On a beautiful evening last June, we visited the Bar Bar Apartment at Mississippi Studios to see Jerry Joseph and Scott Law. This particular day, Thursday, June 23rd, happened to be one of the nicer days of our summer in the Portland metro area. During a normal summer, a clear, warm day in June wouldn’t really stand out… But this year… Well, if you were living in the northwestern US, then you know what I mean; This day was one of the first days of one of the longest stretches of warm days during the summer (which, by the way, amounted to about a little more than a week’s worth of warm, sunny days) and associated with the memories of this great show… are the memories of the warmth of that June Thursday.
Anyway, to get back on track with the review, we didn’t know how fortunate we were to have tickets to such an intimate show until we arrived at the top of the stairs to find our names on the list, and a small space filling with enthusiastic fans. We really hadn’t realized before hitting the top of those stairs just how special a show this would be. The venue is literally a small apartment above the other Mississippi Studios venues. The shows take place in the living room and the seating consisted of folding chairs in rows filling up the room. There were between 25 and 30 people in the living room with another 15-20 people watching from the kitchen and the entryway. Before the show we had ample time to grab a seat and a beverage and settle in comfortably. We were in the “back” row on the right-hand side, facing the stage straight on. I use quotations on the back row because although we were in the back of that row, there were only two rows of chairs in front of us. This was the type of show, type of atmosphere that you don’t get your phone or camera out to snap a photo or run video; The point was to enjoy the cool, intimate setting and take it all in. And this show included a lot of excellent banter, some of which we were able to jot down a note or two about, or pry from the recesses of our blissed-out brains after the show. As a quick note, we’d like to thank fellow show-goer and YouTuber TaperMark for graciously allowing us to use his stellar videos for this review.
Scott Law introduced the concept of the show, one of a series of living room shows. The focus, we were told, is on listening and acoustic tone, with maybe a little bit of electric mixed in. Jerry and Scott were seated on stools in front of the room so close to the audience that Jerry handed his red bull to an audience member to place at the base of his stool periodically during the evening.
The set started off nicely with World Will Turn which the duo jammed and stretched out a bit. The acoustics in the small space were amazing and the crowd really did an excellent job of listening and respecting the moment as the boys wrapped up the 7 plus minutes of World Will Turn. Next up was Radio cab, one of Jerry’s newer tunes with a definitively sadder tinge to it. The two acoustic guitars harmonized well, and Jerry threw in some vocal scatting during a particularly satisfying stretch of back and forth jamming on the acoustic guitars over the bridge of the song. A short pause for applause led into Wisconsin Death Trip which featured Law on an electric guitar with an effects pedal. He used a lot of vibrato in his playing throughout the night, and the pedal brought sounds ranging from twangy to bassy during this portion of the set. JJ played the first verse solo before Law began playing, building the song up nicely. Law’s soulful electric fingering over the top of Jerry’s playing brought the energy up in a subdued yet powerful way as the jammed out bridge included a few emotion tinged exclamations by Jerry. In preparation for playing Revolution, Jerry bantered about being in Nashville, and jokingly playing some of his songs with a country style, and then realizing that they sound good this way. Scott Law stayed on the electric, once again adding soulful electric finger picking over Jerry’s acoustic. As is usually the case, JJ’s vocals were particularly powerful. Jerry played solid, soulful rhythm between the second and third verse while Law’s electric picking had a very somber, almost pedal steel guitar-esque sound to it. Revolution jammed straight into a very country-tinged version of Chainsaw city, then back into Revolution.
World Will Turn
The room was so small and intimate that one could look around and see the communication occurring between the musicians as well as with the audience. It seemed that duo had not extensively rehearsed the songs together, and you could see Law taking the lead from Joseph, but adding his own unique take on where the song should go on this particular evening. Watching the intense listening and creative input occur on stage was a real treat. The skill of both musicians coupled with JJ’s passionate vocals made for a very powerful musical and emotional experience. With everyone seated, listening really was the focus, although the momentum of the music could not be contained, and there was a toe tapping and chair dancing throughout the room.
Revolution > Chainsaw City > Revolution
With Law switching back to acoustic, Jerry told a humorous story about being on vacation in the Yucatan, and then they played Road Home. The duo was so in tune, musically speaking on this one, that one could only think that they had definitely had a chance to rehearse it together. Scott Law’s acoustic style was definitely on display during a soulful, upbeat solo between verses. Both men’s guitars set a perfect the backdrop for Jerry’s powerful, sometimes raw vocals. Then came Beautiful Dirt with Law on Mandolin to end the first set. The set closer, another of Jerry’s newer songs, had a darker feel to it and Law’s mandolin definitely added some depth to it. The duo jammed back and forth for three full minutes before coming back to the final verses. They slowed things down markedly before coming to one last crescendo to finish the set strong to raucous applause.
The Road Home
During set break, the apartment was alive with energy, which continued to crescendo until the pair came back to their stools in the living room.
Set two began with Ship, a distinctly sad but deeply powerful song. Law watched contemplatively as Jerry played through the first verse, then joined in, once again on acoustic, adding depth as they picked up steam heading into the first chorus. The interplay between the acoustic guitars coming out of the second verse and through the rest of the song was masterful and Law’s finger-picking lead nicely into Jerry’s soulful round of “Hey’s” before the final verse. The sad, soulful set opener wound down into a subdued ending, setting the stage for Evasive, a personal favorite. Law’s picking over the top of Jerry’s powerful rhythmic strumming added a depth to the tune that made it even more epic than usual. If there are two things that you need to know about this song, the first is that an E chord quite possibly never sounded so powerful before as it does strummed soulfully in this tune. The second is that it starts with a pent up, quiet energy and builds continuously to an epic energy as the song progresses. Some songs just have that epic sound, and this one undoubtedly does in my humble opinion. The story JJ told during the banter about the concept for Evasive really added to the song’s power. We’d love to share it with you but would prefer that you go see Jerry live and hear it for yourself. Next up was Ten Killer Fairies, which was introduced as a character song. The emotionally riveting story was the perfect set up for another moving song with Law tearing it up on the electric. From just two guitars in the hands of these masters comes a very deep and robust sound.
Next up was Cochise, which continued in the emotional vain of Ten Killer Fairies. It started with JJ on acoustic and vocals. Law came in a bit later on the electric guitar, and complemented JJ’s rhythmic acoustic tone beautifully. Breakfast at Lucille’s featured both JJ and SL back on acoustic.
Excellent versions of Syracuse, which featured some excellent back and forth guitar interplay between Jerry and Scott, and Climb to Safety finished out the show. Climb to Safety featured SL back on electric, and was full of power to end the show on a high energy note.
Climb to Safety
This was a very special show, and was quite possibly the most unique and moving we’ve been able to attend. The energy in the room was a beautiful mix of the artistic energy and shared enthusiasm of the small crowd. The show was a wonderful precursor to Jerry’s own 3-day Dixie Mattress Festival in the days that followed, for which a review might surface in another decade…