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Monday, 23 September 2013 11:52

Concert review: David Bromberg spreads the folk-blues gospel at the Old Rock House, Friday, September 21

Concert review: David Bromberg spreads the folk-blues gospel at the Old Rock House, Friday, September 21
Written by Jason Warren
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Every hipster worth their weight in sock hats has heard David Bromberg. After all, the distinct opening notes from his classic "Sharon" serve as the main loop which makes up "Johnny Ryall" from the hip-hop classic "Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys.

That enigmatic sample is just another in a long line of great collaborations for Bromberg, collaborations that range from George Harrison, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and so many more.

Without his band Bromberg sat alone on the stage of the Old Rock House this past Friday night with just his acoustic guitar, a table of accoutrements, two microphones and a history of music that only he can put together. His was voice strong and pure with the same jazz-inspired phrasing as Willie Nelson but full-bodied like a finely brewed stout. His guitar playing was exceptional, for he's in a long line of musicians who have studied under Reverend Gary Davis, the seminal bluesman who has taught so many, including Jorma Kaukonen, Dave Van Ronk and Rory Block.

From the first notes, a Doc Watson-inspired blues, it was clear that David Bromberg is more that just another blues-influenced singer, songwriter and instrumentalist; he playfully romped through the night with a distinctive humor and irreverence.

"I am trying to play stuff that I didn't play last time," he said, "but I can't remember what I played last time." The night was not filled with the expected old standards and fan favorites; instead it was an experience that came from the coffee-house days of Greenwich Village. He launched into "Where Were You Last Night" and continued with his interpretation of the Big Joe Turner classic "I Got a Gal (for Every Day of the Week)." As with any cover that Bromberg does he added his own humor and stories. His own approach to each song is what audiences have come to hear since he first emerged in 1972 with the release of his eponymous debut album.

"See, I wanted to do an album that shows that I have other famous friends," he said of the 2011 album "Use Me." "The idea was to have my friends pick out a song or write a song for me and then produce it." Anyone with a connection to Levon Helm has been touched by him; Bromberg is no exception. That influence was not directly expressed as a tribute but came in the form of "Bring It With You When You Come," a song Helm picked out and produced for Bromberg. "As I was playing this song, I realized that this song has the same chord changes as a rock song that has become a folk song," and just as Bromberg opened the first lines of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' classic "Wooly Bully" the crowd began to sing along with glee. The audience didn't even need a prompt. "See it is a folk song," Bromberg acknowledged. The moment was also a quiet and fitting tribute to the ultimate sing-along troubadour, political activist and purveyor of all things folk, Pete Seeger.

The crowd was raucous and fueled by spirits, especially when Bromberg launched into the aforementioned song that featured members of the Grateful Dead and was sampled by the Beastie Boys. Alone with just his guitar and voice he took control of "Sharon," expanding the story with his expert guitar playing and storytelling, and elevating the song to further heights than what has been heard on "Demon in Disguise" or any subsequent live album outings. He put every bit of energy into conveying "Sharon" alone with just his guitar and voice; the performance semed to leave him exhausted. As Bromberg left the stage the audience rose to its collective feet wanting and demanding more.

"Someone requested this song and I hadn't gotten around to it," he confessed. So, a night cap for the audience came in the form of "Statesboro Blues." His version relies more on vocal and storytelling interpretation than that of the Allman Brothers jammy take. When all is said and done it is Bromberg's ability to weave new tales, both humorous and serious, into his songs that makes each of his concerts exciting and fresh. Friday night at the Old Rock House really was no exception.

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