In a legendary place like The Capitol Theatre, the most memorable acts performing there today channel the ghosts of its musical past, like Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. Acts that will be remembered, years from now, alongside giant names like those are the ones that manage to echo those nearly unfathomable experiences from the earlier years of this concert palace. When the five-piece Americana jam sensation Greensky Bluegrass kicked off their show last weekend with their aptly-named original song “Bring Out Your Dead,” they did exactly this. For this reviewer, the vibrant myth of Pink Floyd performances here in this theatre glowed within the Cap’s interior, vibrating invisibly at the tips of this epic and harrowing modern song. This Capitol Theatre show might have served as a great benchmark showing just how far Greensky Bluegrass has evolved, from a new string band outfit several years ago into the epic rock concert performers they are today.
But the band then showed their range fast, as the next several tunes were some of their much more feel good stuff. “Wings for Wheels” and then “Handle With Care” carried the room from the shadows of that cool opening to a sunny bluegrass beach in paradise. Complimenting this portion of the evening was a roving solo picking, with members trading off in typically swift style. The Lil’ Smokies, the dynamic newcomer five member string band that had opened up for the night with their own highly received set, are set to tour with Greensky for much of the latter’s upcoming tour. So, it should be no surprise that many nights will feature either members of The Smokies, or the entire group, up to collaborate. At The Cap, Greensky invited the Smokies dobro player Andy Dunnigan and fiddle player Jake Simpson up for some fun.
First up was “Second That Emotion,” and not the most epic version you’ve ever heard but still no doubt a much-appreciated nod to one of The Cap’s late musical presiders, Jerry Garcia. But it was the “Worried About The Weather” that closed out set one that was the real kicker, perhaps the standout performance of the entire night. Dunnigan and Simpson never lagged behind or shied away, but instead showed their confidence beside the members of Greensky and made the dramatic tune into an explosive performance.
Set two brought the deeper cuts, with miles of space and focused improvisation, which seemed to see the band toying around with all the funky effects tech at their disposal. After starting out with some more smile-makers in “Fixing to Ruin” and Steam Powered Aeroplane,” Greensky laid down a huge “Ground Hog” and “Wheel Hoss” pairing, and the musical territory traversed here was as mystifying as it was funky and rhythm-inducing. The improv-loaded segue helped to reinforce the claim that Greensky Bluegrass is the headiest of all progressive grass groups out there right now.
This was followed up by another cool pairing in “Tarpology” and, perhaps another Garcia nod, “Ain’t No Bread In The “Breadbox,” with this latter tune being a real stand out on its own. While it hit the usual rolling groove Greensky puts into it, on this night the band pushed even harder to truly dig on it for several minutes. This one must have been an extra-special version in all the versions played.