By Matt Fricks
w/ additional reporting by @WeirScrewed
Greensky Bluegrass returned to the Chicago for the first time since the two-headlining-gigs-in-one-night of last summer's Boulevard Festival. The bluegrass quintet graced the House of Blues with two sets that spanned the duration of their career while also highlighting nearly the entirety of their most recent release, If Sorrows Swim. Paul Hoffman (mandolin, vocals), David Bruzza (guitar, vocals), Anders Beck (dobro), Michael Bont (banjo, vocals), and Mike Devol (bass, vocals) executed a flawless set that contained several surprises.
The night opened with Hoffman setting the tempo with his mandolin. While I initially thought Greensky was preparing another extended introduction to “Don’t Lie,” Hoffman and Bruzza launched into the first verse of “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox” – a song that proved to be an excellent start for Chicago.
Following “Breadbox,” the excited Chicago crowd was presented with a four-song run from If Sorrows Swim with “Kerosene” being the standout and one of the major highlights of the night. Bruzza guided the band through a very solid jam that ultimately reached a towering crescendo, leaving House of Blues dancing furiously.
As usual, the jams were on point. The composed segments of the songs were played to perfection and the jams were patient, always allowing the perfect amount of time to consistently build toward their destinations.
“Bring Out Your Dead” was the other first set highlight. It served as a nice momentary change of pace from the up-tempo songs. Hoffman’s sinister vocals and Beck’s distorted dobro were the prominent features for this one. “Bring Out Your Dead” has always been one of my favorite songs from Handguns and it was a very pleasant first-set surprise.
Before the second set started, Bruzza spoke about the importance of Chicago to him as his uncle took him to his first Grateful Dead show here. Quickly seeing an opportunity, Beck joked that a set full of Dead covers would ensue.
But it was “The Four” that got the call to open set it two -- it has always worked well as a set opener, as it did here. Again, Chicago was given a brief run of songs from If Sorrows Swims with “Windshield” receiving a very strong response from the crowd after a slightly extended and quiet closing jam. After this run, the band delved into two back-to-back covers: John Hartford’s “Steam-Powered Aeroplane” and “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. These were both excellent, particularly Beck on “Money for Nothing” as he emulated the vocal melodies and Mark Knopfler’s guitar riff with his slide.
“Forget Everything” was another second-set surprise. With no female backing vocalist in the opening act to support the studio cut, I had assumed this one was out of the question. Yet, Hoffman delivered another strong vocal.
The highlights of the second set were “Broke Mountain Breakdown” and “Leap Year.” “Broke Mountain” was a lot of fun. The big feature of the opening section was the banjo work of Bont and during the middle segment, Bruzza and Hoffman gathered around Devol, who slowly led the band back into a fast tempo before the finish.
One thing was very easy to see: the band was having fun. Whether it was joking with the crowd or getting into some reggae, it was clear that Greensky was enjoying every moment of the show.
The “Leap Year” set closer was nothing short of incredible. The crowd behind the soundboard took to the eerie vocal inflections during the latter part of the composition before Hoffman could even begin them while the band briefly delved into a haunting down-tempo jam. When Greensky launched back into the final chorus and closing crescendo, Hoffman went off – and that’s the best way to describe it. His fast mandolin picking guided the rest of the band out of a great second set.
While the band didn't follow through on Beck's threat (promise?) of Dead covers, they did select “Mr. Charlie” for the first encore selection. The entire venue joined in singing the call and response lyrics of the pre-chorus and chorus. “Mr. Charlie” proved to be an excellent encore choice. And before Greensky could exit the stage for the last time, they said “goodnight” to Chicago with “Clinch Mountain Backstep” to end the night.
This was a fantastic show for the sold-out Chicago crowd. Yahoo Screens also offered a free stream of the performance (available to re-stream below through Sunday night). I am happy knowing that many others that could not be in attendance also had an opportunity to enjoy the sets. Greensky’s return to Chicago was well worth the wait with a fantastic setlist and true demonstration of their stellar musicianship.
Opener Rayland Baxter got the evening started on a positive note. The Nashville-based band got the crowd dancing to his original material which blended traditional folk-rock sounds with hints of psychedelia. The highlight was his cover of Bob Dylan's "Love Sick". This trio is certain worthy of further exploration.
The full stream
is was available as a replay until Sunday night, but when that goes since that is gone, we've also added a five-song fan-shot playlist (featuring "Kerosene" & "Leap Year"!) courtesy of YouTuber Sojahsey1 or the complete show via izeoftheworldphotos below.
Greensky Bluegrass, 02/21/2015 House of Blues Setlist:
Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox
A Letter to Seymour
Bring Out Your Dead
Steam Powered Aeroplane
Money For Nothing
For Sure Uh-Huh
Broke Mountain Breakdown
Wings for Wheels
Clinch Mountain Backstep