Writing about music is, as Martin Mull put it, a lot like dancing about architecture. And that sad truth — along with the daunting brilliance of music writers like Lester Bangs and Stanley Booth — is my main excuse for being more journalist than critic. Except, maybe, for this week.
While Grant Sabin used most of the evening to build up to it, the debut of his seven-piece band Saturday at Stargazers, complete with a three-piece horn section, bodes well for future performances. The 21-year-old musician, who was in his early teens when he learned Mississippi Fred McDowell-style fingerpicking from local legend John-Alex Mason, has begun channeling those Delta blues influences into something increasingly unique and personal.
Grant's rumbling guitar sound — no effects, he tells me, just a high-impedance dobro pickup and a vintage tube amp — perfectly complements his soulful growl and heartfelt lyrics. That alone was enough to entertain the crowd, but Saturday's show really took off when he was joined onstage by Alex Koshak. Like a high-energy version of John Lee Hooker's stompbox, the Flumps drummer kicked out bluesy rhythms on originals that included the title track of 2011's The Homesick EP and "Hard Hearted," a song Grant wrote at the age of 14. (Yeah, I kind of hate him for that, too.)
By set's end, fellow Flumps Eric Hatfield and Dino Beli were onboard, along with horn players Clare Hammond, Neil Fenton and Mitch Macura. Unfortunately, the bass guitar was a bit too prominent in the mix at that point, making the trombones stand out less than they could have. But that did little to dampen the audience's enthusiasm, especially when the band kicked into a soulful closing rendition of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" with a bonus nod to the Isley Brothers' "Shout."
So what's next? "Most shows will be with me and Alex," says Grant. "The seven-piece will be mainly for big shows, like festivals and CD releases and things like that."
Since we've still got a few months before the season kicks in with MeadowGrass, Blues Under the Bridge and the Indy Music Awards Festival, that gives the band plenty of time to work out more horn charts. In the meantime, catch Sabin and Koshak opening for Band of Heathens at Stargazers next Thursday, March 8.
Another show I caught last weekend was Arliss Nancy at the Triple Nickel. Newly signed to Suburban Home Records, the Fort Collins band came highly recommended by former 555 booker Damian Burford, who ambled onstage to add impromptu backing vocals on their last number.
With two excellent songwriters, the band has the kind of energy that Midwest acts like the Replacements and the Service brought to their music before the intersection of punk and pop became so incredibly lame. You can check out Damian's extensive interview with Arliss Nancy at mostly harmless podcast.com.
And finally, if you're reading this on Thursday, March 1, you can hear Chris Bullock's Tall City tonight at the Record Room, a new venue located in, of all places, Palmer Lake's Pinz Bowling Center. Then be sure to head over to the Triple Nickel in time to catch the Mighty Regis, an L.A. Celtic-punk band in the mighty tradition of the Pogues, Black 47 and Flogging Molly. Their current tour includes a Boston date with the Dropkick Murphys and a stop at Toronto's Bovine Sex Club, which they're a little worried about. "I have quite a lot of experience with cows," lead guitarist Ben Wise tells me, "but none of this variety."