James Blackshaw - I have heard of this fine UK-based fingerstyle guitarist, but had not heard any of his music. And the first surprise for me was that his style is based much more on American guitarists like John Fahey, Jack Rose, and the lighter side of Ben Chasney. Although he was no doubt influenced by the senior circuit of UK guitarists, I did not get the wild feel of a Davy Graham or the traditional feel of the others (not that they were without plenty of US blues style in their music). But aside from trying to detect the influences on the notes, I easily got into the spirit of his music. The notes from his 12-string acoustic came fluidly with an assertive finger-style playing. He had one of the deeper bass string sounds that I have heard from an acoustic guitar. The songs were long, in fact he played only four of them in his 35-minute set and there wasn't a whole lot of chatter between songs. Just deep, serious playing that the small crowd really got into--especially the guy that yelled "shut the fuck up" at a noisy couple at the bar behind the crowd. A nice set, and a good warm-up for me before the Michael Chapman set tomorrow.
Grails - I last saw this Portland collective at the Terrastock Festival in Louisville, Ky a few years back. They were a solid entry in that fine field, but did not move me enough to dig in much deeper. I was looking forward to seeing what these six guys were up to and was pleasantly surprised with the results, mixed as they were. The band has a few interchangeable parts with a couple guys rotating at the drum kit and several acoustic and electric guitars going. There is a full-time keyboardist (who percusses a bit) and a bass player who also has some synthesizers and does the only "vocal" work which is pretty much musical sound textures that do not involve lyrics. They weave their songs together with only one break in the set and I liked their slow fade-in entrance with members coming on at different times and an exit done in similar fashion. Some good trippy music, sometimes heavy, sometimes quiet and spacey. They are able to assemble some interesting hooks and dynamics to really pull me in at times. There were other moments where I kind of faded away from what they were doing, but it was not too terribly long of a downspell. The crowd was only about half full tonight, probably a little less, but was very enthusiastic. One guy was too enthusiastic and was tossed for trying to start a mosh pit. Huh? Ultimately this 55-minute set and 10-minute encore came off quite well. I am not quite ready to go nuts over this band, but they have certainly raised their game a bit and are well worth a night out.
Quote of the Night: Almost no audible stage patter and none in the mics. From Grails... "it will be the only break of the night." which one guy explained when after about ten minutes, they were a bit slow in switching instruments and getting things set up. The rest of the set was fluid and noisy at all times even with the multiple switches. Well done.