by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Friday night’s Brad Hoshaw & the Seven Deadlies concert at The Waiting Room was more of a victory lap than a CD release show. Hoshaw’s new record, Funeral Guns, was produced partially through a Kickstarter campaign, so 100+ people already have been in possession of the CD for a few weeks.
The evening began with a solo set by Kyle Harvey, the former musician and Benson resident now poet from Fuita, Colorado (who just so happens to have a poetry reading tonight at Pet Shop Gallery in Benson, see below). The last time I saw Harvey perform was on the same stage a few years ago surrounded by no fewer than a dozen people, none of whom were standing on the floor in front of the stage. Last Friday night that same floor was almost filled. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at a Harvey performance, and that fact didn’t escape Kyle, who said, “I guess you waited until I moved away to finally show up,” or something like that.
Harvey preceded to play a short set of the introspective acoustic folk he was known for back when he lived in Benson — dark, sad, confessional ballads with a double-helping of lonesomeness for good measure. The irony, of course, is that Harvey is one of the more upbeat guys I’ve known from the scene; his between-song patter was warm and funny and anything but depressing. Harvey says he’s giving up music, but that would be a shame, especially since one of the best songs on the new Hoshaw album was written by him.
Though they’re called the Seven Deadlies, there were only three “deadlies” joining Hoshaw — Vern Ferguson on bass, Scott Gaeta on drums, and guitarist Matt Whipkey, your 2013 “Artist of the Year.” When it comes to this band, Whipkey and Hoshaw have a sort of symbiotic relationship. Yes, Hoshaw’s songwriting and voice are at the center of everything, but it’s Whipkey’s guitar fireworks that add the Technicolor, the panache, the drama.
While I like the new record, there are few things that, uh, left me scratching my head. The production is at times a bit heavy handed. There’s too much organ on too many tracks; and the layered harmonies on a few numbers are reminiscent of dusty Dan Fogelberg albums. There are moments on this record that sound like a product of an El Lay recording studio circa 1975 (to some people, that’s a plus).
All the over-the-top “smoothness” of the record was gone when the music was performed as a four-piece. Hoshaw and Co. stripped the songs down to bare essentials, raw and unvarnished the songs’ natural elements shined so much brighter. It came down to Hoshaw, his acoustic guitar, his songs, his voice, and Whipkey tossing grenades into the audience in the form of his blazing electric guitar work. Whipkey’s solos — while solid on the record — exploded throughout the live set — gorgeous tone combined with glowing drama that (at times) veered close to being out of control, especially on songs like the title track, the grim, gutteral “New Tattoo” and Harvey cover “It Falls Apart.” Riveting stuff.
The night closed with a sing-along encore that included a surreal re-imagining of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and a quiet, un-mic-ed edge-of-the-stage version of “Blue Bicycle” that left the 200 or so on hand in a trance.
So I get back to what I asked in last week’s column — what’s this guy have to do to break out of Nebraska and be heard on a national stage? That was a common question being bandied about before and after his set. The consensus: It all comes down to getting out on the road — not as a solo acoustic guy, but with this band or at the very least, with Whipkey, the only consistent member of The Seven Deadlies and the most critical.
Something tells me if you asked Hoshaw, he’d say hitting the road is the plan. But it was the plan the last time, and other than one small tour he never got out of town with the band. He has to this time. He has no excuses, and if he ever wants to be heard outside of Benson, he has no choice.
* * *
As mentioned above, Kyle Harvey reads from his new book of poetry, Hyacinth, tonight at the Petshop Gallery, 2727 No. 62nd St. in Benson. Joining him will be Greg Kosmicki (the 2000 and 2006 recipient of the Nebraska Arts Council’s Merit Award), Paul Hanson Clark (co-founder and operator of the poetry studio SP CE in Lincoln), and Omaha musician and novelist Michael Trenhaile. It starts at 7:30 and as far as I know it’s free. More info here.
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.