But from the opening chords of Shady Grove to the final notes of Working on a Building, The Steel Wheels had the enthusiastic crowd at The Hamilton in the palm of their hands on Thursday evening in downtown Washington.
I first heard this band live at Merlefest 25 in April, and was blown away by their musicianship, tight vocals, and energy.
All of that and more was on display last evening in the intimate and beautiful music venue The Hamilton.
Singer Trent Wagler has a very distinctive voice and a writing style that continues to grow and mature as you listen to the band’s offerings on CD. He also fires up the energy that is a hallmark of this group. Jay Lapp on mandolin and guitar along with Eric Brubaker on fiddle played off Wagler and each other perfectly throughout the show. Their rhythmic dancing and bobbing reminded me more than once of the Soggy Bottom Boys performance on stage in O Brother, Where Art Thou? – and that’s a compliment since it is one of my two favorite movies of all time. Bassist Brian Dickel holds down the low end and adds the occasional harmony when the group moves into quartet mode.
There are so many things that work well for this group, but the great singing makes it all come together. This is one tight quartet, and their voices – each with a unique twist – work to make a sound that is greater than the sum of its parts. The musicianship is terrific and the arrangements are inventive. The energy never flags and I was exhausted for them at the end of the show. Finally, the songwriting is really first-rate.
A word about the venue as well. Open for less than a year, this was our first time to visit The Hamilton and it is a real treasure for DC. In one visit it became my new favorite place to listen to music. I wish I could go back tonight to catch Tony Trischka, but we’re definitely booking a Gospel Brunch there soon, and on August 5th I hope to see another favorite steel-themed band: The SteelDrivers. The room is intimate in feeling, the sound system is superb, and the wait staff is very friendly. Well done!
Last night’s show included a lot of music from recent albums, including the new release Lay Down, Lay Low which is a terrific CD. I’ll end with two videos from the Live at Goose Creek CD: the tunes Spike Driver and Nothing You Can’t Lose.
More to come…