Greensky Bluegrass (Halloween Edition) – The Independent

I am prone to hyperbole. I like saying things like “the best ever” or “amazing” or “greatest concert in the history of mankind”. I do that, because music excites me. It thrills me to no end to hear great music and in the moment all I want to do is laud it with effusive praise. If that’s my greatest fault (it’s not, just ask Elliott Randall) then I’m ok with that. I love music for all the emotions it stirs up in my cold, black heart. Sometimes those emotions are anger, sometimes sadness and sometimes elation.

This is going to be one of those hyperbolic moments. I went to the Independent on Wednesday with my buddy Burger who’d scored tickets to see Greensky Bluegrass. If you’re not familiar with this band, then really what’s the matter with you? They’re amazing. That’s not even getting to the hyperbolic statements I’ll make later that’s just fact. These are five of the most accomplished musicians around and they put on epic shows that aren’t even shows so much as they’re religious experiences. I saw them at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass a few years back with my sister and they were so damn good, but they rarely come to town. That’s understandable considering they’re based in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

So we showed up in droves soft, mad children headed to a show in whatever Halloween attire we chose to wear. I am not much on costumes and considering I live in San Francisco where the annual household budget spent on costumes is about a quarter of their salary you can realize that I am the anomaly. We arrived to a line that stretched far for the will call and around the block to get inside. There was some rather nondescript band playing that wasn’t very good and was very kitschy. Not my thing, but they looked like they were having fun so bully for them.

The costumes ranged from awesome (Captain Crunch, Pee Wee Herman) to scary (Dead Pirate, Transvestite Annie with a beard – that’s not a knock on Transvestites that’s a knock on how literally scary the dude looked).  It was a crazy scene and not only was the Independent completely sold out, but there’s a strong possibility it was oversold. It was just a little too snug with people getting a little terse, a little angry and bit too uncomfortable with being elbowed or jumped on. That’s the thing about a Greensky show, you need the room to dance, because it’s a rousing experience.

They hit the stage about 10:30 in full costume. Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) was Link from Zelda, Anders Beck (lap steel) was Don Johnson from Miami Vice, Mike Devol (standup bass) was Tom Cruise from Top Gun, Dave Bruzza (guitar) was an ‘80’s sporty thing with short shorts to boot and Paul Hoffman (mandolin) was Bono from U2. What do all those things have in common? They are all out of the ‘80’s. Why is that relevant to this show? It’s relevant because they played all ‘80’s songs bluegrass style. It was a cover show!

The 1980’s were a weird time for music, where left was right, up was down and boys were girls. The music was weird and generally thought to have been successful because of MTV. I have a love of ’80’s music that is like third on my list of things I love: my family, Bruce Springsteen and the ‘80’s. That’s pretty much how it shakes out. I call it a guilty pleasure, but really I don’t feel guilty about it. I am an unabashed lover of cheesy ‘80’s music. Culture Club, Guns N’ Roses, Flock of Seagulls, Bananarama, Huey Lewis. Give me all of it. I love all of them and so much more cheese it’s like a dairy commercial.

I didn’t know this going into the show so when they started off with a cover of “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits I thought it was just a cool way to start the show, but then they played “Maneater” by hall and Oates then “Still Rock and Roll To Me” by Billy Joel I lost my shit and realized what they were doing. This was by far (hyperbole coming and intended) the best show of the year maybe ever, maybe in the history of mankind there was never a better show. Think about having all of your favorite songs from your favorite decade of music played bluegrass style amazingly well.

At first you’re not sure about this concept. You think to yourself, “Bluegrass style? Why the hell do I want to hear “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls with a banjo and a mandolin?” And to that I say, “Because it’s fucking awesome!” And it was. They went on jams that lasted so long I forgot we were in the middle of a song. When they played 15 minute version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” I figured that the upcoming Mayan apocalypse was going to happen at that moment and we could all leave this mortal coil immensely satisfied. BUT NO! They played more hits from the ‘80’s; Duran Duran, U2, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, etc. It played out like a fantasy.

This is the epitome of a special band. They played their first set for a little over an hour and a half, took a break and then came back and played for another hour and a half. Yes, they played for three hours and the last song of the night was their encore which happened to be their own song. The Independent in San Francisco has a penchant for creating an amazing atmosphere and while it was crowded, last night was no different. The staff is great, the lighting and sound are phenomenal and the music that gets heard there is the probably the best in town. Greensky Bluegrass proved that having fun and being a great band are not mutually exclusively you can do both and your fans will dance around like fools, because you are giving them the experience of a lifetime. If you were there you know that as I speak of them as if they were gods the show they put on last night was a music fans dream and that is not hyperbole.

Setlist:

Set One:
Money For Nothing (Dire Straits)
Maneater (Hall and Oates)
Still Rock and Roll To Me (Billy Joel)
The Power of Love (Huey Lewis)

When Doves Cry (Prince)
With Or Without You (U2)
Where The Streets Have No Names (U2)
I Ran (So Far Away) (A Flock of Seagulls)
Halloween Breakdown (A. Beck)
Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty)
Dancin’ In The Dark (Bruce Springsteen)

Set Two:
Beat It (Michael Jackson)
Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen)
Rio (Duran Duran)
On The Road Again (Willie Nelson)
Hungry Like A Wolf (Duran Duran)
Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
Driven To Tears (The Police)
You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Could You Be Loved (Bob Marley)

Encore:
Don’t Lie (A. Beck, P. Hoffman)

Here’s a video of what it’s like to see Greensky Bluegrass from a show in 2010:
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