Show Review: Shovels and Rope at World Cafe Live 2/2/13
South Carolina’s Shovels and Rope performed a smokin’ hot set for a sold-out crowd at Philly’s World Cafe Live Saturday night, February 2nd. This duet, composed of husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, released their sophomore album O Be Joyful in July of 2012, following their initial self-titled record that came out before they started playing under their current name.
Fierce harmonica and kick drum pounding in the chest started off the set, with Hearst on percussion and Trent on guitar. Other than the fact that their vocals were only slightly drowned by their blazing instrumentals in that first song, the two were on fire right off the bat. They instantly reeled the crowd into their world of country-folk stories.
The two partners in musical crime would switch off instruments throughout the evening, each one well-versed in both percussion and guitar. They had great energy and synergy between them, making some pretty serious and almost seductive eye contact with each other throughout the evening of songs. Nonverbal communication in music is key, and that more than contributed to the duo’s tight musicianship and passionate performances.
Some ominously bluesy guitar strumming kicked off “Shank Hill St.”, a very story-driven song in which it would be “a long time for the sunshine”, a melodically sweet but thematically dark spot in that vocal line. The breakdown in the electric guitar was off the hook, and really ingrained the notion that Shovels and Rope create folk music that rocks.
“Birmingham” struck the crowd’s fancy, as the audience and performers were feeding off of each other’s energy. Hearst took lead vox, apparently recounting, quite poetically, the tale of how she and Trent met when he saw her perform in her younger years. In this song the entrance of the kick drum is a particular point of intensity, ramping up the gain to a slight rock domain, so to speak, from that fairly gentle pluck of the guitar.
The song “1200 Miles” was dedicated to a couple of friends celebrating their anniversary. Parts of this song hinted at Hearst and Trent’s partnership in music, as in the line “I’ll sing the high, baby you sing the low.” An unexpected tempo deceleration reminded me of how Shovels and Rope likes to play with the ears of the listener, which is always welcome.
The title track of their new record instantly sent feet tapping and bodies swaying, with its classic-sounding country-folk melody that could easily fit into the ‘60s folk scene. While playing the mini kick/snare/high hat drum kit, Trent reached behind himself to give a pretty impressive cymbal-smack. The two took a much-earned gulp of whiskey before playing “Boxcar”, one of those instantly catchy “vintage”-sounding songs that are great for singalongs.
After being severely encouraged to get back on stage, the duet played two encores, one of which was the gritty and grungy “Hail Hail”. It was electrifying and bad-ass, easily the most rock-forward song of the set. They closed the night with “The Winner” from Trent’s album of the same name. If I had another chance to see this band live, I would take it in a heartbeat.
Listen to “O Be Joyful”