Twas’ the night before Thanksgiving and all through St. Louis…Sorry, I’m feeling festive and had to do it.
Let’s get this out in the open: I have no business reviewing a bluegrass/roots show. Being someone who’s music consumption evolved from listening to 80’s soft rock on the radio to 90’s pop-rock on the radio to early 2000’s punk, emo, and hardcore on the internet, I pretty much have no good standard from which to compare. Staples of the genres like Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton weren’t spun much in our household. But, this has been at least my fourth time seeing The Mighty Pines so I knew what I was getting. And frankly, unless you’ve seen them before, nothing could really prepare you for the onslaught of bluegrass, blues, and jam band virtuosity that is their musical arsenal.
Before The Mighty Pines, their contemporaries The Way Down Wanderers took the stage. Everything about their performance made it seem like they hitched a ride on an inbound boxcar; from their aesthetic of baggy clothes and flowing dreads to their set filled with staple bluegrass jams highlighted by banjo, upright bass, and spoons. Yes, that’s right. SPOONS. It was the highlight of their set to see the drummer leave the comforts of his seat behind the kit to come up front and center and rock the makeshift castanets. Overall, their classic bluegrass sound was the perfect preface to the main event.
Now I’ve seen The Mighty Pines numerous occasions, and the one thing that always remains consistent is the large crowds they draw. Sure the folk-pop genre has had its day in the mainstream, but I would never have expected bluegrass music to have this much appeal. It seems to me that The Mighty Pines have nailed down a simple recipe for their success: play good music and have a helluva time playing it. Their set this Thanksgiving Eve didn’t stray far from that formula. I might know next to nothing about the roots genre, but there wasn’t a moment I didn’t find myself bobbing my head or tapping my foot. Song’s like “Satan’s Word” and “Ashtray” with the driving drums and bass from Mike Murano and John Hussung and the needling mandolin from Gerard Erker infused energy into the audience that the audience gave right back. But it wouldn’t be a Mighty Pines show without their brand of roots music accentuated with soul, funk, and jam band influences. Several songs into their set and it’ll be clear why they spout The Grateful Dead and Phish among their inspirations (I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize the song “Ashtray” is just one big jam session). But for you bluegrass purists, there’s still the dueling mandolin and guitar and soaring three-part harmonies. All of these components are carried by frontman’s Neil Salsich’s voice, who can effortlessly slip into Motown soul from a subtle country twang while being surrounded by heartland instruments playing blues melodies. Or into 90’s pop nostalgia like during the band’s encore performance of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” (a little taste at their 90’s themed New Year’s Eve show). The versatility of the band is one of their strongest attributes and a key aspect of why they have such a strong and growing fan base in St. Louis. And with their roots laid deep, there’s no limit to how far these gentlemen will go.
The Mighty Pines are playing a 90’s covers set New Year’s Eve at The Ready Room in St. Louis. Get tickets here.
Find more info about The Mighty Pines at www.themightypines.com.