When David Bromberg comes to New England, the question usually isn’t whether to go see him play, but rather which venue to see him at. This time through, David played a pair of dates in Massachusetts, first at Fall River and then in Rockport, and then he wound up the New England leg of his tour in Plymouth, New Hampshire. We chose to see him at the Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center in Rockport because with its unique architecture and siting, it is perhaps our favorite music venue in all of New England.
David Bromberg is touring primarily with his quintet these days, which consists of bassist Butch Amiot, who has been playing with Bromberg since 1981; drummer Josh Kanusky; guitar and mandolin player Mark Cosgrove, who is equally at home with both electric and acoustic guitar; and fiddle player Nate Grower, one of the finest fiddle players I’ve ever seen. As Bromberg often shares with his audience, he never works from a set list, so his shows are, from night to night, musically unique and extremely diverse.
A few minutes after 8pm the band took the stage and played an electric version of Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine, followed immediately with “I’ll Take You Back”, a staple of Bromberg’s that was written by Rick Estrin and Donald Woodruff. Bromberg was playing his ’52 Fender Esquire, and Mark Cosgrove was playing a Les Paul Gold Top, a departure from the Telecaster (or perhaps Esquire) he was playing when we saw Bromberg’s quintet in Londonderry last year. The tonal difference between Bromberg’s Esquire and Mark’s Gibson was a nice touch. After the first two songs, they both switched to acoustic instruments for “Don’t the Road Look Rough and Rocky”, and followed that one with the fiddle tune “Cattle in the Cane”. Next was a David Bromberg penned tune called “Nobody’s”, an ode to the New York club of the same name, and then Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind”.
Merle Travis’s “Dark as a Dungeon” was followed by the Bromberg penned tune “Kaatskill Serenade”, a retelling of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle tale, but more than that, a long double entendre about the country America once was, but is no longer. Drummer Josh Kanusky stepped out from behind the drums at this point to sing the baritone part of what Bromberg describes as an English Drinking song (although Bromberg wrote it), called “The Strongest Man Alive”, which segued into an instrumental medley of Maydelle’s Reel and Jenny’s Chickens, three songs which also appear together on Bromberg’s latest studio album, Only Slightly Mad. The quintet followed that by stepping out in front of the microphones to play an unmiked cover of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, originally made famous by the Shirelles.
At this point, the rest of the band left the stage and Mark Cosgrove, a winner of both the U.S. National Flatpicking Guitar Championship and also the Doc Watson Guitar Championship, dedicated an instrumental to Doc. The precision and inventiveness of Mark’s playing was one of the evening’s highlights, and when he was done, David Bromberg and Nate Grower joined him on stage to play a three-guitar instrumental that was really, really good. I’m not sure what these songs were, so if someone who was there knows, drop me a line …
Next they played a great version of the Leroy Carr/Scrapper Blackwell tune,”Midnight Hour Blues”, which David said he was particularly fond of because of the quality of the lyrics. The rest of the quintet returned to the stage at this point, and they performed a very nice cover of Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages”, a song I first learned to play off of Bromberg’s 1976 album How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til?. The band finished off with Bromberg’s “New Lee Highway”, with Cosgrove, Bromberg, and Nate Grower each getting solos. This was the third time I’ve seen Bromberg live since Nate Grower joined his band, and of the many, many fiddle players that Bromberg has toured with over the years, in my opinion Nate Grower’s technique, style, and musicianship put him clearly at the top of the group. Every time he solos he puts down runs that are clean, inventive, and, quite frankly, astonishing.
The band returned for an encore of a single song, a very nice blues tune that I’m not familiar with. It was a great show, in a great venue, and we felt lucky to be there.