The Applebutter Duo – Up Close and Personal

Well, it happened again. I went to a show and swore I wasn’t going to write about it, but once again it was so wonderful I had no choice. It’s not like I don’t have plenty else to write.

This time it was the Applebutter Duo, meaning Shannon and Kyle Biss of the Applebutter Express, minus their superb double-bass player Zach Rogers and fiddle player Joe Trivette. The quartet was again named Best of the Bay Local Bluegrass Band by Creative Loafing. They were scheduled to perform at The Brass Tap in Brandon Saturday evening at 7:30 (October 7th), although the start was delayed for the usual Octoberfest hijinx, in this case women hoisting litersteins (full of water) to see who could hold hers out straight the longest.


The dance floor got soaked in the process, but eventually they got under way. I had missed the Applebutter Express set at Great Outdoors Jam getting dinner, so I wanted to hear them in this setting.

Wise decision.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to take any notes, but Shannon was so dynamic and powerful on “Whipping Post” that I simply had to write. In jamband festival settings, the quartet plays the band’s original tunes, primarily, but this setting was very different, and the setlist they chose was brilliant for the night and this crowd, most unfamiliar with the band. The 50 or so songs that comprised the three sets included four by The Band, two by the Grateful Dead, two Jim Croce, two Paul Simon, and one each from Steve Miller, Billy Joel, Judas Priest, Parliament, the Beatles, Dr. Hook, John Print, Chuck Berry, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Dr. Dre. For a vocal duo with ukulele.

Now that’s diversity.

After kicking off with “Ophelia,” they tested the waters immediately with original tunes “Hot Pussy” and “Handguns and Hammocks (Shit Ain’t Illegal If You Don’t Get Caught).” We were up at the front, closer than I have ever been to them in the 15 or so times I’ve heard them perform, and it was magical. It was also magical to see a ukulele player carry a show for three hours; Kyle is a sonic delight on the instrument.

After “Whipping Post,” they tore up great versions of “Breaking the Law” (Judas Priest), “Movin’ Out” (Billy Joel), and a medley of “Give Up the Funk > Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (Parliament > Sly & the Family Stone). Come ON!

Now you see why the group lists their genre as “uncut ukulele funk.”

They sang lovely originals “Start a Fire” and “Home is When I’m with You” before closing the set with Jim Croce and Paul Simon (“Workin’ at the Carwast Blues” and “Me and Julio (Down by the Schoolyard)”).

Set two began and ended with originals “Wanee Trippin’” and “Raging on the Weekdays,” with “Smile” and more in the mix, plus amazing versions of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” “Dear Abby,” and “Up on Cripple Creek.” Kyle’s right hand was a blur strumming the uke on the really uptempo tunes.

The final set included more excellent songs from their albums The Applebutter Express, One for the Home Team, and Suitcase, with “The Hurricane Song,” “Married in the Woods,” and “World Ain’t All That Bad.” An outrageously ribald tune titled “Butt-Chug” (a parody of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-lug”) was sandwiched between “Kodachrome” and “You Don’tMess Around with Jim.”

After that came a remarkable sequence of songs beginning with “You Never Can Tell” (Chuck Berry), “Ohio,” “The Weight > Friend of the Devil,” “Tennessee Jed,” and “The Shape I’m In.”

Finally, there was a request from the peanut gallery for something even more ribald. “Can we do that?” grinned Kyle. The dozen or so hardcore ABX fans (and you know who you are!) who had been there for the entire show exploded in wild approval.

“Chocolate Salty Balls,” original “Until the Morning Comes (I Haven’t Been This Drunk Since 1963),” and Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”

How bow dah?

Love seeing the full quartet perform, but this duo set from Shannon and Kyle Biss was just brilliant. Cheers!

Two of the adoring fans!