Shovels & Rope @ Bowery Ballroom

When: January 31st, 2013

     Everyone enjoys a good love story, especially when times are tough.  Something about seeing two people truly in love gives us hope and a sense of possibility.  Good things can happen and there's no way of knowing what the future holds.  There just might be brighter skies ahead.  In modern day America, we all could use a little more of that.  Shovels & Rope are not only a band, they're a great love story. 
     Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst met in Athens, GA.  He was a rock and roller with a growing interest in earthier country sounds.  She was a country girl who was exploring rock and wanting to get a little more snarl to her sound.  They were both veteran solo musicians with a handful of albums.  When their love affair began their dates involved playing Nirvana songs together.  Before they knew it they were head over heels and got married.  
       They couldn't get enough of one another and the thought of touring apart seemed too much, so they ditched the solo stuff and became a duo.  Then, in an old van they converted into a home/rehearsal space/tour bus, they took to the road and started playing a couple hundred gigs a year across the country. 

     In the summer of 2012 they released their debut album, O' Be Joyful.  Now these lovebirds are fixing to fly.  They played Letterman the night before I saw them, just got added to the Coachella lineup, and seem primed for a breakout.  I was pumped to see them do their thing at the Bowery, the first show of their new tour. 

     The first thing I noticed when I got to the show was the number of women.  The audience seemed to be an even split, which is rare at most NYC shows.  There was a good buzz in the place & the bartenders were struggling to keep up with the orders of bourbon and beer.
      From the moment S&R took the stage, it was obvious who everyone was most excited to see.  Cary Ann.  She started the show on the drums and keyboard, playing both as she sang along with Michael.  Her voice had the sweet Southern twang of June Carter Cash, but could belt with power like Melissa Etheridge.  Her good vibe and big smile lit up the place.  They both sounded great, but Cary Ann was the engine driving the train. 

     We were in Manhattan, but it felt more like we were in some barn on a Saturday night far from the big city.  There were whoops and hollers from the front row to the balconies.  Cary Ann got some laughs from a bad joke.  What's the difference between a Camaro and an erection?  I don't have a Camaro right now;)  Then, they got handed some shots of whiskey from the crowd.  "Well I'll be. New York City just bought us a drink, Michael." They toasted everyone and Cary said, "Now that we've drank a bunch of whiskey, let's do a religious song." 

     The stripped down sound of their live show could be described as a countrier version of the White Stripes, electric guitar twanging and ripping over the pounding of primitive drums.  They frequently trade places, taking turns standing to play lead or sitting to bang out a beat.  Their voices meshed all night, often belting it out into the same mic and looking like they were about to start sucking face. 

     From start to finish, the common thread of the performance was how in love they are.  They smiled and gazed at each other throughout the show.  The fact it wasn't nauseating to a New York crowd speaks to its genuine and honest quality.  And their warmth rubbed off on the crowd.  I hit this show by myself, but talked to a slew of different people over the course of the night.  Everyone seemed happy and approachable, quite an achievement in a city known for its cooler than thou attitude.  

     They closed out the show with a cover of Tom Waits' "Bad As Me", which made perfect sense and sounded great.  One of the last remarks of the night was from Cary Ann.  "With luck like this, you don't know when it's gonna run out, so we're savoring all of y'all. Thank you!"  I think I speak for all those who were there that night when I say, I hope Lady Luck keeps smiling on Shovels & Rope. 


"Hell's Bells" in their van