Chatham County Line live at The Mint

Saw Chatham County Line at The Mint last night. I’d never even listened to any of the band’s work up until a few weeks ago when a friend recommended I check them out. Their new album has been slowly growing on me. This same friend’s wife didn’t want to go to the concert with him, and my wife’s out of town, and I figured I should get out and be social, so we went together.

Chatham has really strong vocal harmonies and might just outsmoke Nickel Creek in the sheer speed department on their respective twangy instruments. Though not as much of Chatham’s material seems designed to show that off, necessarily, so seeing them live definitely helped me to better appreciate their talents. The set included about five tracks fromTightrope (including my personal favorites, “Any Port in a Storm” and “Traveler”), and some older material that I didn’t recognize but that also sounded great. The crowd was small, but incredibly supportive – at least, aside from the folks hanging out at the bar. It’s not a big venue, and apparently some folks pay a $15 cover charge just to get into a bar with live music going on that they don’t care about and don’t mind talking loudly over? (Is that the definition of “scenester”?) One older fellow we had been talking to before the show, who had driven all the way from Yuma, Arizona to see Chatham, took it upon himself to shush a few of the bar patrons. He got threats of violence for his trouble, and no joke, the dude who threatened him waited outside the bar for him after the show. LAME. Fortunately the older fellow was smart and just had the bouncer escort him out the back afterwards. Even the lead singer of Chatham (who I swear is a dead ringer for Zach Galifianakis) humorously admonished the folks at the bar that maybe they could go carry on their conversations outside. This got loud cheers from most of the rest of us, but it was to no avail. Personally, if a guy who looks like that tells me to shut my mouth, I’m obeying, because otherwise I’m afraid he’ll come up to me and start making the kinds of awkward and surreal jokes that Zach Galifanikis would make, all with a totally deadpan straight face, and I would just have to slink off into the shadows from the sheer discomfort of it.

The first opening band was Son Ark. Kind of a rock/bluegrass hybrid, with an electric guitar, drums, bass, mandolin, and banjo. They were the kind of band that deserved a bigger crowd, because they were incredibly energetic and you could tell they really enjoyed playing their instruments. Their songs had these little surprise freakouts where the band would just jam and get surprisingly loud for what we might have otherwise considered a mellower song. I’d like to hear more from them.

The other opener was the James Apollo Five. They were miked poorly and almost completely drowned out by the unruly crowd. I felt bad for them, but honestly their music wasn’t engaging, with its old school blues/rock guitar tone and its unpredictably shifting tempos making it hard to tell when we should even clap since their songs just sort of melted into one another. Kudos to them for soldiering on despite the tepid crowd… but man, there were like three points where I thought they were done and then they just kept on going. It was sort of painful to watch. They probably deserved a smaller crowd so that more of the nuances of their music and whatever the hell the lead singer was trying to joke about in between songs could actually be clearly heard.

I’ve been to The Mint several times before – saw Jennifer Knapp there four years ago not long after she came out – and I’ve never seen the performers have issues with their sound setup or with an unattentive crowd. Probably just an off night.

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