites and new material. The good news is that even in fan favorites, there is an understated development in their sound. Many bands make the mistake of keeping classic songs unworked or unexplored, often choosing to let beloved songs become stale through consistency. But even with recognizable songs from their catalog, you find yourself listening to their music with a new ear.
Cabinet staples like “Eleanor,” “Old Farmer’s Mill” or “Heavy Rain” have taken on a deeper, slighter harder sound that is driven by a more energetic stride. Or perhaps it’s the band showcasing a departure from their usual mid-day festival set pace by bringing a higher yet darker energy to an indoor venue. Despite the progression of their sound, one thing remains consistent about Cabinet. You can’t sit down during a Cabinet show. Or at least you shouldn’t because you’ll be missing out on the most organic dance party.
“Po’s Reel,” placed almost perfectly in the middle of the band’s set, was a brilliant example of how a perfectly balanced yet complex bluegrass melody can whip the crowd into a hoedown like frenzy. Even where Cabinet takes the heritage of their music seriously by highlighting the complex mix of banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar, they always manage to deliver an energetic outlet to their fans.
For many, there is an unfortunate stereotype that surrounds the Bluegrass genre; a sleepy, twangy below the Mason Dixon line, gospel based sound that feels more Sunday morning rather than Saturday Night. Cabinet manages to bring a Northeastern nod to the way they play the genre; an almost Blue Collar, Salt of the Earth vibe that makes their sound slightly more relatable.
In new songs like “Old Time Songs” from their recent release Celebration, Cabinet offered a vibrant spin on a bluegrass lullaby. Lyrically and musically, the song pays tribute to the genre’s heritage, but even in throwback mode, Cabinet still managed to keep the crowd energized and dancing. And that is probably what Cabinet does best. They create a driving energy that continues to grow as the set progresses.
They were able to tap into the crowd energy as their set progressed. Veering off their set list, Cabinet obliged their fans with a short but sweet version of “Tower,” after shouts for the tune continued throughout the night. Where Cabinet shined is their ability to sound uncomplicated for a six-piece. There was no muddled, overworked moments in their live performance.
Bluegrass is often a genre of families. And with Cabinet, the band plays together like brothers. There was no jockeying for position. Although each member of the band had their moments to step out musically, there was a streamlined and focused blending that resulted in a clean, memorable and contagious sound.
After the Buffalo show, Cabinet’s current tour route has them out of New York State until November 12 when they play Flour City in Rochester. If you haven’t caught a Cabinet show yet, that gives you plenty of time to fall in love with the band’s catalog before they return for four dates in New York including the Westcott Theater in Syracuse, The Hollow in Albany and The Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn. Those up for a road trip can also catch the band in their home state of Pennsylvania as well.