An Evening With Greyhounds, Memphis-Loving Austinites (Guest Post, Part Two)
Ed. Note: I'm happy to share this guest post by Rhodes College senior and music writer John McHugh. John spent a week digging into Greyhounds – listening to their new album "Accumulator", attending two shows, and an exclusive interview with the band. You can read Part One – an interview with the band – here. This is Part Two, the review of both live shows. You can read more on John's blog, Blame It On The Stones.
After over fifteen years as a duo, Greyhounds have finally released their proper debut LP through Memphis’ own Ardent Music record label. Greyhounds is Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube – longtime friends and road-worn musical veterans who have toured for the last five years as the keys/organ man and guitarist for Southern funk/blues group JJ Grey & Mofro.
Ardent Studios C Room (April 11, 2014)
After meeting the guys in the studio on Wednesday, conducting an interview Thursday, and living with the album for about a week, I finally had the chance to see Greyhounds in action Friday afternoon at a special show in the C Room at Ardent Studios. The gorgeous, wood-paneled tracking room was set up with a grand piano for Farrell, a small, vintage Silvertone amp and semi-hollow electric for Trube, and a minimalist set of kick, snare, hats, and crash for drummer Anthony Cole, who also plays with both in JJ Grey’s band Mofro.
Sitting around the room on soft leather couches and folding chairs were maybe some ten other reporters and close friends of the band or studio. This wasn’t just a private show; it was an intimate performance. But The way Farrell, Trube, Cole, their road manager, Matt, and Ardent engineer/Greyhounds label & press man, Reed Turchi, politely navigated the room in their matching Dickies coveralls (band wears grey, crew wears charcoal) and engaged the attendees in conversation – not to mention the added touch of a Central BBQ sausage platter and canned craft brews (shout out to whoever set up for having Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb pilsener on deck) – gave the whole thing a very casual air, which underscored an important point about the vibe of the whole project.
Greyhounds are approachable, in person and on record. Their music is accessible, comfortable, familiar – words critics sometimes hurl at bands as backhanded compliments. Before you can reach for a pejorative term like “dad rock” or write off their efforts as “blue-eyed soul”, Greyhounds hits you with the power and nuance of musicians who are more concerned with expressing themselves than paying tithe to the great pantheons of classic soul or the blues. This isn’t a rootsy tribute act; they are part of that lineage which speaks to them while their personalities as artists shine through the style.
The set at Ardent was short and sweet – two cuts off Accumulator: lead single “What’s On Your Mind” and the mournful, minor-key soul number “I Remember”. As soon as the room went quiet, Farrell started “I Remember”, translating the record version’s groove-driven acoustic line into a simpler, more stirring piano part. You got the sense that this was how the song was written.
Before the rest of the band even kicked in, one thing was very clear: these guys are not messing around. Farrell’s baritone has the grainy, whiskey-coated quality of weathered jazz cats with slight, off-color tones in every note he hits. Sure, he sounds phenomenal on the record, but there are scores of mediocre singers in today’s musical landscape who get doctored up to sound near-stunning. Not this guy. And, a bit later, I’d discover that Trube falls in the same camp.
When the band finally kicked in with the chorus, my suspicions were confirmed: these guys are real deal. Trube, whose guitar parts on the record make clear that he is, at the very least, a very capable lead player (see “Yeah Yeah Yeah”) and a creative force when crafting sticky melodies and hooks, turns out to be an absolute monster. He down-plucks just about every note with his thumb and the tone he achieves would turn a thousand studio b-listers green with envy.
Next, Greyhounds launched into a fairly straight-forward record arrangement of “What’s On Your Mind”. The sparse instrumentation of the original lent itself to the intimate environment, as did the fact that nearly everyone in the room had visibly heard the song somewhere between once and twenty times before. It was another strong performance.
Hi-Tone Cafe (April 11, 2014)
If Greyhounds proved themselves as top-shelf players at Ardent, their show at the Hi-Tone Cafe later that night showed them as masterful showmen with cool confidence and chops to boot. The buzz about Greyhounds had clearly gotten around, as the room started to pack in tight after the opener. The lights went down on a bizarro scene as Edmaiston appeared on stage accompanied by an astronaut in a sequined, red cape. The spaceman held a salute in the mode of Devo’s “Corporate Anthem” as band stats were read to the audience: three men, who have travelled through space and time, with a combined weight of 552 pounds and a height nearly twenty feet tall, meet…Greyhounds. The duo (+ Cole) walked in from the side room wearing a new uniform – sharp black suits, white shirts, and black ties.
Cole and Trube launched into the howling riff and jittery backbeat of “Get Back”. The most live-in-the-room sounding cut off Accumulator felt natural in a live show setting, but even the album version doesn’t groove quite as hard. Cole’s rhythm was more animated and Trube’s guitar slinkier, not to mention Farrell, whose organ solo was furious as he managed both lead parts and the song’s bass line, as he would for every tune. This was a common theme of the night; the best tracks on their LP gained spontaneity and power, while the weaker numbers (of which there there are only one or two to begin with) really came to life.
Greyhounds’ set split time about 50/50 between songs off Accumulator and new, unreleased tunes. Their second song of the night, a new one presumably titled “St. Louis”, was a joyride full of the stop-and-start rhythmic thrills and boast-less musical prowess that marks their album. An imaginative reworking of a progression that could have come off flat as standard-fare delta blues, the tune had Cole expertly shifting between straight groove and a rolling swing as Farrell’s Hammond popped in the corners of one of the night’s most danceable numbers. The space between the instruments and the subtlety of each player’s musical accents would have impressed the most calloused blues-scene veteran.
As impressive as their subtlety was their endurance; they must have played twenty songs. But endurance is nothing without consistency, and they had both. There wasn’t a thirty-second stretch during the whole set that left you checking your watch, wondering how much longer it would take. It’s not every Friday night that you get to see 1) a band play such a complete concert and 2) an act as long as theirs that doesn’t leave you bored or exhausted halfway through. And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
After a riveting “Soul Navigator”, which had Farrell breaking out his most absolutely devastating organ work and Trube’s slinkiest guitar, Greyhounds ended the night with an exhilarating, bluesy non-record tune. That is, until the crowd demanded one more and were obliged with another new song, a strutting, soul-minded rocker with a contagious pop melody in the chorus. It didn’t matter that no one knew the lyrics, the whole place was singing along.
It’s hard to narrow down the highlight reel, but one of the night’s best moments came with a powerhouse performance of “What’s On Your Mind”, which had all of the space and grey-sky soul of the record but benefitted from some bluesy, melting guitar licks from Trube, the rich reverb on which made it sound like he was playing from the bottom of an elevator shaft. His half-solo part was wily and heartfelt; the guy has clearly heard B.B. play a time or two. It should go without saying at this point that Farrell’s vocals were outstanding throughout the night, but he sounded particularly comfortable in that slow churn of their lead single.
Another high point came with the rough-skinned gospel blues of album-closer “Troubled Days”, which found Trube picking up a lap steel and turning it upright like a fiddle. Trube’s mid tenor growl shined through patches of Farrell’s blasting organ and his own open-tuned chaos. At the peak of a wild and vicious solo, Trube lost his glass slide, ended up throwing the guitar towards his mic stand for a substitute, and I swear he hit the right notes. It was quite a number.
There wasn’t a weak performance in the set, but the only number that rivaled “Troubled Days” in terms of energy was a raucous rendition of “Yeah Yeah Yeah”. Again, Trube proved himself to be an outstanding live singer. Their skills as instrumentalists aside, a lot of bands would be lucky to half one vocalist half as good as Farrell or Trube. That Greyhounds has both is almost unfair. And like so many classic acts, they have an ear for knowing which song will suit which singer.
Get more Greyhounds:
Check out their touring schedule, and keep up with all the latest band news on their main site.
Download "Accumulator" from the Ardent Music store. Watch videos on Ardent Music's YouTube channel.
Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
About the Author
John McHugh is a senior at Rhodes College and an intern at the Memphis Music Foundation. Born into a musical family in Nashville, he was raised on the sounds of Memphis soul and rock ’n’ roll. He lives on Kwik Check’s bi bim bop, loves to spend hours flipping through records at Shangri-La, and firmly believes that Otis Redding was the greatest singer to ever walk the earth. Check out his brand-spanking-new blog Blame It On The Stones.