Friday, November 12, 2010
Concert review: The Secret Sisters, Ray LaMontagne, and The Levon Helm Band at Verizon Theatre (November 11)
At some points in the performance, Levon Helm, Ray LaMontagne, and The Secret Sisters performed together onstage. It was breathtaking.
GRAND PRAIRIE Thursday night at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, The Secret Sisters, Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs, and The Levon Helm Band graced the theater with their homegrown Americana melodies and roots music. Several generations of musicians – each stylistically different but musically cohesive – shared the stage and played music at its most simple and pure. There were no over-produced tracks, just musicians and their instruments.
The Secret Sisters — “House Of Gold”
The Secret Sisters are an Alabama sister act with the vocal harmonies that hearken back to a time of pearls, lockets, and pin curls. They warmed up the audience with their sweet southern melodies and hospitality. The duo – who are in their early twenties – have the timeless sound of rural America in a time when music was one of the few mediums of artistic and emotional expression. Like sirens, Lydia and Laura Rogers drew listeners in with their mesmerizing harmonies and stunningly honest lyrics. It was refreshing to hear musicians so early in their careers create music beyond their years.
Donning a vintage derby hat, vest, and sleeve garters, Ray LaMontagne looked everything the troubadour and balladeer as he took the stage after The Secret Sisters with his band the Pariah Dogs. His soulful yet raspy vocals, honest lyrics, and folk-driven melodies are just the right musical ingredients needed to stand the test of time. A shy man of few words, LaMontagne rarely engaged in conversation with the audience; instead he let his music do the talking.
Some of his folk-inspired ballads require a more intimate setting, like the slow and stripped down version of his hit “You Are The Best Thing” and “New York City’s Killing Me” – a song about how the big city is too much for a simple man. But LaMontagne’s full and bombastic musical endeavors like the dirty blues riffs of “Repo Man,” “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame),” and “Hey Me, Hey Mama” filled the theater with a bigger, grittier sound and a borrowed horn section from Levon Helm.
Even though LaMontagne was not billed as the main act of the evening, after his encore in which he brought The Secret Sisters onstage to do harmonies for covers of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Bob Dylan’s “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” about a fourth or more of the audience left without returning for the rest of the show.
Then came Levon Helm. He may be 70 years old and a survivor of throat cancer, but he let none of those details hinder his incredible performance Thursday night. Helm is an Americana music legend who won the first-ever Grammy Award for the newly added category of Best Americana Album this year for his record Dirt Farmer. He has performed with Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Joe Walsh, and Bob Dylan – he was the drummer for Dylan’s backing band.
Helm didn’t sing often, but when he did it was raspy and full of soul, just the way roots music should be. Oftentimes he would bring LaMontagne and The Secret Sisters onstage to guest on several songs. One of the best songs of the night was “Deep Ellum Blues,” a tune from the 1930s about the district in Dallas that was a prime spot in the South to hear blues and jazz. Before the final curtain call, concertgoers were dancing in the aisles to the band’s cover of “The Weight” -- you know, that song that tells Fannie to take a load off. Nearly every musician who performed during the course of the evening was on stage to take part in the song. There was no competition for the spotlight, just camaraderie.
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