At face value, the shows at Red Butte Garden and The Urban Lounge Tuesday night could not have been more different. And the experiences certainly had little in common–other than showing just how dedicated some music fans can be when an artist they love comes to town.
In the case of Red Butte Garden, that was exemplified by the thousands of fans who braved a torrential downpour to hear George Thorogood and the Destroyers knock out some old barroom favorites after an opening set by the legendary Buddy Guy (why Guy was opening for Thorogood on this “co-headlining” bill, I have no idea). And in the case of The Urban Lounge, the dedication was shown by the hundreds who showed up on just a couple hours notice to catch The Head and the Heart serve as an emergency fill-in for The Moondoggies, another Seattle band that had to cancel due to car issues.
The Head and the Heart happened to be in town to open for the Dave Matthews Band earlier in the evening at Usana Amphitheater, but their impromptu appearance at The Urban Lounge was as epic a headlining gig as fans could have hoped for even if the show was planned months in advance.
Mixing songs from their excellent self-titled debut and new ones from their upcoming October sophomore release, The Head and The Heart clearly relished the emphatic response of the fans who showed up on such short notice. The crowd sang along to all the familiar songs, from the opening “Cats and Dogs” to the final encore of “Rivers and Roads,” and 15 songs in between, clapping along with the band’s three primary vocalists–the lanky Jonathan Russell at center stage, guitarist Josiah Johnson and violinist Charity Rose Thielen.
The Head and The Heart has proven an inspiring live band from their early stops in SLC like gigs at Kilby Court and Slowtrain, and that hasn’t changed as they’ve moved into larger venues–they sold out The Depot their last headlining stop in town, and opening for Matthews at the 20,000-seat Usana probably got them in front of their biggest-ever Utah audience. That made the cozy confines of The Urban Lounge all the better place to see them Tuesday night–we won’t get to see them in that kind of environment again any time soon.
The band took advantage to debut a few new songs, despite Thielen’s announcement that “it’s tough playing new shit. You usually fuck up!” Any fuck-ups weren’t noticable, and it’s safe to say the new songs played Tuesday share the epic range of the material on their debut album. I’m not sure on all the titles, but one called “Shake” led by Russell was particularly strong, and others showcased, at various points, the band’s stellar vocal harmonies and wicked way with an anthemic hook.
Among the other highlights were “Coeur d’Alene,” “Ghosts” and “Lost in My Mind,” a song dedicated to Russell’s brother and featuring a stage invasion by the band’s friends in The Devil Whale. Another new one, “My Friends,” was excellent, as was the last song of the set, a brilliant take on “Down in the Valley.” For encores, both Johnson and Thielen performed solo songs before the full band returned to shut it down with “Rivers and Roads.”
“This is one of the most fun shows we’ve played in a long time,” Russell said at one point, and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t lying.
In the end, the unexpected gig was one of the more inspiring nights of live music I’ve seen in a while, a fine example of band and audience totally in tune with each other, and wallowing in the joy of each other’s company.
The fans braving the rain for Thorogood at Red Butte Garden were not quite so lucky. Even if they weren’t soaked to the core from the cloudburst that arrived just after Guy finished his opening set, Thorogood was pretty much on auto-pilot in both his performance and between-song banter. That’s to be expected for a guy who’s been playing live for four decades, but it was still a bit disappointing.
I lasted about an hour, and did not once hear him make note of the fact that the folks on hand had stuck around through a nasty rain storm. To be fair, I didn’t stick around to the bitter end–I had that The Head and The Heart show to get to, of course–so maybe he mentioned it later. But I was there for every song I can imagine a casual Thorogood fan wanting to hear–from his cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” to “I Drink Alone,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer” to “Bad to the Bone,” and most of his chatting could have been inserted in any town, on any night.
That’s not to say Thorogood was bad. Celebrating 40 years playing with his band the Destroyers, he’s an affable enough frontman, and an energetic one, running back and forth on stage and goading the audience into cheers and shouted requests. He brought an impressive batch of video screens with him to help the visual appeal of the gig, and his band was solid delivering the barroom blues that made Thorogood famous.
I was particularly happy to see him ditch the rain poncho after his first song.