The Turf Club is one of my favorite venues in the cities. The room is small, which makes for an intimate performance space, but also avoids feeling claustrophobic. On top of that, the sound is great, the location is convenient, and the patrons always seem ready for a good time. Even more so than most venues, I tend to enjoy shows there. Minneapolis’ own Last Revel, along with Illinois’ Chicago Farmer played a fantastic show.
Chicago Farmer is, first and foremost, a folk singing troubadour. Fitting comfortably in the mold and lineage of Woody Guthrie, John Prine, and Todd Snider, he plays three-chord songs on the acoustic guitar, telling stories about his experiences and those of the people around him. Like his predecessors, he tells good stories, peppers his lyrics with humor, and, most importantly, writes great songs. All of these traits were on display throughout his set, from the opening workingman’s anthem “Dirtiest Uniform” onward. His set was fun, engaging, and heartfelt, with songs like “13 Dollar Beer” mixing humor and emotion, and “Assembly Line Blues” taking on the folk tropes of life and work while maintaining his own unique style. He didn’t reinvent the wheel, but he put on a darn good show and more than warmed up the audience for the night’s headliner.
Bluegrass is one of my favorite genres to see live. When it’s done well, it has the potential to bring together excellent musicianship, sharp song-craft, and, more than anything, a passion for the music that unites the band with the crowd. These elements and more were on display during the Last Revel’s set. Leading off with one of their more popular songs (and the opener from their most recent album, 2017’s Hazard and Fate), “Blind in the Fray,” the band wasted no time in establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The song has a big sound, which is an impressive feat, considering the band is only a trio.
This was the third time I’ve seen them, and it would prove to be the most dynamic. They followed “Blind in the Fray” up with another crowd friendly singalong, ”Iron and Ore.” The crowd erupted upon hearing the song’s distinct opening banjo lick. The low key (though no less engaging) “Nail in my Coffin,” and “California Be Kind” followed, the latter saw the banjo traded for an electric guitar solo.
After the passionate “Engine Trouble,” the band leapt into one of my favorites, the instrumental “Sleepy Gary.” The song was wonderfully explosive and showcased the band’s instrumental chops. A few originals came and went, maintaining the momentum they’d steadily built steadily before a take on the traditional “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Many are familiar with Nirvana’s version, but the song has also been sung by Mark Lanegan and Leadbelly, among others, and Last Revel’s version is as good (and chilling) as any I’ve heard. The heartfelt “Almighty Amen” closed the set, before one of the more memorable encores I’ve seen in some time.
What a special night in St Paul. Thanks everyone who came out to our #soldout @turfclubmn hometown show. It’s nice to be back! Up next: 3/29 – @bourbonondivision – Chicago IL 3/30 – @colectivocoffee – Milwaukee WI 3/31 – @bellseccentriccafe – Kalamazoo MI All shows with Chicago Farmer Photo by @maynorthmn
There’s an inherent challenge to covering any song: to honor the original while making it your own. Some bands do this well and some do not. While I had no doubt The Last Revel could pull off a good cover, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the four they presented for the encore.
Starting off with an a capella opening to Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta” was bold, but the group pulled it off with passion and grace. The harmonies were fantastic, and the song itself is well written enough to translate effectively to the bluegrass treatment the band gave it.
Next up was the first of two Neil Young covers-“Out on the Weekend.” The song felt more country than bluegrass, but the band sang their heart out and pulled it off. Following a take on “Ring of Fire,” aided by Chicago Farmer, the set closed with a true stunner— a reverent cover of Young’s “Harvest Moon.” While the song isn’t raucous or bluegrassy, it’s placement felt perfect, combining many of the elements that made the night special. From beginning to end, the band showed off their tremendous range, stellar harmonies, and tasteful playing. Whether it was a cover or an original, they showed they can play it all, making for an ideal Saturday night at the Turf.