Saturday, November 29, 2008

Concert Review - David Bromberg @ Newburyport City Hall Auditorium

Wow. This was special. David Bromberg played a solo acoustic show last night at the Newburyport City Hall Auditorium. I have seen David play in all sort of configurations - with the David Bromberg Big Band, with the acoustic David Bromberg Quartet, with the Angel Band, and with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy in an acoustic Hot Tuna Bromberg format. But solo acoustic is a rarity and a special treat.

David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
Like so many other supremely talented musicians, Bromberg isn't as well known as he should be. He plays an eclectic range of styles that mixes bluegrass, blues, folk, and rock in his own unique way. As a music major at Columbia University in the early to mid 60s, Bromberg was shaped by the Greenwich Village music scene of the time. He studied finger-picking blues guitar from the Reverend "Blind" Gary Davis by exchanging lessons for helping to lead the Reverend to his gigs; imagine being a human seeing eye dog for a blues guitar legend! Bromberg has been a sideman studio guitarist on literally hundreds of albums, including records by Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon. He co-wrote one song, "The Holdup" with George Harrison, and has played with the likes of Jerry Garcia (who appeared on two of Bromberg's albums), Tom Rush, Vassar Clements, and more.

The Newburyport City Hall was built in 1851, and it includes an honest to goodness auditorium right in it. It's not ornate, but it does have surprisingly good acoustics. The sound was bright and clear with no noticeable echoes. The floor was set with folding chairs; I estimated about 250 chairs on the floor and probably another 100 or 150 seats in the balcony that ringed three sides of the hall.

You know those crystals that swell to one hundred times their size in water? Bromberg reminds me of that. I mean, when you look at the man you think nothing of him. In his own words you just see "an average, overweight, middle age, Jewish guy." But like those crystals in water, he swells to a hundred times his normal size on stage. He has a command of the stage, and a performing presence, that strikes awe. This is equally true when he is performing something slow and sad, such as "Watch Baby Fall" or rip roaring like his unique version of "Statesboro Blues."

We got the full range of Bromberg's styles during the 90-minute set. Some of it was Bromberg's own humor infused songs, including "Demon in Disguise", "Black and Tan", and "Tongue". His cover of Big Bill Broonzy's "Long Tall Mama" fits equally well in this category:

I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
When it comes to making love she hollers
Lordy, Davey, take your time

We also got a good mix of the heartfelt, including a beautiful show version of Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" Bromberg's own "Watch Baby Fall" (there's a song that can make you cry), and Ian Tyson's "Summer Wages". The latter is a song that I consider signature Bromberg, even if it is a cover; his version is so fine he simply owns the song. He called Annie Raines up to the stage to accompany him on harmonica for a rare "Going to Germany", a World War I era song he was inspired to do because of the WWI memorial plaques lining the downstairs hallway in the city hall. Another treat was an instrumental "Over the Rainbow", as well as the show ending "Mr. Bojangles".
And we had our fill of the blues. From the traditional "Delia's Gone" (a song about the murder of fourteen-year-old Delia Green in Savannah in 1900), to Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen", the Reverend Gary Davis' "Maple Leaf Rag", and Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues."

Most of the set was solo Bromberg, but he did call his wife, Nancy Josephson, to the stage a little more than half way through his set, and she accompanied him on a standup electric bass and with harmony vocals. There were a few humorous moments between them when David started playing songs which she has never done before, but she was a trooper and it all went without a hitch.
I looked around on YouTube for something that would capture what Bromberg is like today, and this studio piece of him talking about the Reverend Gary Davis and then playing "Maple Leaf Rag" seemed to be the overall best to give you a sense of the man:

The opening act, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, was a fantastic surprise. Although their names were familiar to me, I was not familiar with their music at all. Their acoustic blues floored the entire audience, with Paul playing a National Steel guitar and Annie on kick-ass harmonica, and both sharing vocal duties. Their thirty minute set ranged from Spider John Koerner's "Good Luck Child", to Scrapper Blackwell's "Trouble Blues", to their own infectious "Got To Fly" which included an audience call and response. More than a handful of us headed to the merchandise table to pick up their CDs at the break.

I was disappointed that I couldn't find a version of "Got To Fly" on YouTube, but here's a small snippet of Paul and Annie performing "Louise" that very much tells the tale:

The set list...

David Bromberg
Friday, November 28, 2008
City Hall Auditorium, Newburyport, MA

Demon In Disguise
Black and Tan
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Try Me One More Time
Come On In My Kitchen
Delia's Gone
Maple Leaf Rag
Big Road Blues
Long Tall Mama
Levee Camp Moan
Watch Baby Fall

With Nancy Josephson on upright electric bass:
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
Summer Wages
Who's Lovin' You Tonight
Dark Hollow
Going to Germany
Over the Rainbow (instrumental)

Encore 1 (solo):
Statesboro Blues

Encore 2 (w/ Nancy):
Mr. Bojangles

Opening Act
Paul Rishell & Annie Raines:
Custard Pie
Honey It Must Be Love
It'll Be Me / I'll Be Looking For You
Good Luck Child
You Been A Good Ol' Wagon
Trouble Blues
Got To Fly


Tom Spine said...

I forgot to to put this in the blog post.. we were sitting at dinner at the Mission Oak Grill in Newburyport (across the street from the City Hall) and my friend Mary said "that guy at the table over there sorta looks like David Bromberg." I turned and looked at the table 30 feet away, and replied "that's because that *is* David Bromberg." David and Nancy were enjoying a nice quiet dinner alone. :-)

Rob Platner said...

Tom - Bromberg is playing ATlanta this Sunday - solo show. Very much looking forward to it. Another musical hero of mine Kevn Kinney is playing Saturday night - I don't know if you know him but I am sure you'd love him. Check him out.