[Words by Adam Taylor | Photos by Chris Monaghan]
In today’s music, it’s not uncommon to see artists blending genres and experimenting with their sound. The Infamous Stringdusters — though at first glance a quintessential bluegrass band, complete with a banjo, fiddle, guitar, dobro, and upright bass — certainly have no intention of staying within the typical realms of Bluegrass music. Currently on their release tour for the new album Let It Go, which came out on out April 1st, this unbelievably talented ensemble attracts a uniquely diverse audience and has the proclivity to jam seamlessly, stretching their compositions beyond your typical bluegrass foot-stompers. It was the supposed last day of winter and the Stringdusters decided to park their fancy-ass new bus across from Lincoln Hall and bring some much needed warmth to still defrosting Chicago.
After several bouts of inconvenience prevented me from seeing the Stringdusters over the past two years, I was more than eager to finally experience their music live for the first time. Though there was no forecast for snow, those congregated together that night knew to expect a heavy dusting over the next several hours. No time was wasted in making that clear once the five members took the stage. They opened with the uplifting “Pioneers,” moving straight into “Where the Rivers Run Cold” off of their recent release, which highlighted their vocal harmonies and the emotional depth of each composition. Banjo player Chris Pandolfi makes an O-Face one has to see in person to really understand. The crowd was captivated. People were dancing. And the bass was deep. Everyone around appeared satisfied with their view and there was a friendly vibe throughout.
It was then announced that dobro master Andy Hall, rocking a shirt that said ‘Hall Or Nothin,’ was celebrating a birthday that day. This inspired a few big sips of beer from just about everyone, and the guys got back to work. The entirety of the ensuing set was a mixture of original songs, several of which are off the Stringdusters’ new LP, including “Winds of Change,” “I’ll Get Away,” and “Summercamp.” “Summercamp” was a high point for me, as they would crescendo a meticulously composed jam back into the already jubilant melody of the song. Not all of their musical tangents were composed, though. There was definitely a lot of improvisation at play and on several occasions, two members of the band would face each other and ‘dual’ on their instruments. This was fun to watch, and it was definitely clear that these guys were enjoying themselves.
After a quick intermission and visit to the bar, the show was back on. No energy was lost onstage nor in the crowd, as the Stringdusters took their time with a mystifying intro into “Fork in the Road,” which is probably one of their more recognizable songs. The next hour of music to follow simply blew me away, as I became lost in the sound. There were tribal sounds and Middle Eastern influences being displayed. Each song blended into the next and back into itself at will. Andy Hall the birthday boy went absolutely nuts on his dobro and the electronic modification on some of the instruments paired with a little bit of picking brought the room to a state of elation you don’t see often on a Wednesday. I was entranced.
Just when you really think, “It can’t get better than this,” you get a cover of Clapton’s “After Midnight.” Late in the second set we were treated to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” and I could swear I heard the Stringdusters tease “Norwegian Wood” as well as a few other Beatles’ songs. However, the real emphasis I want to make is on the complexity and genre-defying qualities of the music I experienced that night. Between the jams, dueling, harmonies, solos, and improvisation, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about the Infamous Stringdusters that make their music so appealing and their shows so entertaining. Each member individually is a master of his craft and their combined sound benefits greatly from this. Even when in the background, all the instruments are crisp and played with veracity. For the Infamous Stringdusters, it really is Hall or Nothin’.
View the full photo gallery here —> Flickr