MIM stands for Musical Instrument Museum, a totally awesome organization in Phoenix, Arizona. http://mim.org/ and it is an absolutely fabulous place to hear music performed – their small auditorium has excellent acoustics and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Let’s talk about the MIM a bit.
Back in 2011 I heard the Savoy Family Band (Marc and Ann Savoy and sons Joel and Wilson) perform American roots music (Cajun) at the MIM; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4Fen7DMW80. And why does this matter? Because Daddy Marc Savoy, the accordion player, was breaking in the new accordion he had made for the exhibit at the MIM at that concert, and he made comments throughout the show. One such comment was how fortunate we are to have the MIM in Phoenix and how utterly exceptional this museum is.
He had been contacted by the MIM to provide a Cajun accordion, (Marc, an instrument maker as well as folklorist and musician and arguably the premier accordion maker specializing in Cajun accordions), he said he couldn’t believe it. When he got the call, he said he thought it was a prank. I mean a museum dedicated to musical instruments? So he hung up the phone! Eventually everything was worked out and the accordion in the Cajun music section of the museum is his work. The MIM is an amazing place. Getting onstage at the MIM is not nothing. This if I am not mistaken, is Run Boy Run’s second time – the house was packed – I’m sure it won’t be their last.
If you are a Phoenician, and you haven’t seen / heard the MIM go! If not, and you ever find yourself in Phoenix for a spell; go and hear the MIM! It’s amazing!
Anyhow, check out the stage in the provided video because last night another great American roots band, and a family band of sorts, Run Boy Run (http://www.runboyrunband.com/) played on that stage and they too were amazing!
The Halloween-themed concert was a lot of fun with the band dressed as the characters from the popular “Scooby-Doo” animated series, included an intermission costume contest, and the concert experience was a rollicking good time.
Band members are Grace and Matt Rolland (brother and sister), cello/vocals and fiddle respectively; Jennifer and Bekah Sandoval (sisters) Mandolin/Fiddle/Guitar Vocals, with Jesse Allen on Bass. Oh. And Matt and Bekah are husband and wife; yes a family band!
Run Boy Run was coming off a 3 week, 18 stop tour of the Midwest with a few stops closer to home, this was their second to last concert. They’ve been featuring cuts from their new album, “Something to Someone”.
So what happened last night? Here’s their lineup:
Scooby Doo Theme
Get Up Jake
Spin a Golden Thread*
Sunday for Larks*
Dream in the Night*
Costume Contest (I was the Lone Stranger…)
Wild Bill Jones*
White Freight Liner Blues
Something to Someone*
Train on the Island
Under the Boughs
So Sang the Whippoorwill
Far From My Home / Lion and the Fawn*
* Indicates a cut from their latest album.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Run Boy Run, the band’s signature sound is tightly-woven harmony between Grace, and sisters Jennifer and Bekah. And their phrasing and intonation are almost disturbingly perfect. And yes, a cello – it really works and fits in seamlessly. You know the cello works well in this setting, filling in between the bass and the other treble instruments, on some tunes it almost seemed to suggest to me, a bari-sax, believe it or not! Could have been the way Grace’s cello was miked though – it was a bit dry for my taste, but she sounded great and played immaculately. Band balance in this small hall can be quite sensitive, but was good. To my liking though, the guitar, only used on a few tunes, but very effectively, could have been a bit hotter…that could be just me though!
Drummers don’t get mad; but I have a very soft spot for bands that leave something out, and no drummer in this lineup is to me, perfection. This band needs no time-keeper and the absence of drumming, common to many American Roots sounds really, lets the vocals shine and the “twanginess” of the mandolin and / or guitar cut through without over-amping them. And come on, with a drummer you just got to turn up the guitar / mandolin; then the vocals aren’t in balance, so turn them up…Jessie would need to pick up an electric bass; turn him up… Next thing you know, “…That’s not genuine; that’s just yuppies playin’ rock-n-roll!“. Perish the thought!
Ever heard the joke about the two kinds of people in the world? There’s the people that believe there’s two kinds of people in the world and the people that don’t. Well, I like to think there are two kinds of bands in the world – bands based on the star system, and bands based on the troupe system. The star system has, well, a star in front, and those bands depend on star power. The troupe system depends on everyone playing at the star level; but as an ensemble – it’s not how well they play; it’s how well they play together.
To further illustrate my point, here is a perfectly irrelevant and possibly horrible analogy, but it’s the closest musical one I can think of right now because I’m being monumentally intellectually lazy: Rock ‘n Roll (yuppies or not!) and 1940s swing music. Star system vs. Troupe System. And no, just to be clear, Run Boy Run does not do, nor do I believe they have ever done, any Glen Miller tunes! (I so screwed that up!!)
Anyhow. I think you get my point. Run Boy Run is an ensemble.
Everything last night was great; but here are a few of my personal high-points:
Opener Scooby Doo – topical and set-up a very fun tone for the evening. Clever, and for a sort of throw-away, well done.
Spin a Golden Thread – a lovely song. I could see another band covering their version of this great, great song, using a lead-singer (with star-power!). Vocals here were pure perfection and Grace was heart-meltingly beautiful. I’ve seen Run Boy Run a number of times, and there are moments when I get this uncanny sensation that Grace is staring directly at me during songs! She’s not. I think everyone in the audience thinks that. I think in music performance we call it “projection” or “performance projection”. I think she has that. Very touching fiddle solo Matt. The a capella at the end, with Grace just slightly coming forward vocally was masterful.
Bekah and Jennifer’s voices are the upper voices in the choir with Grace singing mezzo, it’s really a nice blend; and the tunes featuring sisters Sandoval were wonderful. But I stress, even when one or the other voices is primary, there is always the backing harmonies – a real choir sound.
And finally, Far From My Home really touched me. Jesse’s arco bass blending with the vocals was simply amazing.
I got just a short moment to talk with Jesse Allen their excellent bass-player, after the show; sounds like the the tour has been a blast and very successful. He recalled how he had met Matt Rolland back in 2004 at U of A in Tucson – interestingly just as college pals, not collaborating musicians. That only happened sometime after graduation. In summer 2009, Jesse was hanging out on 4th Street in downtown Tucson and ran into his old college chum Matt Rolland; they got to talking. Matt was working on a new musical group project – “hey, you need a bass-player?” The rest is history!
We talked a little about life in Run Boy Run; they divide their time between three kinds of venues: Concerts like last night’s, Festivals / Tours, and the occasional commercial job.
I personally think their latest album is their best. It was streaming free a week ago so I checked it out. They seem to me to have turned a corner with Something to Someone; it’s subtle but distinctive to me – a kind of reaching out and getting inside your head vs. just great music.
In closing I offer you Pascal’s apology – “If had had more time, I would have made this shorter!” I’ve been working the day gig 7-days a week; but no way was I going to miss this concert!