Saturday night, my man and I celebrated Valentine’s Day early with a great show at Casbah in Durham. The only other time I’ve been to Casbah was to see Crooked Still, which was in an intimate seated setting. I was expecting this, but the venue quickly filled to standing room only.
After the first song, it was evident why opening band Humble Tripe was “humble.” The one man band slammed on a travel dulcimer, and chugged out a few repetitive chords on his acoustic guitar while singing cute lyrics about his life. I’ve heard studio recordings of Humble Tripe and described them as “if Bob Dylan and Bon Iver had a baby and then dropped it off in Durham,” but I don’t think those expectations were met. This could be because his recordings usually feature more than just Shawn Luby on guitar. Shawn brought to stage Catherine Edgerton of Midtown Dickens to play the occasional harmonica, tambourine, and of course her signature singing saw. Her bubbly presence took the heat off Shawn for a little while and as a budding saw player, I took notes on her technique. Humble Tripe is a band to listen to while sitting on a blanket at a small music festival feel, not as an opening band for a critically acclaimed artist like Ben Sollee.
Ben Sollee, former member of the Sparrow Quartet, is a dapper young cello player from Kentucky. He started things off with a short vocal performance, bluesy and emotional. He then brought in Phoebe Hunt (of The Belleville Outfit) on violin and Jordan Ellis on drums to do “Something, Somewhere, Sometime” off Dear Companion. This live rendition was a bit different from his version with Daniel Martin Moore, bringing in some rock elements and definitely changing my idea of going to a “slow cello concert.” They continue playing upbeat, jazzy at times, bluesy at times music occasionally featuring a bass guitar, drums, cello, and violin. It was fast paced and well instrumented. I enjoyed the more down-tempo songs, but I can see the newer songs really catching on in the indie rock scene—look out for his upcoming album. Ben’s voice was amazing in every song and so perfectly melded with Phoebe Hunt’s, which was reminiscent of Norah Jones or Regina Spektor at times.
Ben was also a great banter-er; a quality many musicians lack. He told tales of how he came to the ideas of songs—his description of “The Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” was as poetic as the tune itself, and he constantly introduced his friends on violin and percussion. The group definitely had chemistry; probably from their adventures on bike, touring across America. That’s right. On bike, with a cello and a drumset.
The best part of the show, aside from the group dynamic and perfect instrumental choreography, was the first encore “Only A Song.” Ben Sollee explained how this song is off of Dear Companion, an album to raise awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining. He doesn’t want this song to be a protest song, thus its name, but rather to inspire people to think a little harder about their actions in the world.