There was some smoking hot music going on during the very cold temperatures in northern New England last night. Adam Ezra Group came up to Londonderry, New Hampshire to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Tupelo Music Hall. And they managed to impress 275 of their long time fans with music most of them have been familiar with for quite some time.
Throughout the show, it was impossible to pick a favorite member of the band because each does something completely cool that adds to their rich, gritty sound. The show was also part of a tour to promote their new album Better Than Bootleg Volume 2,” their first recording to feature newer members Corinna Smith and Francis Hickey.
AEG opened with their social commentary number “Basement Song,” a number that rolled smoothly forward, Ezra handsome rasp flowing with his meaningful message. Fiddler Corinna Smith added icy cool lines, enhancing this dire warning song. “Let Your Hair Down” found the rhythm section hoofing along with something rustic and irresistible.
“Miss Hallelujah” featured keyboardist Josh Gold laying down a soulful folk groove, a hearty waft of organ swirls over a hefty wall of sound from the percussion, drums, and bass. Turtle kept his interesting textures percolating. Alex Martin shifted the song with a mighty beat. Francis Hickey wielded his six string bass. Together, they put a lot of wind under the song’s sail.
Newer song “Hippy Girl” featured Josh Gold, once again, serving up some funky, R&B styled organ riffs. With Ezra’s banjo playing thrown in for an additional roots feeling, the number grooved liked nobody’s business and was fun to dance to. Segue into “Katie” from AEG’s View From The Root album and Ezra was playing hefty harmonica lines to Smith’s sweet fiddle notes. It was a fantastic texture of rustic flavored roots music, the beautiful chorus “turn you eyes around” icing on the cake.
A song Ezra came up with a couple of years ago, “Goin’ Out Tonight,” and secretly titled “Sex With Friends” by his band mates contained an inner tension. Mounting desire was the effect coming from bracing fiddle work, tense organ chords, and spicy percussion. The number slowly, quietly developed the drama until a burst of instrumental intensity brought the song to an inevitable climax.
Ezra called the band’s friend Aaron up to perform his American Sign Language to “Takin’ Off.” Aaron asked the band to play that song for his girlfriend Megan who he surprised with a ring after the tune. (She said “Yes.”) There is just something about Ezra’s voice when he’s singing his lyrics “You’re a ragtop angel/You’re amazing grace” that cannot be assessed in words but speaks volumes to one’s ears and heart. Mounds of bass notes gave that voice and all the other instruments a bulbous playground to move around on. The song’s arcing narrative, too, made things particularly good last night.
Ezra lead the band into its own spirited, unwieldy rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” because he thought its waves of sound would be celebratory for the newly engaged pair. Then, he corrected that by telling Megan not to “pawn her diamond ring” like the song says. “Devil Side” came off well with its breezy delivery of Ezra’s philosophical view of life. The tune also allowed Turtle to solo like a madman with his many interesting rhythmic patterns and assortment of percussion instruments. Then, without warning, Mr. Alex Martin went into a drum solo, a rapid delivery of bulbous rolls and fills that garnered a hugely favorable response from the crowd.
Ezra began the second half of the show with a solo acoustic take on “Sweet Baby James.” During this meaningful number, Ezra gave a rap about receiving the guitar he was playing from his friend Buddy. Ezra brought the guitar to the music scene’s respected guitar repair man Jon Mouradian of Mouradian Guitars in Winchester, Massachusetts. After getting it fixed up, Ezra said he was giving it back to his friend Buddy as a gift. Ezra believes in music as a gift.
AEG unveiled a couple of new tunes. One, “All Right Today,” had a bouncing, throbbing rhythm and an anthem like vocal with an emotive fiddle line that made one feel what the song was about. “Magic Sky” required Josh Gold to turn his keyboard over to Ezra while Gold picked up an electric guitar, which he looked cool wielding on stage. The piano ballad worked well, considering neither musician was playing his comfort zone instrument.
AEG’s powerful “Steal Your Daughter” was a good mash up of instrumentation, gritty banjo, barking fiddle lines, and slapping rhythms. Turtle’s trashcan lid percussion work and Gold’s ominous organ chords were fine touches here.
“Rock Me Mama Like A Wagon Wheel” was a winsome cover, rousing people to dance, with old fashioned rock and roll piano tinkling and a swaying vibe that couldn’t be beat. “14 Days,” AEG’s assertive rocker, allowed Ms. Smith to kick ass on fiddle and backing vocals, making her fiddle spark with evil tones. She was just warming up, though, for her frenzied workout on the band’s usual live concert hoot “The Devil Went Up To Boston.” Boy, did the crowd take well to her.
“Scandal,” one of the band’s signature songs, benefited from a plethora of percussion work laid down. Ezra, meanwhile, sang coolly on this twisty lyrical treat. Ezra’s rap during “Burn Brightly” focused on how he’s going to be all right in 2015 even though he, his face, and his music are not perfect. He mentioned something about his beard falling out that had him worried before he decided it won’t matter in the new year.
The rest of the evening became more personal for the band. They left the stage to perform unplugged in the middle of venue. Some of their original music was included among Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” This personal touch was only one of many ways that AEG connected with their audience last night, and it was a perfect ending to a perfect New Year’s Eve show.