Live Review: MAMF Day 1; Day 2 recommendations…

Category: Blog — @ 5:47 pm September 4, 2008

And so ends Day 1 of the Mid American Music Festival in beautiful balmy Benson. I caught Far Beyond Frail at Mia’s Bongo Room — a surprisingly good space for acoustic performances — before strolling over to The Waiting Room for a pared-down version of Midwest Dilemma (only 9 performers!) and Brad Hoshaw and the Six Deadlies (apparently one deadly was missing, or maybe Whipkey and his amazing hair counts as two?).

Midwest Dilemma frontman Justin Lamoureux said three members of his band were missing for personal reasons. I’m not sure where they would have put them on stage anyway. As such a large ensemble, MD is more of a folk orchestra than a band, boasting such unconventional rock instruments as cello, clarinet and tuba, along with mandolin, guitar, drums, stand-up bass, etc. The product is lilting, geographical, biographical mid-tempo folk waltzes that border on dirges. What Lamoureux lacks in variety (everything was played at the same plodding pace) he makes up for in the compositions, which tried to take advantage of everyone on stage. Yeah, having so many people in the band is impressive, but I personally prefer Midwest Dilemma as a simple trio — cello, woodwind/vocalist, guitar/vocalist (though it wouldn’t hurt to add a drummer to that mix). Unless he’s come across a boatload of cash, Lamoureux’s going to have to pare down to something more manageable like a trio or four-piece if he decides to take this show on the road — fewer mouths to feed, less of a money split, etc. While all that extra hardware sounds pretty, he can pull this off just as effectively with a more economical approach.

On the other hand, an already impressive catalog of music by Brad Hoshaw only got better when played by a full band. I’ve seen Hoshaw three or four times in a solo-acoustic setting and have always been thoroughly moved by the performance. With the “Seven Deadlies” — two backup singers, stand-up bass, drums, keyboards and guitarist Matt Whipkey (I’m told a trumpet was missing) — Hoshaw goes from folk-acoustic to folk-rock to alt-country without losing any of his personal edge. Hoshaw’s solo acoustic sets can become rather lulling 20 minutes in due to the nature of the ethereal-though-downcast music. The band arrangements remedy this, taking the set from quiet to twangy to rock and back again. One of the highlights was Whipkey. Known more for his own rock projects that he fronts, Whipkey is an ingenious, soulful soloist of the highest caliber. And though renowned for his bombastic drum-set-jumping rock performances — Whipkey was never overpowering, making sure to hold back when he needed to even though you knew he was dying to burn the house down. I’m told Hoshaw is finishing up an album with this band. As one of the city’s best songwriters who’s not afraid to tour, a label like Saddle Creek or Team Love would be wise to consider signing this hometown boy who has a sound and style unlike anything on those labels. But if Creek or Conor doesn’t, someone else certainly should. It’s time for Hoshaw to go national.

Show attendance was respectable for the festival’s opening night (and for a Wednesday). Mia’s had about 30 people in the house at its peak. There were twice that many in TWR for Midwest Dilemma, and that ballooned to around 75 for Hoshaw and company. I saw a lot of all-access laminates walking around, which makes me wonder how many patrons were paying customers and how many were members of other bands. I suspect the numbers to continue to rise as the weekend approaches.

Tonight’s highlights again are mostly at The Waiting Room. At 7 p.m., CB alt-rock buzz band Skypiper plays, followed by Thunder Power at 8:30, while at 11:30 Satchel Grande does another classic set — seems like these guys play almost every week. The late show is Black Squirrels at midnight at Burke’s Pub.

Check out the MAMF website for a full schedule.

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