December 12, 2007
Acoustic Syndicate is a family affair – you can hear it in their voices. It takes family to sing such tight harmonies, and the boys from North Carolina have a very unique sound. They took the stage in front of an excited crowd on Friday, December 21st at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina for the first of a two night run, and had a full house waiting to welcome them home.
The first set was mellow, slow and sparse in energy; they seemed tired. They showcased their great three part harmonies, and there were funky bass lines from Jay Saunders, a true powerhouse on both the electric and the upright. While there were a few nice moments and some solid banjo solos from Bryon McMurry, it was generally a laid back set.
Several covers were thrown in with their signature-sound originals. They played “Small Axe” and teased the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” on two different occasions. The set closed out with the first real bluegrass of the evening. Sandwiched in between two upbeat songs that were a taste at what was in store for us second set, Bryon took control and did a stirring rendition of Sting’s “Love is the Seventh Wave.” His voice was created to do Sting songs, and the band backed him brilliantly.
The took the stage for the second set and it was clear that they had used the break to clear away any lingering cobwebs. After a short dueling banjo tease they tore into the Who’s “Squeezebox,” killing it as they do any Who song they choose to attempt. The crowd was singing along before the end and this set was well worth the wait. They played some crowd favorites like “Rainbow Rollercoaster” and “Critters,” and did an extended tease of “Immigrant Song,” with Steve “Big Daddy” McMurry nailing the vocal line. There were extended solo sections all of the way around as the band moved around, breaking loose and setting themselves free, with the audience along for the ride.
While Big Daddy open up on his acoustic, at times it sounded like he was playing a Telecaster. He took tasty, jazzy solos as the band rocked behind him. Bryon on the electric banjo is a force; with the electric, metallic body reflecting and refracting the house lights in every direction, he tore into his banjo, showing the possibilities of his instrument. He is a surprisingly sparse rhythm player. Where most banjo players work to drive the band, Bryon plucks beautiful reggae rhythms. He grooves with the band, rarely attempting to take full control. Every now and then he steps up and shows that this is a question of style and not ability, as he can push the band like any good bluegrass banjo player. But, he has a different take on his role, and it is an interesting change.
The boys played a solid second set and then closed out the night with “Dear Prudence” into “Brown Mountain Lights.” They bid the audience farewell, and said to come on back tomorrow.
The packed house was happy to oblige.