The Bridge show their roots on NYE

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The Bridge  w/ Rebirth Brass Band
Sheraton Hotel Ballroom
Baltimore, Maryland
December 31, 2008

“The Casino Room will be open until 2am,” announced Kenny Liner with a hint of sarcasm showing in his voice. “They have blackjack, roulette, and let it ride.  All the proceeds will go to charity” he laughed before finishing, “so go and tell ‘em Kenny sent you and double down and shit.”

Despite the enticing offer, it seemed the best plan was to stay put and see where the rest of The Bridge’s set would take us.  And where their set took us was a journey through the band’s deep seeded influences and a chance to hear what makes the Bridge tick.

063.jpgSome of the usual suspects showed up. The Grateful Dead with “New Speedway Boogie” and the night ending “Shakedown Street,” Little Feat brought “Spanish Moon” and “Sailin’ Shoes” (which was born out of the band’s own “Easy Jane”) to the party, and a soulful late set appearance by Dr. John’s “Qualified” that included a lengthy solo from Mark Brown on keys (who was making his first New Year’s appearance with the band after joining full-time earlier this year), all give a glimpse of The Bridge’s roots.

The inclusion of New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band as the opener only served to deepen the connections to the Bridge’s lineage.  The Bridge have always worked through a very Americana take in their music, but there has always been a strong hint of that “N’Awlins” funk and soul that bleeds through in all they do, and Rebirth’s opening set highlighted this connection even more.  Rebirth packed a powder keg of funk into their short, but powerful set, that was highlighted by the closing combo of the New Orleans staple “Big Chief” that moved seamlessly into their own signature anthem “Do Watcha Wanna” to bring their time on stage to a close.

The Bridge’s strength has always been the way they incorporate those touchstones of American music – funk, jazz, Americana, bluegrass, – into what they do and create something new and fresh.  However, at the same time they have a familiar, comfortable sound that instantly makes you feel at home, whether your home is in the mountains of West Virginia with a banjo in hand, a smoky juke joint on some back-road, the streets of New Orleans, the wide-open road with the wind in your face, or just simply Baltimore.

313.jpgWhile their covers provided a glimpse into their influences and how they got to this point, it was their own songs, and more specifically the tunes off their last album, Blind Man’s Hill, that really exposed who The Bridge is today.  Liner’s bluegrass-laced “In Dreams” (which has its roots in an old Liner instrumental, that was eventually reworked and given lyrics and fresh life), and the rootsy-rocker “Honey Bee” with it’s old-dirty-bluesman inspired line, “Pretty in the trunk, with a little bit of funk on the back shelf”, provided that snapshot of the band on this night.

But it was the set closing “Heavy Water”, that proved to be the band’s calling card, a ten-minute work out that featured Cris Jacobs’ frantic, driving guitar that powered along an almost gospel infused chorus that was punctuated by blasts of pure adrenaline from sax-man Patrick Rainey.

The night ended as so many special Bridge shows seem to do in Baltimore, with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” a song that has long been in the band’s repertoire, yet only seems to rear its head when the band is at home in Baltimore and they need to pull it out for special occasions.  This time it did as it always does; it provided the perfect way to cap the night, a chance for the band revel in their influences and the crowd to get down once last time before the lights came on.

And for all those people who ignored Liner’s enticing offer and instead stayed to hear the band, they may have not gambled this evening, but they all definitely won.