The Devil Makes Three
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Concert Review by Marty Brown
Moments before the doors were to open at Mr. Smalls for the modern Dixieland giants The Devil Makes Three (TDM3), my friend Alison Brown (no relation) and I found ourselves at the Happy Day Lounge—a “family” tradition of sorts when in Millvale before a show. Anticipating a great performance and enjoying an empty bar, we happened upon some new friends that were also on their way to the celebrated Pittsburgh venue. One of our enthusiastic new acquaintances named Amber, who traveled down from Warren just to see her favorite band, shared with us stories of earlier shows and generated some serious excitement for TDM3. Not having been to a TDM3 show myself, and only having known the band’s music for slightly less than 12 hours, my anticipation was building.
The opening band, Sturgill Simpson, was wrapping up as we finally made it through the seemingly endless line to the box office (you would think we’d have avoided this by wasting time at the local watering hole). As disappointing as it was to miss most of their set, I was pleased to hear what I did of Sturgill’s perfected honky-tonk country sound. The crowd was still growing when the fog machines shut off and the intermission music faded out, creating the ideal entrance for the band everyone was there to see. And out of the smoke came Pete (guitar and lead vocals), Lucia (upright bass and vocals), and Cooper (banjo and guitar)—I guess the devil technically makes four. TDM3 opened with “Strangers”, track 1 off of their new album entitled I’m A Stranger Here. Evident in this song as well as throughout the rest of their catalog, no percussionist is needed in this band of rhythmic stringed instruments; they can make anyone with a pulse feel compelled to dance, or at least tap their foot, with their back porch-supported lineup. The first half of their set consisted mostly of their new material with old favorites (such as “Beneath the Piano”, “Gracefully Facedown”, and “Graveyard”) sprinkled into the mix. There wasn’t much banter or verbal communication with the audience, especially for the first dozen songs or so, but I would attribute it to time management—they had a lot of music to share in what seemed to be not enough time. When Pete finally took a break from singing and attempted to introduce “Statesboro Blues”, one member of the audience yelled “Play Slayer!” As the crowd laughed and Pete shook it off with ease, I wondered if I had missed some sort of inside joke from a previous tour.
The second half of TDM3’s set kicked-off with a cameo appearance from their sound tech, Spencer, who gracefully added to the melancholy sound of “A Moment’s Rest” with a violin accompaniment—“All you get is a moment’s rest from what haunts you deep inside/Is that good enough tonight/Hope that’s good enough tonight.” The trio quickly geared the crowd back up with “Old Number Seven”, the timeless song for which possibly they are best-known. It’s at this point in the night when the band and audience started to really interact musically—it seems that I’m the only one who doesn’t know all of these lyrics, though I’m always a fan of shouting and applauding obsessively for a great fiddle solo. Still, it was only until the second to last song, “Do Wrong Right”, when Cooper finally left his shell, walking up to the front of the stage and connecting with the audience during a banjo solo—a moment where he shined, boasting his instrumental mastery and showmanship. After ending with the lively old favorite “Bangor Mash”, TDM3 did not make the crowd wait long for an encore performance. Pete made playing the slide guitar look like child’s play on “Help Yourself”, and they concluded the evening with the old jazz standard, “St. James”.
One thing that I observed at the concert that night is that TDM3 has a “realness” to their personalities as well as their music and lyrics. That genuine quality reflects onto their fans as well, which is one of the reasons why our new friend Amber loves making the trip to see TDM3. The concert exuded a friendliness that you may not get at another show featuring a band with a “cult following” (Amber uses the example that, “No one will hold your hair back when you get sick in the bathroom at a Phish concert”). TDM3 fans, much like the bluegrass band itself, is all about the music and sense of community surrounding their folky sound—something I hope to take pleasure in again when they return to the Steel City.