Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band at Union Transfer

I’ve been a fan of Kevin Devine’s ever since I saw him open for Say Anything a little over a year ago, but in that short time his back catalogue has more than impressed me. Even so, nothing hit me quite as hard as that first live performance did. The man is nothing if not a showman and I was anxious for a chance to see him again.

Fortunately for me it was at the Union Transfer. I had never been there previously and needless to say, it’s a beautiful venue. As I arrived, Harrison Hudson was finishing up their set. A trio from Nashville, TN, Harrison Hudson has an eclectic blend of blues, folk, and punk rock. Their drummer kept the rhythms interesting and complex and the whole vibe moved with a very down-home bluesy feel that was obviously a product of their home environment. The lead singer was open and personable.

The next band was Now! Now! From Minneapolis, MN, this trio was unique from the get go. Their lineup consisted of two girls and a guy, the two girls being the guitarists and vocalists and the guy being the drummer, with a noticeable lack of bassist. This didn’t keep the sound from being as interesting as anything I’ve heard live in a really long time. The girls voices were equal parts haunting and ethereal, and their melodies absolutely soared while also staying intimate with a seductive quality. The music was simple but epic; big grungy power chords mixed with interesting guitar lines, and all of it together created a soundscape that was huge in scope. Their music got a bit jammy at times and thus ran a bit overlong, but for the most part they easily held my attention.

That brings us to the main act of the hour, Mr. Kevin Devine and his Goddamn Band. The lineup was a bit different tonight, with typical drummer Make Fadem being replaced for the tour by Ben Homola and bass duties being taken over by Harrison Hudson, of the earlier opening band. Needless to say they didn’t miss a beat. Kevin and co. took the stage and started strumming the dissonant opening chords of his early hit “Cotton Crush” and before you know it the crowd was head-bobbing and swaying and belting the lyrics along with him.

He jump-started the show by playing 4/5 of the opening tracks from Bubblegum, the incendiary new album he’s currently touring. They screamed through blistering versions of “Private First Class” and “Fiscal Cliff”, with the band going insane during the intro to the latter, jumping around the stage and sliding around on their knees while going crazy on the necks of their guitars. Guitarist Mike Strandberg proved his chops time and time again, ripping his lead guitar parts with nimble dexterity. On older crowd favorites like “Carnival” and “Brother’s Blood” the crowd joined in the carnal act they were witness too as Kevin Devine shouted to the heavens to atone whatever demons he was excising in the songs he was performing. I can’t speak to know what he’s singing about but I can understand the intensity behind it, and to see it live is something else.

Kevin Devine is extremely grateful for where he is, and in between songs he is one of the most personable and talkative frontmen I have ever seen. He talked us up for a good five minutes at one point, joking with one person in particular and making the entire venue laugh. His entire band is comfortable onstage and with each other and their smiling and laughing during the performance is infectious, and at the end of the show he thanked us graciously not only for coming to the show, but also for supporting his Kickstarter experiment and proving it successful up to this point. He seemed nothing but thankful, and that, combined with his confidence in what he does, makes him a treat to watch live any time you get the opportunity. They ended the night with an encore that included two songs from his second new album Bulldozer (which he’ll be touring later on after this one) and one of the more interesting cover medleys I’ve seen, which included “Enter Sandman”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Round Here” “El Scorcho” “Stir It Up” and Eminem’s “Stan”. Judging by the copious amounts of laughter and applause after it finished, the crowd enjoyed it as much as I did. He finally left the stage for the last time, ending with a somber and beautiful performance of “Ballgame” off of his first album, leaving the crowd in a spell of silence for seconds after he left the mic. Kevin Devine is a growing force in the indie music scene, and with performances and albums like this, he’s not slowing down any time soon.


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