Last updated on October 28th, 2021 at 10:59 am
The Parkway Theater became a sanctuary for bluegrass music last night when they hosted perennial local favorites Barbaro and Good Morning Bedlam. A simplified stage and lack of microphones trademarked an evening best focused on the dynamics and storytelling of their music. Both Barbaro and Good Morning Bedlam have had busy summers, each playing a collection of festivals, breweries, and the big Blue Ox Festival. Now simmering down inside the South Minneapolis theater, the spirited audience was treated to an intimate show.
A set-list filled with mostly new songs, Isaak Elker shared an industry secret that bands aren’t supposed to publicly like one of their songs over another. That didn’t prevent them from hyping up their upcoming title track “Lulu” from their new album. It was these new songs that spun the story of the set, with “Haint Blue” providing ghostly chills with a clever gasp from the band mid-song, while “Blessed Boy” grabbed you emotionally with a sentimental song Isaak’s grandfather that passed away.
“St. James Infirmary (Blues)” showcased their bedlam with the soulful swoon of Victoria Elker. The trio mixed high-energy bursts with Sophia Mae’s delicate solos on the violin throughout the evening. A kick drum and tambourine added an oomph at times, as the strength in the group is built around the tight vocal harmonies. It’s an infectious bundle of charisma that got the crowd engaged and toasty for the night.
Having seen Barbaro multiple times, it’s astonishing that they could get tighter, yet more relaxed with their songs. They’ve always been excellent with their instruments, but last night exposed a deeper level of perfection. While the evening featured some stunning new songs like “Apples to Apples” written by Kyle Shelstad about two people that keep getting together when they probably shouldn’t, the comfort of playing their older songs charged the crowd up.
Apparent during their first song “Aunt Betty”, the ease of playing tracks from Dressed in Roses felt reassuring. “Kawliga” and “Rita Cline” also shared in this decadence of performance. It’s allowed Barbaro to sit back and expand the dynamics of the songs. It was also heard in the smooth transitions between solos as the songs felt leveled up. Kyle has also stretched his vocal ability with greater dynamics and character in his phrases.
Having Jason Wells back on bass was another fine touch as an extended “Loathe” featured a bass solo that had everyone clapping along. His soft touch to “Montana, Oh” during their anti-encore encore, is still reverberating through the crowd. “Pancake and a Bad Idea” benefited from the core players as the tongue-in-cheek playful track.
The emergence of Rachel Calvert as a strong vocalist is another dimension of Barbaro now. Her vocals on “This Ain’t the Best” had the audience hooting and hollering along. Her voice commands attention with a tender edge and vivid conveyance of emotions. The encore of Cher’s “Believe” expanded her voice into a joyful singalong in the theater.
Teasing a new project to be announced soon, Barbaro has established themselves as bluegrass favorites in the Midwest. It will be exciting to watch what comes next for this group and how they continued to find new levels in performance. Check out their website here for updates and future shows.