Words and Images by Christian ThorneParsonsfield – Friday July 25th
We know that one of the ways the country music rejuvenates itself at its margins it by absorbing the forms and styles to which it is superficially opposed. The Violent Femmes bring Appalachian punk rock to the streets of Milwaukee. In Uncle Tupelo, Mike Watt covers the Carter Family. The Band existed in an alternate universe in which Merle Haggard was a Staple Singer. So the thing about this great band with the not-so-great name is that while you can still hear those earlier recombinations in their set — all of them: Band, Femmes, Tupelo — their own anchor points have drifted gloriously; they’ve planted their starting points far enough away that you could almost convince yourself no-one has ever done this kind of thing before. Not country & western exactly, but folk music of the kind putatively abolished by Dylan, close harmony singing, intimations of shanty, the sound that fishermen’s sweaters make when they think that no-one is watching. And add to that gypsy punk, its habit of doubling already quick tempos, its knack for shouting melodies you’ve only ever heard crooned, its off-kilter intrusions of the bass drum. The last time they came through these parts, they seemed like a Greenwich Village nostalgia act — the re-Weavers. But last night made a person think not that Dylan made a mistake by plugging in but merely that he needn’t have bothered.
PHOX – Saturday, July 26th
Phox just played Newport, sometimes get called “folk,” but actually deliver rock’n‘roll played at a circumspect hush. A guitar wells up like someone singing in a library. A mid-tempo feels like a calisthenic wind sprint after all the lulling and the loping. Factor in, too, the only really good version of “Stormy Weather” I’ve ever heard live, solo, on a ukelele neither strummed nor ironic. Nakedly anxious Monica Martin already knows what it took Cat Power entirely too long to figure out: that a band makes the stage way less lonely — three guys would do; six are better.