Review: Joyful noise from Greensky Bluegrass

"Casual Wednesday" a freewheeling affair at The Egg
Greensky Bluegrass is shown performing in concert at an earlier show.
Greensky Bluegrass is shown performing in concert at an earlier show.

“Casual Wednesday” is a bit of a thing for Greensky Bluegrass, a long-running bluegrass outfit from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“Casual Friday,” when jeans are allowed in the workplace, is well known. But what is “Casual Wednesday,” you might ask? It’s something of an inside joke, related to a night years ago when the band’s upright bassist Mike Devol drank too much whiskey before a performance and got loose with his banter onstage.

Since then, the group is known for turning Wednesday night shows into freewheeling affairs that feature a song called “Casual Wednesday” paired with fun-loving and unpredictable cover songs. 

So, Albany fans were rather lucky to get two successive mid-week appearances at The Egg from Greensky Bluegrass — in 2018 and again this week — both of which involved Wednesday evening frolics.

Greensky Bluegrass are as much about jam music as they are about bluegrass, or at least you could say they fall solidly underneath the jam-band umbrella, with a heady amount of instrumental improvisation lengthening out their songs. 

Ghost Light was a fitting opener, a five-piece collaborative from Philadelphia who played abstract, sprawling space jams. Mood music, you could say, of a trippy variety, with a touch of Southern rock woven through the psychedelics. The group closed its opening set with the cinematic “Don’t Come Apart Just Yet, My Dear,” from their latest release, 2019’s “Best Kept Secrets.”

Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” played over the sound system before Greensky Bluegrass came onstage for two sets (including intermission) that lasted nearly three hours. Greensky has a simple setup, just five guys with string instruments and no drums. In addition to Devol, the band includes Anders Beck on dobro, Michael Arlen Bont on banjo, Dave Bruzza on guitar, and Paul Hoffman on mandolin.

But for an all-acoustic group of downhome, unassuming performers, they manage to make a great deal of joyful noise. They started with a rave-up, a cover of Flatt & Scruggs’ “Bringing in the Georgia Mail,” which found Devol spelunking low notes from his upright bass like he was deep in a cave. The bearded Hoffman, as he did on most tunes, sang the lead on “Lose My Way,” a song about heartbreak in the heartland, where jobs are lost, and houses foreclosed on.

More people stood up and swayed in their seats in the nearly full Hart Theatre than you usually find at an Egg show, as the band stretched out on a number of wickedly proficient bluegrass tunes, including “Better Off,” “What You Need” and “Broken Highways.”

The shape of The Egg itself made for a lot of jokes by the band. That’s just something that happens at The Egg — performers amuse themselves with its unconventional shape and resemblance to an animal reproductive vehicle and/or breakfast food. If there was an opportunity for an Egg pun, band members seized the moment throughout the night. 

“I scrambled up the next verse,” quipped Hoffman before “I’d Probably Kill You.”

Following an intermission, the second set offered more egg puns, original tunes like “Do It Alone” and “A Letter to Seymour,” and an unveiling of “Casual Wednesday” as a singalong led by Anders Beck, who ran through the crowd egging fans on to get on their feet. The cover portion involved beautiful versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and their stunning debut of Paul Simon’s “Mother & Child Reunion.”


Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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