Good Morning Bedlam is certainly a force on the folk scene in Minneapolis. It’s difficult to refer to them as merely ‘folk,’ as they play faster and more eclectic than any folk band I’ve heard. They could be called bluegrass or, as others have referred to them, “furious folk.” But they seem to always be coming up with creative ideas to tweak their style.
Their music is an exciting array of different instruments being played as fast as a stampede of wild horses. They just released their sophomore album, Like Kings, and can be found playing around Minnesota this summer. The story telling lyrics are sung by not only one talented person, but three, two of which are female vocalists. All of which makes this band especially notable.
Their much anticipated album release was on July 27, with the release show at Zumbrota State Theater. It is a unique location with a vintage style, as it was built in 1921. Having seats right up to the very front, it gives this already unique show a serene feel on top of the bustling theatrical experience. It’s this kind of contrast I look out for. Where fast met slow, the city and the small town communities come together in unity.
The show starts out with the beautiful solo, sung by Tori Elker, from “Pretty Papers.” The audience falls even more silent as we all watch her. The others all join in vocally for an excellent start. The stage transformed and the upright bass, fiddle, & guitar come out in a flurry of activity leading into the next song called the “Devil’s Waltz”.
These first two songs were my instant favorites off the album and I was floored to hear them played right away. Isaak Gil Elker’s voice came through especially strong on this song. Sophia Mae’s beautiful voice shined brightly and her fiddle solo was entirely captivating. The combination certainly pulled in the audience’s entire attention.
The theater seats were nearly filled by now & everyone was hooked. We all soon found out, much to our delight, those alluring solos were in many of the songs, which simply makes this performance even more impressive.
Benji Flaming, on the banjo, displayed a serious talent of intricately played solos as well. With eyes closed, focusing, he appeared to be in his own world where all he heard was the music. Then, a smile would break out & light up the stage when a song would finish and the crowd cheered and clapped.
John from Marah and the Mainsail came on stage to play trombone for the song “St James Infirmary.” The addition was a very nice touch to a song that not only has great lyrics but a duet between Isaak & Sophia. As if this wasn’t enchanting enough, the music suddenly stops and Isaak can’t help but grin, frozen, waiting…
Startling us all by strumming faster & stronger, with the trombone player scrambling back again to finish. The comeback had the audience laughing & clapping & hollering as the band furiously played the fast-paced finish. Isaak admitted his fondness for fake outs at the end, a mischievous glow to his face.
They started back to it with “Eastbound,” and it was obvious this mesmerizing band is certainly not lacking without a drummer. On the album, each song has a different feel, though strung together with congruency.
For instance, each song highlights the different instruments and uses each of the vocalists’ best features. Isaak has mastered how to yell folk-style vocal with such gusto, invigorating the music with a life of its own. The female vocalists, Tori & Sophia, each add their own incomparable style to each song.
Playing live has always been their strong suit, being a lively theatrical band, but their most recent album, Like Kings, has caught up to be a captivating experience all on its own. There are varied instruments in the album & yet different instruments on stage. It is a trademark of a must-see live band when songs don’t sound exactly the same live as on the album.
Isaak treated the audience to the story of how the band came to be. He was inspired by an idea for a band and wanted ask Sophia to join in. He knew he had to ask her in a really cool way, so he invited her to a Davina and the Vagabonds show. That’s where she agreed and the band has grown to what it is today.
With that, they went into the title track of their new album, “Like Kings”. This is also a song about love, showcasing Isaak’s vocals with the lyrics “I’ll do my best to show her all the dirt that’s in the world, the world needs that dirt to grow, those flowers, they can’t grow in the snow.” This shows their gentle mentality towards people. Without mistakes there’s no growth, and without growth there’s no flowers in the world.
Isaak prefaced the song “The Orchard” by admitting that it takes a lot of hard work & a little luck to make this possible. This goes without saying, as the band had wowed us on many fronts with their ambitious lyrics & songs. This particular song is an honest account of being a musician & songwriter, putting oneself out there for everyone to see. It’s not about knowing where one is going but knowing enough to keep going.
The lyrics “I want the power of the lion & the love of the lamb” which shadows the strong nature of their fast lyrics, belting music, and their kindness to everyone they meet. Notably impressive with different transitions & sections that are so natural yet so different. It’s hard to believe it’s all one song.
Their declared last song is also the last song on the album, “Will I Wake”. The instruments on the recording are different than the live version and both versions should not go unheard. On the album version, the song has a beautiful piano line.
The live version has a notable call-&-response between Isaak’s vocals and the fiddle, which produced quite an effect. They received a standing ovation of cheers and chants to come out for more. A little unconventional for the headlining band to play first & deliver an encore, but we are all about extra songs and a unique concert experience.
Thankfully, they came back out on stage moments later and graced us with two more songs from their previous album, Prodigal. The song “I Won’t” had invigorating jazzy scat singing. The audience, now completely standing, was clapping & dancing as wildly as the song, and carried on full speed. The last song of the encore was “Out in the Breeze,” and showcased intricate banjo playing from Benji. It’s incredible to see him play that fast.
Seeing Good Morning Bedlam play makes a lasting impression on anyone. The songs have a natural energy to them and it takes a lot of work to make it look easy to play at that speed. I’m confident they will be able to win over fans who normally wouldn’t stop to listen to folk, and are able to keep those who are already folk fans on their toes.