The Giving Tree Band puts the sex in septet
The Giving Tree Band. Forget the beards, the weird hats and the acoustic instruments — this ain't no gentle music. Hailing from Yorkville, Illinois — close to the Windy City, closer to the sticks — the seven-piece unit prides itself in performing music that's a little bit removed from today, harkening back to the green, green grass upon which Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, and The Band first planted themselves upon.
And, yes, I know: There are a whole lotta bands right now that fancy themselves hayseeds, think they're making music for the people by the people and living in a house and pretending it's Big Pink. But, hey, what can that hurt? And, hey, The Giving Tree Band does what it does better than a whole lotta dudes who wouldn't know Garth Hudson if he bit them in the ass.
When the band took to the John Barleycorn's stage last Friday night at the early, early hour of 10:30 it was impossible not to be knocked about by the unit's full force — banjo, steel guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, plus both mandolin and fiddle tucked away for safe keeping.
And then? The singing. Oh, the singing. Within a few measures you might begin to think, "Damn, I bet these guys skipped right by Ryan Adams and went straight to Amazing Rhythm Aces and Pure Prairie League. I bet they might even own a few Nitty Gritty Dirty Band albums."
But tracing the band's sonic lineage really isn't the point. It doesn't matter whether the fellas have listened to Memphis Minnie or Alabama Shakes, those Louvin Brothers or Mumford and Sons.
What it comes down to, at the end of the night, when the tables have cleared, the bottles been thrown out, after you've forked over your hard-earned pelf, your dollars, your bob, your quid, is this: Did it make the time pass and your worries fall away? Did you want to let down your ass and shake your hair? The answer, in this case is, thankfully — and resoundingly — yes.
For well over two hours these cats locked in and rocked, rolled, sang, shook, strummed, shouted and did just about everything in between to a crowd that grew more enthusiastic as the night wore on. (Them ladies love to dance to this here stuff, sure 'nuff 'n yes they do.) After something like three or four grab-you-by-the-throat cuts, during which the frontline of Eric Fink (guitar/vocals), Todd Fink (banjo), Phil Roach (electric guitar/fiddle) and Woody Woods (all manner of steel and sliding guitar) grabbed the room and shook it like a rabbit in the teeth of a hungry hound, Eric Fink announced that things were just getting started.
Guitarist Roach also blazed like a house on fire with his Gibson — pulling off licks that called to mind the glory of Chet Atkins while Roach fused country, jazz and rock with his leads, suggesting that if anyone were ever to chop down the Giving Tree he might have a fine career ahead of him as a studio rat.
Whereas some guitarists might find it necessary to wheedle and wail while they solo Roach goes for memorable lines, ones that you can — or most often can — sing, ones that stick with you even after he's chopped your head clean off.
He's also a fine fiddler (with impeccable posture no less), pulling out his bow a little while into the set as if to say, "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot! I also play this!"
As rowdy and right as the band could get during its own numbers there were moments of the quiet that were also remarkable — Norm Norman's performance during a particularly gooseflesh-inspiring take on "I'll Shall Be Released" chief among them. That was one impressive nod to tradition throughout the night as was an inspired take on the Faces classic "Ooh La La" (there were a few times when the band called to mind former Faces man Ronnie Lane's criminally under heard band Slim Chance) and a Dead-worthy trip through "I Know You Rider."
Drummer Z seemed cool and relaxed through most of the set — smiling more than Eddie Van Halen in the "Jump" video no less. You might have begun to think that the dude was just kind of along for the ride, just there to bring an extra ray of sunshine, right? His drumming was subtle and solid enough that he could stop and you probably wouldn't have noticed, right? Except you would have, which he demonstrated more than once as he unleashed a mighty fury of fills and flourish that demonstrated the old adage that you can never judge a drummer by the smile on his face. Actually, there's no adage like that. Just forget you ever read that.
Z and bassist Charlie Karls form a most formidable rhythm section, better than many, and serving as a further testament to the seven-piece's full range of power, all of this demonstrated, with scintillating clarity on the group's new long player Vacilador.
Don't know when that Tree will make its way back to our town again but we can hope it's soon and that there are plenty more of us there to shake loose and enjoy its fruit.