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Saturday, 11 May 2013 15:14

Concert review: The Devil Makes Three and Jonny Fritz bring the Appalachian Apocalypse Boogie to the Blueberry Hill Duck Room, Friday, May 10

The Devil Makes Three at the Duck Room The Devil Makes Three at the Duck Room Chris Malacarne
Written by Kevin Edwards
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I first saw the Devil Makes Three on the live webcast of the Newport Folk Festival last summer and thought they sounded and looked a little like the really pissed-off folks that got stuck in Nebraska in the 1889 Land Rush: destined to build houses out of sod and eke out a living with crude hand tools.

Give those poor bastards guitars and tattoos, lots of tattoos, and you've got the look and sound that kept me glued to the screen.

Man, these are some rankled citizens. And I mean that in the most complimentary way.

There's darkness in the lyrics and it draws me in. The songs sound like what might happen if Ricky Skaggs and Trent Reznor were to co-write songs, ala Elton and Bernie. Or maybe like a Bill Monroe album produced by Edgar Allan Poe.

It sometimes sounds like folk, sometimes bluegrass. But listen to the words. It's more like rudegrass.

There's a resignation in the lyrics that doesn't quite sound resolved, you know? Like a wound spring, it feels like the lyrical acceptance of life's stacked deck and the eventuality of pain is something that could still bite if you don't keep your arms and legs inside the ride.

The trio -- consisting of guitarist Pete Bernhard, stand-up bassist Lucia Turino and multi-instrumentalist Cooper McBean, who may have the coolest name ever -- are all three are from the Yankee end of the Appalachians, two from Vermont and one from New Hampshire.

Vermont may be the home of Phish and Ben & Jerry's, but it's also the home of the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen.

New Hampshire? Live free or die motherfucker! Most of that is on their license plate.

TDM3's music is mostly vintage blues with acoustic instrumentation, patterned from a time when the 20th century was young, but updated for those disenfranchised in our current century. The songs speak of crack and Adolf Hitler and Albert Einstein and Jesse James. Actually, that's just one line from one song.

As to the opener, Jonny Fritz: Here's a guy who left his Virginia home over ten years ago, while still in his teens, and has played music and made friends ever since. He has played with Deer Tick and Dawes and Wanda Jackson, to name only a few. He will soon be opening for Alabama Shakes. He's going to be at Bonnaroo. His last album was made at Jackson Browne's house and I'm pretty sure Jackson knew about it. He's ubiquitous! I looked it up.

Fritz was joined on stage at the Duck Room by Josh Hedley on fiddle and backup vocals and they opened the show, with "Holy Water," a song about, believe it or not, sex. The first lyrics of the night were: "Where her belly ends and her legs begin / There's a fork in the road where my journey ends."

Nice.

Two things were immediately apparent: Josh Hedley is a hell-on-wheels fiddler and this crowd had a jones for those sounds from the hills and hollers. Feet began tapping.

Fritz and Hedley, both wearing trucker caps, Hedley's stating, "Born to Fish, Forced to Work," tore through a fourteen song set that I thought the crowd warmly received. But stage banter was lost to ambient crowd noise which, by mid-set, was about the volume of an air raid siren, cranked slowly.

I think Fritz found the early stages of crowd rowdiness energizing, but somewhere along the line it had to have felt like it turned on him a bit. At one point, I heard Fritz yell, "Shut up!" And that was after he had played his song, "Shut Up." He was trying to tell a joke.

We did not shut up.

We will never shut up.

But we did dance.

I met a couple of friends who showed up just before TDM3 took the stage and they were a bit taken aback by the rowdiness. I had, by that point, made the acquaintance of many a folk dancer and had been elected the keeper of the coats, cloaks and discarded footwear for my side of the room.

So, I may have been a bit like the frog that has been slowly heated in the water. My friends, however, looked ready to jump.

Their apprehension made me begin to take notice and by the third song, "All Hail," there seemed to be weirdness all about. The thump of the standup bass propelled it. The plink of the banjo replaced the yearn and yaw of the fiddle and it sounded like some ghost steamboat may have passed by on the swollen river.

There was a man who looked like Dinty Moore but he was wearing a feather trimmed, pillbox hat. Like Jackie O. It just sat there on his immense, bearded head.

By the incredibly infectious "Statesboro Blues," I had been pulled into a group polka. But it was a little like slam dancing and board clogging too.

Every few feet, there was a practitioner of that brand of dancing, often shirtless, who has been freed from any burdensome commitment to rhythm and who seemed to be flying his freak flag in a blender. Those little pockets of chaos kind of kept the whole from locking into rhythm and taking over the place next door.

At some point, orange wedges were removed from a drink and were placed down the back of my shirt. By a stranger. And I think I deserved it.

TDM3, playing beautifully aged instruments, stomped and jumped and we all followed suit. By the time the band dropped into "Do Wrong Right," alcohol and the collective lack of childhood dance lessons had developed a system of perfect entropy.

No two people were being weird in the same way. Dancing was spastic and mildly dangerous. Some people were dancing with no shoes. I saw a guy raise his shirt and a girl gave him a schmeggle. It was like Sodom and Gomorrah.

I didn't even notice the band had left the stage until I heard the shouts for an encore. Two songs later, it was all over.

One lyric kept bouncing off the walls in my head: "If you're gonna raise a ruckus, one word of advice, if you're gonna do wrong, buddy, do wrong right!"

We, as an audience, sure took that lyric to heart.

I believe concerts are some sort of abbreviated relationship that is both collective and individual. And together, on this night, in a packed basement in St. Louis, we certainly did raise a ruckus, one that included rudely placed fruit wedges, pill box hats and folk dancing of indeterminate origin.

From the trenches, I can only imagine what we looked like from the stage as both acts worked that infectious, atavistic boogie that echoes from all our mountains and allows us to stomp and hoot and shout.

By the end, I no longer felt the anger in the songs. I was just knackered and happy -- as I believe we all were -- to have been allowed to let out that inner-hillbilly which dwells in us all.

But why is my neck so damned sticky? Oh. Yeah. Never mind.

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