It’s the night of the last presidential debate. In the middle of what some would call a contentious campaign and what others would call the beginning of the destruction of all humankind, millions of Americans would crowd around their TV set to see exactly how many people one man could offend within a ninety-minute span. While this happens, I am in the midst of my own contentious exchange with a gruff doorman at Nashville’s preeminent concert venue/ record store, The Basement.
“ID.” He not so much asked as he demanded. Perhaps his attitude was a reflection of the knowledge that, at that very moment hundreds of miles away, Donald Trump was referring to illegal immigrants as a bunch of “bad hombres.” More likely, he was also feeling the effects of the late night set, a 9:00 Wednesday night show that clearly was not designed for those of us who have the behavioral patterns of 75 year-olds.
“You can go in,” he barked, opening the door to the lively atmosphere. It was not just crowded for a Wednesday night, but for the venue in general. Throughout the room, there was lively chatter as the bands began to set up and the disgruntled doorman grunted at the empty glasses left on the table nearby.
For a band, this is the kind of crowd you would like. There was enthusiasm throughout the room, the only silence coming at the beginning of the sound check for the set’s first act, The Ballroom Thieves.
Hailing from Boston, The Ballroom Thieves began gaining attention with their 2015 release A Wolf in the Doorway. The roots based folky sound took a much darker turn with the self-released Deadeye as the band grappled with interpersonal issues. Despite any of these, the music made by the trio is not just strong, but undeniably in sync and full of passion.
The chemistry is shown from the beginning. The harmonies from the trio and unique, cello featuring set-up set the band apart from their Americana brethren. With a stripped back drum set, the band is more than comfortable allowing their sound to remain open to feature their voices. This is showcased early on with their performance of “Trouble” sung by Calin Peters. It’s a simple tune that features just an electric guitar and light drums from Martin Earley and Devin Mauch.
Throughout the set, the most distinctive feature is Peters’ cello. Through song after song, the cello does more than just add an additional layer of sound, often times becoming a driving force. It does an excellent job of showcasing the band’s unique songwriting ability as a whole.
After a short break of solo acoustic work, the set finally culminated in the highlight of the evening, the powerful rendition of “Oars to the Sea.” In this song, the three showcase all of the band’s strengths. There are the powerful vocals complete with harmonies and the simple but strong drumming, all building into an instrumental breakdown with an immense cello sound.
After the heavy tune, The Ballroom Thieves leave the crowd with a more laid back track, “Anybody Else” off of Deadeye. It’s a gentler way to leave the crowd who had made their approval known throughout the set.
On paper, The Ballroom Thieves’ touring partner, Blue Healer, seems a bit out of left field. After the Americana fueled set, keyboards and synths made their way onto the stage for a bit of indie pop that at times appeared to be from the Reagan Era. In actuality, though, the bands fit together more than you could imagine, both bringing a similar energy to the crowd of eager onlookers.
Beginning from the start, the Basement was filled with spacey synths and a laid-back pop vibe. The opening chorus had the band singing the refrain “I haven’t danced like that in years” repeatedly. While the dancing from the crowd was minimal as the band cruised through “Luminescent Eyes” and “30,000 Feet,” they were nonetheless attentive.
The similarities between the two bands became apparent as the set progressed. With a cover of Keith Whitley’s “I’m Over You,” the band shifted from the indie pop sound, adopting more of Whitley’s country feel. This influence would be shown again towards the end of the set in the band’s “Only The Rain,” a song that, structurally, sounds like something Bob Dylan might have produced if he were only allowed to used keyboards and learned how to sing properly.
It was not all light and airy, though. “Empty Bottles” saw the band fill the room with energy, driven by a heavy bass. The heavier bass and a grungy synth sound would punctuate throughout, interrupting the melodic and relaxing set with unexpected liveliness.
While seeming to be strange bedfellows, both Blue Healer and The Ballroom Thieves did exactly what they were there to do. The focus of the night was not what some politician might be saying elsewhere. It was the music with two strong sets of well-written and beautifully performed material.
I imagine even a gruff doorman would have smiled at that.