The Woodstock-based duo Mike and Ruthy opened for the David Bromberg Band at the Egg’s Hart Theater on Friday night, surprising the mostly filled house with an inspirational set highlighted by a Woody Guthrie song they were given by Guthrie’s estate — unfinished.
They presented a slow, romanticized ballad called “My New York City” that thrilled the audience.
The two performed a set of songs with equally strong, but soft, folk tunes and one powerful, but understated, blues tune sung by Ruth, who can whisper and belt out with equal intimacy. She seemed to freeze the room with her impeccable control.
“Woody would be 100 years old this year,” Mike told us, calling him, with Pete Seeger, the “original troubadours,” the first ones to “drive around and sing for people.”
Given that setup, Bromberg and his six-piece band had an audience ready for their ragtag deliveries, opening with the funky “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” then a Chicago blues tune, “Fifty-dollar Wig,” that gave us classic lines like: “I think you got a 50-dollar wig on a 5-dollar head,” and “Don’t let the dog hit ya where the good lord split ya.”
Bromberg’s voice was as strong as ever, as was his energy, his fingers still fast and clear on the acoustic and electric guitars. Most songs featured each band member taking a solo for two or three rounds. Most of these guys have been with him for years, and while they sound good collectively, they are skilled players and offer variety.
Only Bromberg captivated the room to a point that you could hear a pin drop. The Hart Theater is conducive for those moments, and Bromberg knows how to capitalize on it.
We got the first taste of his soft side during the sad melody of “Diamond Lil,” with the great chorus, “A man should never gamble more than he can stand to lose.”
He followed with another gambling tune that moved from a blues-rock feel to a vaudevillian Dixie thing, with shades of a polka. Bromberg can do that with ease.
The band cleared the stage to let guitarist Mark Cosgrove solo, then out came Bromberg to play alone, the best part of the night. He easily fills a room with his animated singing. He essentially tells stories, and he draws you in so that it’s more than a song. He does this best alone.
He sang “Watch Baby Fall,” an emotionally dense song about watching one’s son fail in life. He followed with a slow version of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” my favorite of the night, though it did not get the audience response that others received.
As the audience started shouting requests, he said, “Now children. I will take your requests, but I won’t play them.” The band returned for a smooth but unexciting “Dark Hollow” and then a swinging fun song about “reefer,” then a bluegrass tune with just the strings. Then they turned it way up for his familiar, slinky, funky wise-guy tune “Sharon,” which he extended for everyone on stage to have a moment.
As the opening act, Ruth told us that her father used to play in Bromberg’s band. “He has known me since I was born.” Bromberg has left a legacy of his music and history, and now, gratefully, he’s got another generation coming up behind him to carry the torch.