By Victoria Kezra
The crowd was definitely possessed by something while listening to The Devil Makes Three this Friday, Sept. 14, at the Westcott Theater.
About 70 people were idling in the theater by the time the opening act, the Rhode Island-based Brown Bird, came on stage — a surprisingly big draw for a first act. By the time the band came on, people had already set up shop at the front, hugging the railing to be closer to the stage.
Only two people comprised Brown Bird. One was Dave Lamb, who played the guitar, used one foot to play a kick drum, and the other to play a tambourine on the floor. The other member was Morgan Swain, a slim, tattooed girl who accompanied him with a cello, and sometimes switching to a fiddle.
Despite having a band that could fit in a phone booth, the couple never sounded like just two people. They produced a full, rich sound when playing their hard-edged folk and blues. They used the fiddle and cello to great effect to create a moody, dramatic tension that mixed well with Lamb’s rustic bluesy-rock voice. As soon as the band began playing the crowd started swaying to the beat, eventually breaking out into full-fledged dancing with couples spinning and twirling. Off to the side two girls danced with hula hoops, doing tricks and whirling like tops, with nearby audience members had to duck to avoid being bopped on the head.
Lamb and Swain both sang, interchanging his slightly gravely, rough voice with her soft, sweet vocals in such songs as “Fingers to the Bone,” “Down to the River,” “Blood of Angels,” “Bilgewater,” and a few new songs that Lamb promised from their new album that will be recorded in the Spring.
Their dark, dramatic folksy rock was met with huge applause from the audience by the time they left the stage; Lamb thanked them for their applause and for the warm Syracuse weather.
When headliners The Devil Makes Three came to the stage there were easily 100 people waiting from wall to wall to hear the band. The Devil Makes Three is made up of three members hailing from Santa Cruz California: Pete Bernhard on guitar, Lucia Turino on the upright bass, and Cooper McBean alternating between a guitar and a banjo.
With a quick count-off, the band started up and so did the crowd, churning and jumping in earnest and clapping along with the music. For the most part they played bouncy, fast-paced, cheerful-sounding bluegrass with lyrics to match. “You’ll find me downtown, gracefully facedown, wishing I could feel alright,” they sang on their song “Gracefully Facedown.”
The band was lively, but might have benefitted from some sort of percussion; at times they felt a little thinner than their opener, even though they had one more member. Many of their more upbeat songs started to sound very similar, and the band was at its best when they took a more mellow approach and dropped into a drawling, seductive beat as they did in “The Johnson Family” and “Graveyard.”
As the night wore on, it became apparent the stories the lyrics told were the draw of the songs. In a song they announced as “The Story Song,” Bernhard said it was “100 percent true 50 percent of the time,” and sang about how anyone is a hero when they are the person recounting the story. In other songs they weaved the tales of a 19-year-old girl hustling men in a town, and the experience of someone who finds bar fighting to be a good time in the song “Black Irish.”
When the band bowed out and left the stage the audience was roaring for more. The cheering went on for about a minute before the band came back and performed “Bangor Mash.”