You are aware, I hope, that it’s been a huge week for underdog lovers of the world in England. Scrappy, cinematic Leicester City beat preseason odds of 5,000-1 to win the coveted English Premiere League season title in soccer, a run that’s being called the biggest upset in the history of sports. The team is called The Foxes, and they’re looking clever indeed as they make the rounds with their gargantuan trophy. Well, roots music is our own scrappy underdog and while I’m unaware of anybody betting against us, this week produced a show that was surprising, rather British and definitely a winner.
Our mini-British Invasion began with the duo of Englishman Ben Jones and Irishwoman Andrea Magee, together under the name Beat Root Revival. Forget the UK’s reputation for gloom, because the couple brought nothing but blue sky folk pop with uplifting messages. “Seize the day before it gets too late,” they sang in close harmony in their opening song. Ben played bold, multi-faceted guitar, including some layers and looping to make a full, cascading sound on “Instincts,” while Andrea kept the groove moving on a big goat skinned Bodhran. This had spark and life and spot-on vocals. And that Ben can sing really high. Wow.
Ben is from Kent, while Marty Willson-Piper is from near Liverpool (specifically the town of Thingwall, which sounds to me like a better name for Facebook) on the opposite end of the country. He pulled a Prince with his mostly female Acres of Space band, and the scale of the thing was impressive with seven musicians making ambitious, well rehearsed rock. Marty told us he uses the 12-string acoustic as his main guitar for its unique sound, and it wasn’t the only unique sound they made, with mallets on the drums in “No One There” and the couple from HuDost on harmonium and textured electric guitar. “High As A Kite” drew the evening’s psychedelic overtones into the foreground. I had no idea what to expect from this multi-faceted guy, but this was at times luxurious, rocking, avant-garde and enthralling.
Much of the same band returned to the stage to flesh out the collective that his HuDost, including of course leaders Moksha on voice and harmonium and Jemal on guitar. The exotic and deluxe soundscape continued with more focus on Moksha’s fluid and powerful singing. There was a neo-classical scale to much of the set, with an anthemic pop turn on the Jars of Clay song “Inland,” which featured that band’s Dan Haseltine in a guest vocalist mode. Speaking of surprise guests, guitarist Christie Lenée had been blending in beautifully with the band but when she got a featured solo piece and took her acoustic guitar into Michael Hedges / Will Ackerman territory, it made for one of the most shockingly moving interludes we’ve ever had. It was more than the fluid, neck-tapping virtuosity. She seemed to radiate joy. Set closer “Arrhythmia” was a slow building, passionate rock jam that seemed to emerge from 1972.
Gabe Dixon wasn’t without traces of British Invasion himself, indebted as he is to Elton John and Paul McCartney (whose offer of a band gig, by the way, Dixon once famously turned down to pursue his own music). And I also thought a lot about Bruce Hornsby as Dixon delivered a set of crisply crafted, vibrantly melodious songs with a piano power trio that featured Chris Autry on bass and the incredible Nick Buda on drums. “The One Thing I Did Right” made a cool hook out of a sentiment we can all relate to. The song “Crave” is just catchy as hell with its booming left hand piano percussion and verbal gymnastics. I was glad Gabe launched his final song with some virtuoso piano, harkening to Professor Longhair and Sir Elton as he nimbly boogied his way into “Til You’re Gone.”
The Nashville Jam cycled England back into the mix by tapping the Beatles for the first time in a while. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” continued a run of superb jams. I continue to be amazed at how our artists connect with one another, defer to one another and love one another enough to make this no-rehearsal performance work. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go post this review on our Thingwall.