In the middle of that gentrified shell of what used to be the real Brooklyn, I found my way into a very “hip” little joint (complete with blue neon, a downstairs bar that looked straight out of a Marcus Mumford wet dream, and all the bearded men who weigh less than their girlfriends that you could ask for) to see the married, South Carolina duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst perform as Shovels & Rope.
As I waited in anticipation for the duo, the opening act, Matthew Logan Vasquez, made his way onto the stage with his two session musicians (who remained unnamed and uncredited for the duration of the performance). Seeing as Shovels & Rope fall more under the “alt-country” genre taxonomy, it was slightly jarring to start off the night with a big loud scream followed by a jam fest that seemed to be more fit for a basement show in Caldwell than a stage prefacing the guys who sing Birmingham. Though the three were wildly entertaining and obviously well trained, passionate, and creative individuals, I would really have enjoyed Vasquez’s set had it been four songs shorter – I can only take so much of such a self-indulgent noodlefest.
Shortly after Vasquez finished his set, Trent and Hearst came out to start theirs, and my first thought was “interesting, no session musicians, they must be doing a stripped down set, very interesting”. Boy, was I incorrect. The duo proceeded to play with full instrumentation with just the two of them. Starting with I Know, the first track off their new record Little Seeds, the two began with one on drums and one on guitar, which was probably the simplest instrumentation they’d tackle that night. Hearst and Trent not only alternated back and forth between drums and guitar/piano, but at several times Trent would be playing multiple instruments at once – most impressively the drums, piano, and harmonica all together at the same time. It was wild. That is the only way I can describe it.
My respect for these two musicians grew so much over the course of this evening as each song continued to be more impressive in some way than the last. Because of this, it becomes very difficult to pick out highlights from their performance, however Botched Execution may take the cake for the night. Not only did it really show off their musical ability, but it was also so obviously a fun song for them to sing and their joy and passion were very clearly shining through their performance. O Be Joyful was another standout; largely because of the way the audience received it. A fan favorite, Trent and Hearst were able to play off the audience and really feed off their energy to give an entertaining and heartfelt performance.
After seeing them perform live, I can say that Shovels & Rope are one of the most impressive groups currently circulating the folk scene. Truly a remarkable show on their part.