Live review: The Greencards, Visulite Theatre (11/8/2013)

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The Greencards
Visulite Theatre
Nov. 8, 2013

The Greencards had just transfixed the Visulite audience with their telepathic trade-off of solos on guitarist Carl Miner's barnstorming hoe-down "Spicy Driving," when group co-founder and mandolin maestro Kym Warner confessed his man crush on Tom Petty. Bassist and vocalist Carol Young, who formed the Americana outfit with fellow Australian Warner in 2003, wondered how far her band mate would take his Petty obsession. "On the right night, with a bottle of malt, who knows?" Warner replied.

This off-the-cuff banter signaled the laid-back warmth the duo shared with their American band mates Miner and fiddler Kristen Weber, and with the appreciative crowd. "I've seen some of you before," said Young scanning the audience. The connection the band strived to forge with their fans was palpable, illustrated by the couple beside me who had trekked from Durham to catch the 'Cards. This was their seventh Greencards show and counting.

Yet the energy exchange between musician and listener, so essential to The Greencards' pensive and enfolding pop-tinged Newgrass, was sometimes hampered by the band's virtuosic precision and tight control. This uneasy balance between structure and flow benefitted the chamber pop pieces off the band's new album, Sweetheart of the Sun, where the tunes' beauty and quiet sense of awe were underpinned by bittersweet sadness.

With her dusky, airy alto, which summoned the mercurial passion of folk goddess Sandy Denny, Young was commanding and sensuous on the Celtic-madrigal-meets-country-ballad "Traveler's Song." Her swooning, slightly gravel delivery enhanced the moody English pastoral feel of "Black Black Water" which echoed the shape-shifting, segueing melodic bits-and-pieces of XTC's "Senses Working Overtime."

Subtle electronics and Miner's gentle guitar launched the narcotic folk lament "Ocean Floor" where Young was joined by Weber on haunting, sighing vocals. Weber seemed pleasantly stunned when Young hugged her at the end of their duet.

Yet, the tight rein that benefited the 'Cards' interlocking, entwining pop gems threatened to swamp their more open-ended instrumental side. To the band's credit, this rarely happened. Anchored by the fluid pulse of Young's electric bass, the Latin-flavored strut "The Avenue" segued from hazy 60s tinged psych-pop to a springboard for Weber's vigorous gypsy fiddle and Miner's galloping guitar. Warner's Mid-Eastern tinged mandolin evoked both The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and the slip-knot liquidity of Jerry Garcia's finest solos on set opener entitled simply "Carl's Tune."

Yet, the evening's most unleashed and transcendent instrumental was a Brazilian string-quartet cover, a Choro penned by Jacob do Bandolin, who Warner described as the "Brazilian Bill Monroe." Weber's fiddle channeled Stephane Grappelli to Warner's and Miner's Django Reinhardt in a smoking round robin of gypsy and flamenco flavored solos. Fluid, deftly exchanged instrumental spotlight-grabbers also dominated the set closer, a searing coda appended to the swaggering and soulful "Waiting on the Night." As all four band members stepped to the edge of the stage and started scat singing, their untrammeled joy of performance came through.

In a brief chat after the show, Warner told me that water was an important metaphor for The Greencards, signifying freedom and adventure. More often than not, the 'Cards slipped their moorings of tightly honed song craft on Friday night, allowing their musical ebullience and energy to flow like a rapid river.

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