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Del McCoury Band - Aug.27, 2004

Del McCoury has been called a legend of bluegrass, and rightly so.But you will be hard pressed to find a more unassuming legend. Starting at the side of the "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe, McCoury struck out on his own; in his mid-60s, the Del still plays around 200 shows a year with the band that bears his name, two of which were at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music this past weekend.

It's easy to see the appeal of such a venue. For Pate fans who have never seen the school's auditorium, it is roughly 75% the size of Chicago's Cabaret Metro or Park West, or a supersized vesion of the Maintenance Shop, except that the floor space has three sections of church pew-style seating. And it has an attention to acoustics similar to that of the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. The intimacy and acoustic quality of the house matter all the more with an act which relies largely on a simple double-mike setup.

McCoury's unassuming nature was reflected by the degree to which Del let the set be dictated by requests from the audience -- more than a Richard Thompson show, almost as much as the Replacements (or Claude Pate, for that matter) in their heydays.. And if Del couldn't remember a lyric to some tune he had not performed in years, he would just laugh, say "what were those words again?" and turn to the band for a pantomime cue, all without missing a beat. As a result, we were treated to only a few numbers from the bands most recent disc: "Let An Old Racehorse Run," Delbert McClinton's "Same Kind Of Crazy" (learned when the band was the sole bluegrass act on a "Blues Cruise"), and the rarely-played "Mill Towns." The band skipped the two Richard Thompson covers from that disc to revisit their earlier cover of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," along with Del's explanation of how the English bike was imported to the U.S., but outlawed in most states as "too fast," though police were generally unable to catch offenders. Del also reached back to their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats" and old favorites like 1992's"Queen Anne's Lace." Clearly, McCoury's tenure with Monroe taught him important lessons not only about musicianship, but also about extending and popularizing bluegrass through strong songwriting, whether by writing originals or adapting great songs by songwriters in other genres.

McCoury also learned the value of surrounding oneself with a talented band -- his now includes sons Rob on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin. The double-mike setup requires that band members step torward and away from the stand to mix their sound. Yet the choreography involved seemed completely natural and relaxed. For that matter, while Del appears to make sure that every member of the band is featured in at least one or two points of the show, it also appears that which numbers would be performed to feature them was decided on the spot. This degree of spontaneity requires that the band be on its toes, but like Bob Dylan's touring bands, they cheerfully rise to the challenge.

Indeed, McCoury and his band seem to embody a primary principle for success: love your work. They clearly enjoy performing for a crowd, and their mood is infectious. If I had any complaint, it would be that the set could have been longer... though this is probably why he plays two shows a night.

Added:  Monday, August 30, 2004
Reviewer:  Karl
hits: 6095
Language: eng


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