The Shouting Matches at First Avenue, 8/2/13
Photo By Erik Hess
The Shouting Matches
With Alpha Consumer
First Avenue, Minneapolis
August 2, 2013
Near the end of Friday's Shouting Matches show, Justin Vernon led bandmates Phil Cook and Brian Moen through the soulful "I Need a Change." The standout track from their debut full-length, Grownass Man, is ostensibly about a relationship that has run its course. But it also was a reminder of Vernon's need for a creative break from his Grammy-winning Bon Iver project to create gritty, stomping blues jams with his friends.
The Shouting Matches' 15-song, 75-minute Minneapolis live debut at First Ave not only delighted the packed house, but also found Vernon and his talented friends getting loose and enjoying themselves.
The band wasted little time kicking things into high gear, as they confidently strode onto the spartan stage and immediately launched into the fiery opener, "Avery Hill," with Vernon ditching the recognizable falsetto that colors much of his Bon Iver material in favor of a more natural baritone growl. Cook slid behind the keyboard for an equally tempestuous take on "Mother, When?" with Moen's drum work giving the song a roiling, sturdy back beat.
Vernon joked a bit about the band's "new" status in the modern music world, introducing the next number by saying, "We're going to play an old song of ours called 'Bear.' We've been a band for a super long time, but whatever." And it was exactly that type of carefree, casual attitude that injected these spirited songs with a refreshing vigor, while also considerably distancing them from the serious and stately songs of Bon Iver.
Photos By Erik Hess
The packed house could certainly study up on their music history, though. When Cook took to the microphone to pay tribute to a fallen musical legend, saying "We lost J.J. Cale this week. We're big fans of his music, and his songs have been very influential to all of us," his words didn't rouse much of a response from the young crowd, and sadly their simmering take on Cale's "Crazy Mama," with Phil leading the way on vocals, wasn't met with much recognition either. But no matter -- for those still mourning Cale's passing, the cover proved to be a touching tribute.
The band quickly snapped the audience back to attention with "Heaven Knows," featuring a scorching guitar solo from Vernon and lively harmonica work from Cook that transported the crowd to a front-porch jam session down south. The trio's effortless interplay and relaxed camaraderie strengthened Vernon's point about how long they've been playing together, and that familiarity clearly extended to Vernon's bandmate in Bon Iver, Mike Lewis, as well, as Lewis (who is also in opening band Alpha Consumer) joined the group on saxophone for a smoldering version of "Gallup, NM," which continues Justin's fondness for naming his songs after small cities. The track featured an understated guitar riff from Vernon that blossomed into something magnificent.
"Now we're going to do an old gospel song," Vernon announced before leading the group through a filthy take on "Another Man Done Gone," the lead-off track from the band's debut EP, Mouthoil. But after that, Vernon teased, "OK, now on to the sappy material," which caused Cook to tease, "Just know that when we recorded these songs, we were gazing right into each other's eyes. If that doesn't bring you comfort, I don't know what will." The songs did slow down in tempo and tone, but they didn't lose any of their impact, with Vernon tenderly introducing a lovely version of "I'll Be True," by saying, "We've all got some family here tonight, so this is for y'all. We love you guys."
Photos By Erik Hess
The sentimental portion of the set continued with "New Theme," which had a '50s-radio charm to it. A long, exploratory outro at the end of the song gave the set a jolt of energy, which continued with the Chicago blues jam, "Three Dollar Bill," as all three guys lost themselves in the spirit of the song.
After touting how they had some Grownass Man cassettes available at their merch stand, Vernon went on to succinctly introduce the next number by saying, "This is about late-night stuff. It's called 'House Call.'" Vernon's lyrics suggested that if he has "too much rust, I'll corrode," so by staying busy he manages to keep his talents fresh and free of tarnish. And with accomplished outlets like the Shouting Matches and Volcano Choir (who are releasing a new record called Repave in September), there's plenty of creative space and opportunity for Vernon to distance himself from Bon Iver.
"This is a song about a bunch of sisters who raised a shit-load of havoc," Vernon announced before he lead the band into "Seven Sisters," which he had to bring to a halt a half-minute in. "Something broke. We're just going to make you wait." But the band smoothly got back into it, tacking on a feisty, Allman Brothers-like guitar-fueled jam at the end, with Vernon perhaps feeling the need to make up for his earlier false start. He then admonished himself self-deprecatingly after the number, "That was the weak point of our set. It will only go up and downhill from here. This is a song that Phil wrote called 'Milkman.'" And that dynamic number continued their Allman-like sound, as the track took on a stomping swagger that isn't as present on their studio recordings.
Photos By Erik Hess
"All right, all right, all right, we've come to that time of the evening," Vernon announced as the main set drew to a close. "We're going to do this last one just for us. Thanks for coming out. It means a shit-load. This song is about moving on -- I just said that like it's a compliment." And with that, the band eased into "I Need a Change," with Cook's resonant keys giving the song a mournful pulse while Vernon poured his heart into the poignant, revealing lyrics.
After a brief encore break, the band returned to the stage with all three members of Alpha Consumer (Lewis, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and J.T. Bates joining in on cowbell) for a cover of Mahalia Jackson's "I'm On My Way to Canaan," with Vernon reworking some of the lyrics just a bit as the band got loose around him, enjoying the opportunity to have a jam session with friends on the prominent Mainroom stage. "Thank y'all so much," Vernon said warmly as they left the stage to a rousing ovation, with everyone in the club clearly satisfied with the sheer amount of gritty good times and blues-laden jams offered up by the Shouting Matches.
Personal Bias: After first hearing the Mouthoil EP a few years back, I've been hoping that the Shouting Matches would finally get around to playing a local show. Hopefully, this performance (and their surprise headlining set at the Bachelor Farmer's Kräftskiva Block Party on Saturday) was the first of many area shows the guys put on for us in the future, if/when they have the time.
The Crowd: Packed with plenty of Bon Iver fans curious to see and hear what Justin's "new" project sounded like live.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I didn't realize that Justin was such a good guitar player."
Random Notebook Dump: In addition to their exclusive Grownass Man cassettes, the band were also finally getting around to selling actual copies of their Mouthoil EP, a collection that was never technically released but readily shared among music fans in the area.
Crazy Mama (J.J. Cale)
Another Man Done Gone
I'll Be True
Three Dollar Bill
I Need a Change
I'm On My Way to Canaan (Mahalia Jackson)(Encore)
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.