Big Ditch Road w/ Flat Earth Defenders and 3 County Tour (Saturday, May
7th, 2005, Terminal Bar, Minneapolis)
While much of the attention last weekend went to the Ashtray Hearts CD release party at the Turf Club [David de Young reviews that show here], I knew there would at least be a few people staying on the Minneapolis side of the river to see Big Ditch Road at the Terminal Bar. Add to the lineup a band that just this side of honky-tonk (3 County Tour) and the reunion of a band that hasn’t played in town for nearly two years (Flat Earth Defenders), and you would think a few people would show up, right?
Well, they showed up all right--in droves. The seating area in front of the stage was so full I couldn’t even get close to first band.
3 County Tour
3 County Tour opened the show with “Are You Ready For The Country?”, and any time a band starts with that song you know it is going to be a good night. The band’s down-home mix of originals and covers worked up an energetic lather in a crowd more than willing to forgive the periodic technical difficulties that faced the band tonight. Even with an AWOL fiddle player, they charged through their set, the highlight being a cover of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” that got everyone (even those of us stuck in the back) singing along.
Flat Earth Defenders
I suppose it’s difficult to get a lot of gigs when your frontman has moved to the Southern Hemisphere, so if you are the Flat Earth Defenders, you do the next best thing – schedule a gig when he comes home for a visit. Jim Strachan left chilly Minneapolis for an equally chilly (but more Hobbit-filled) New Zealand in 2003, but for a band that only practiced a little bit before the gig, it was as if he had never left. Starting their set out with Golden Smog’s “Please Tell My Brother”, Flat Earth Defenders’ mix of Celtic soul and bohemian blues evoked comparisons to Van Morrison, John Mayer and Jack Johnson at various times while creating a space of their own by varying their instrumentation, most notably with cellist (yes, that’s cellist!) Fred Langheim. Strachan switched from acoustic guitar to electric guitar on some songs and even sat out when Langheim sang “Stray Cat Strut”, while Todd Syring switched from guitar to keyboards and back again over the course of the night.
The highlight of the Flat Earth Defenders set was the cover of “Amelia”
by the late great local band Something Fierce. After the show, Strachan
said that he had grown up idolizing Something Fierce, and has covered
many of their songs over the years. During one of their gigs, they were
playing “Amelia” but he was hearing background vocals that
he couldn’t place. It wasn’t until he looked at the sound
guy (Dave Russ, who had been the drummer for Something Fierce) that he
noticed that Russ had plugged into the board and was singing background
with him. Hearing “Amelia” brought back an absolute flood
of memories for me, and it makes me glad to hear that someone is keeping
their music alive.
For my money, Big Ditch Road is a perfect example of what is right with Minnesota music today. Having moved past the pure fresh-off-the-farm feel of the debut album, frontman Darin Wald has stretched the boundaries of his band’s sound to incorporate Wilco-like rock elements while retaining the alt-country base. Lyrically, Wald has also pushed himself beyond the “city girl/country boy” struggles, hitting hard on themes of alienation, depression and loss. When the new album comes out this summer on Martin Devaney’s Eclectone Records label, the title is alleged to be Suicide Note Reader’s Companion – filled with songs that are not supposed to be easy to cozy up to. It is this ambition that makes Big Ditch Road a band to keep your eyes on.
Musically, they are solid. Wald and Brian O’Neil (pedal steel) are the only two holdovers from the original lineup, but they have added Tim Baumgart (Kruddler) on drums and Ted Held and Amy Bukstein (from Six Ways Til Sunday/Inwood Radio) on guitar and bass, respectively. This formation has been together since October, and has been better every time I have seen them. They are also growing into the songs more, especially the vocal interplay between Wald and Bukstein. As he is wailing the chorus to Saint Lonesome, her background vocals aren’t a friendly hand on his shoulder – she’s wailing as well, and it is the sonic wall of anger and denial that make the songs so effective. Throw O’Neil’s pedal steel on top, and you have the prescription for heartache – or murder.
Highlights of their set included “Saint Lonesome,” “Ghosts,” and “Not To Me,” a song from their first album. But the biggest surprise came when they pulled out a heartfelt version of “Will I Be Married” by the Jayhawks to a great response from the crowd. Two more songs from the upcoming album finished the night, and a tremendous evening of music was complete.
Big Ditch Road will take the next few weeks off, concentrating on finishing the album, as well as working in a band member’s wedding. I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long to see them again.
David Rachac is email@example.com
3 County Tour