The Infamous Stringdusters faced a mixed bag going into their show. Portland is a small city (60,000 souls, maybe 200,000 in the metro area); it was a Sunday night, the night after the annual Halloween blowout; the band has skipped Portland their last couple of times through the Northeast.
It didn't matter. Not a bit. The Stringdusters, known for their powerhouse stage presence, delivered a strong, multi-layered show, supporting their claim as one of the most talented jamgrass bands afoot.
The Stringdusters' live shows change nightly; no set list has a shelf-life of more than 24 hours, and in fact, the band is more likely than not to change up mid-show. The Portland show exemplified this. The first session featured one or two songs of their standard repertoire, but was peppered with tracks generally only heard live. "Mountain Town," sung beautifully by Dobro player Andy Hall was a standout, as was "Fearless" and a mystically-turned Peter Rowan tune.
After the exploration of the first set, the second set surprised in a different way, featuring a rich collection of Stringdusters' standbys ("Seventeen Cents," "Walking On The Moon," "Get On Down The Road") played with a new voice, as if they had been in the larder for a year or so, and came out richer and riper. In typical Stringdusters' style, they were (mostly) connected by clever instrumental interludes.
The set also featured Andy Falco's animated singing and playing on "Don't Let That Deal Go Down," and Hall scorching another Grateful Dead number "Scarlet Begonias," as the pre-encore show closer. Travis Book lays a solid bass bottom at all times, masterfully sings a lot of lead and displays fresh phrasing and energy in his work (just by example, another Stringdusters' chestnut "Get It While You Can").
Startlingly, the defining piece of the second set was "Angeline The Baker," a centuries-old traditional song that careered from stage left (guitarist Falco) to stage right (Chris Pandolfi on banjo) to the sweet spot on the middle with Hall's crazy-good Dobro licks trading places with Jeremy Garrett's cranking fiddle strokes. Back to Falco at stage left. And repeat. The hoary old "Angeline" was given new life. Not content, a few songs later, The Stringdusters did the same with "Home Of The Red Fox."
The five Stringdusters, who are estimably assisted by their longtime sound engineer Drew Becker, still feed off each other, and seem as giddy as the crowd in discovering where the music will go. Good show.