By MusicFestNews contributor Kristin Jennings
A great show is like a great meal: so rarely does a great meal comprise of food alone. The company, the presentation, the environment, and the edibles cohesively provide a deep, satisfying experience. Thursday night at The Ritz in Ybor City, FL, offered the same palatable delights with Greyhounds and City and Colour. If you haven’t been to the Ritz in a while (or at all), please make an effort to indulge your ears in that space. While the layout can be awkward with a full house, the sonic production is stellar, especially for music that isn’t clamoring.
The crowd packed in for one of the tightest opening acts seen in recent months, and I’m ashamed I hadn’t heard of them previously. Austin, Texas, duo Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube presented a bluesy, romping array of material. Both Greyhounds members share songwriting and vocal responsibilities, and the balance between them works beautifully. Anthony Farrell possesses a resonant, assertive baritone that slides with ease all through his spectrum and with a classic sound calling to mind soulful ’70s classic rock musicians also known for their keyboard and piano prowess. It’s as if his vocal chords are solid like the reed of a saxophone with a warm, wooden throatiness you can hear vibrating in particularly hungry notes. You can hear Texas ease in Andrew Trube, who uses looser phrasing and enunciation with a slight twang that distinctly complements the funk and blues attitude in their songs. Farrell’s keyboard finesse was determined and well-honed with layers of jazz, soul, rock, and country, finding perfect moments to shine while continually providing a sturdy backbone to the fusion; conversely, Trube rocked out on guitar and blues harp with a ferocity and soulfulness seen commonly in passionate Texan musicians.
A spaceman—yes, a man wearing a space suit complete with helmet—assumed the role of hype man, roving offstage around the perimeter of the venue through the people and resumed his rightful place in the corner stage left. The band followed up his journey with the traditional-sounding blues number “It’s So Good to Be Alive” that opens with a call for group participation: “When I say ‘space,’ you say ‘man.’ Space! Man! Space! Man!” When asked later about said astronaut’s purpose, Farrell coyly shrugged and cryptically offered, “I don’t know; he’s a spaceman.” Fine by me. They closed with a strutting, inciting jam on “Hot Sauce,” which opens with Trube wailing on harmonica and ends in a din of guitar, keyboard, and drum destined to leave a lasting impression. Kudos also go to their drummer Ed Miles, who seamlessly integrated sharp expertise on snare and cymbal throughout the set—all three artists treated the public to a rousing good time and never missed a beat as if they’d been playing together for decades.
After the scramble of drink refills and nature calls, the stage went dark again, and the a cappella version of Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” played in its entirety, the audience grinning and grooving through some light karaoke. When it was over, City and Colour took the stage to a chorus of predominantly female screams, with a few notable exceptions who would stand out later in the set, and opened with the heart-wrenching showcase of Dallas Green’s tenor range on “Woman.” The nine-minute track opens their latest album, If I Should Go Before You, and, despite its length, the composition is haunting and holds interest until the end. An incredibly well-executed lighting arrangement accompanied the drama—the lighting technician remained on point the entire set to create perfect mood and motion every single time. Next followed the second tune on the same album, the driving “Northern Blues” that highlights Green’s soaring upper register and bassist Jack Lawrence’s grooving steadiness. Somewhere in the space of the first few numbers, the crowd began to exude the aggression and sensuality emanating from the songs. The uninhibited, shared obsession over Dallas Green’s presence and vocal ability prompted comical remarks from nearby spectators—”Just sing at my genitals,” for instance. These people were delightfully loyal and forthright and so pleased to be in attendance.
Matt Kelly hurt and moved souls with pedal steel, a welcome addition on a few of City and Colour’s sweeter or longing-filled tracks, prominently showcased on gems like “We Found Each Other in the Dark” and the newly-released “Peaceful Road.” His talents extend beyond the steel and are equally as lovely on keyboard, matching the ebb and flow of volume and tenderness in each piece. The band’s introduction to “Sleeping Sickness” ignited one male fan’s passion in an eruption of “Hooooooly SHIT!” and our gathering responded in kind with nostalgic fervor at the choral break, “Someone come and/someone come and save my life.” We felt that’s precisely what the band was doing. Another fan favorite, “Grand Optimist,” inspired more sing-alongs and swaying induced by drummer Doug MacGregor’s insistent, pounding bass drum and fluidly harmonizing backing vocals by Jack Lawrence and Dante Schwebel, whose guitar and energy dig into your skin and drag you any direction he wants.
The encore, explained by Dallas as simply the length of time in which he needs to pee, opened with only him on acoustic guitar. The origins of City and Colour were just that, and it’s fitting for the final songs pulled from the first three albums, though another male attendee was lamenting the absence of Dallas’ signature glasses, yelling, “Where are your glasses?! Put on your glasses!” Green worried needlessly about his performance of “Northern Wind” during which the congregation stopped singing and failed to prompt him on a verse he remembered within a few seconds—later remarking on the embarrassment of forgetting a line about an old guitar while holding a guitar. He was fully forgiven by evidence of the mass joining him on “Coming Home” and the brief interlude into “This Could Be Anywhere in the World” by Alexisonfire, where Dallas Green initially became known. The band rejoined him for the final number, the mournful “Hope for Now” that has undoubtedly saved lives as hoped for in the lyrics; it begins quietly with Kelly’s light keys and Green’s hushed vocals until Schwebel’s guitar comes squealing into the middle to kick off drums and bass that join the swell of sound that leaves the audience spent and soothed. In the end, we left with our souls and hearts filled with awe, adoration, and gratitude like at the end of a good Friendsgiving, minus the need to wear loose pants.