Last Thursday, Greensky Bluegrass had the pleasure of taking the Stoughton Opera House’s more than 100-year-old stage for the first time where they made the most of their experience, playing two sets brimming with improvisation, technicality and innovation.
With a Billboard 200 charting album, If Sorrows Swim, as their last release, the quintet opened with “The Four” before working their way through a number of other tunes off their various albums including a touching rendition of “Elephant.”
Halfway through the first frame, the band took the governor off the car that held back the improvisation of the set on “Lose My Way,” from their 2011 release Handguns. Breaking the 12-minute mark, Dobro player Anders Beck began to show off the band’s impressive improvisational chops.
To cap off the first set, the band took the chains off “All Four,” an already lengthy song that closes Handguns that saw all five band members take a solo. The band created a palate of sound that draped over the audience like a warm blanket before wrapping up with Beck’s Dobro repeating a cyclical pattern to reprise the instrumental theme of the song.
After a set break that saw virtually the entire audience file into the bar across the street, the second set saw a lubricated audience and a warmed-up band play a foot-stomping hootenanny of a set.
Opening things up with “Worried About the Weather,” the band made quick work of the soulful tune and then moved into “Old Barns.” However, the real fun started with a 15-minute take on “Leap Year,” which whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Beck and guitarist Dave Bruzza tantalized the audience with lick after lick, which simmered from a slow, almost “Kentucky Mandolin” like rate to the call-and-response ending with lead vocalist and mandolin player Paul Hoffman and the crowd.
The crowd reached a fever pitch when the band tumbled headfirst into the New Grass Revival’s tune, “Can’t Stop Now.” With the audience singing along to the whimsical lyrics while Beck wailed away on the dobro with a grin that stretched across the stage and back again, the band took their time extending the cover tune. Giving Beck, Hoffman, Bruzza and banjo player Mike Bont plenty of space to run with the up-tempo number before ceding to Beck for the stunning climax of the jam, the crowd hollered along, cheering at every chance they could.
After spending nearly a dozen minutes on the tune, Beck inquired to the crowd as to whether we were having fun yet, to introduce a lighthearted question and answer period with the crowd, who were more than happy to indulge the band in a bit of goofiness.
After a spin through “Into the Rafters” and the ballad “Jaywalking,” the band launched into the final song of the 75 minute second set, a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” given a bluegrass treatment. For nearly 20 minutes, the band slowly built their way into it and then let a fiery jam come out of the Purple Rain classic. The jam percolated to such a degree that the fire alarm went off, though few in attendance seemed to mind as the A-minor tone of the alarm seamlessly blended in with the band.
For their encore, the band strode to the front of the stage and Hoffman said, sans microphone, that old theaters such as this one were designed to project the sound outward, and thus, they were going to play totally unamplified for their encore.
As the crowd all moved their way to the front to be closer to the unplugged—in the truest form of the phrase—band, closed the evening with a pair of covers. First came The Stanley Brothers’ “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” which was followed by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon’s “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” The latter featured a sing-along by the audience as the tune has been covered by everyone from Jack White to the Grateful Dead.
Overall, Greensky Bluegrass showed why they are one of the foremost live acts in the jamgrass scene, displaying an ability to play an opera house to fewer than 500 people or a festival stage to more than 5,000 with technicality and charisma in spades. For two-and-a-half hours, the quintet captivated an audience made up of ardent fans and newbies alike for a show few in attendance would soon forget.