Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ar too many visiting musicians try to cheaply ingratiate themselves with the Beantown crowd by donning a hat or shirt of one of the Sox or Celtics here. Fortunately, Billy Strings did not feel compelled to resort to cheap remedies.
Instead, Strings launched his two-set, 2-1/2-hour show with a cover of Del McCoury's "Big Ball in Boston." It's a fun, jaunty song, and the opener portended how the night would unfold.
That would mean that Strings yet again plied his considerable guitar talents to great effect. Strings never ever fails to impress. He may officially play an acoustic guitar, but if one closed their eyes, it would surely sound electric to most ears. With the help of pickups and his tunings, Strings squeezes sparks out of that instrument.
He went into deep jam territory perhaps once too often in the expansive first set before concluding with a one-two punch of "I'll Go Stepping Too" from Flatt & Scruggs, and Bill Monroe's "Roll On Buddy Roll On."
The second set found Strings and his backing quartet tightening up, starting with a cover of Keith Allison's "Freeborn Man," his own "Long Forgotten Dream" and Larry Sparks' "John Deere Tractor."
Strings, in particular, got a bit spacy in delivery of the songs. Never more so than on his lyrical delivery of John Hartford's "All Fall Down." He coaxed a lot of sounds out of his guitar, including a few squeals. After a good 15 minutes of top shelf jamming (and singing), the crowd let loose with a huge, extended and well-deserved applause.
While the name on the marquee is Billy Strings, this is one clear situation where Billy Strings Band would be most appropriate. That's pretty much how the MO for Strings for a long time. He (and we, of course) benefit greatly from his superb band.
The backbone is bassist Royal Massat, who must have to soak his hands in ice water after each show. He was not showy at all on his upright, but he set the beat time and time again throughout both sets.
Being a democracy of sorts, banjoist Billy Failing, mandolinist Jarrod Walker and violinist Alex Hargreaves all had ample opportunities to showcase their dexterous talents without being showboats. Guest banjo man Victor Furtado also helped out on a few songs.
In song after song – that was true from the start – the lead bounded from band member to band member. That's par for the course with Strings, who was playing the first of two sold-out nights.
This was one magical night of music from Strings – no surprise there. It's so clear from his playing and body movements just how into the music he is. When he closes his eyes, it's not for some special, sanctimonious play to the audience. When the show ended with "Away From the Mire" at curfew time, Strings was clearly happy with how the night had proceeded, pumping his fist in the air a few times with a big smile on his face.
"Big Ball in Boston" includes the line "Let's have a party let's have a time." Thanks to Strings and band knew just what they were talking about from the start.