On the eve of a tour that sees them heading south to California, The Sumner Brothers gathered a few friends to kick things off at The Cobalt. Surprisingly, it was my first time at the venue (or maybe not, since they used to be known more for punk), but I quite liked it. It had... character, but also great sight lines and pretty good sound.
First up was Rolla Olak, who took the stage alone. He has a folky-blues sound, which set the tone for the night. His songs were good, and well written, but nothing that really jumped out to grab you, but still Perfectly Acceptable Music that was definitely enjoyable.
Though while the music was good, there wasn't much in terms of stage presence. He was just up there playing, not very much crowd interaction, or banter; he didn't even say who he was at any point during the set. There was, though, an offhand mention of having a full band, and I would be interested to see that. He was okay on his own, but I can see the songs sounding a lot better with a full band to round them out.
Next up was Steve Brockley, who had more of a country edge, with a bit of a bluesgrass feel as well. Their set was mostly a slower tempo, but there were a few songs that were a bit more driven, and the band definitely sounded better when they had more energy. The highlight of the set was the closing song, which was a perfect example of that, exploding into an all out a frantic ending.
Their songs were all pretty catchy, but more than a couple of them seemed a little familiar -- not like they were ripping anyone off, but you could clearly tell a few influences. Like Olak, they were enjoyable to watch, but nothing really spectacular.
Hitting the stage third was The Sumner Brothers. I've seen them a couple times now, and the one thing that always strikes me is their intensity. There were songs where Brian Sumner was singing through grit teeth, and the whole band just oozes energy on stage. In fact, this time they seemed to be even more energetic and intense than previously. They had a bit of what can only be described as death country (I could see them opening up for Elliott BROOD no problem), with the two brothers, Bob and Brian trading off vocals for some insanely catchy and toe-tapping songs.
As well as their own, they threw in their usual cover of Neil Young's “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)”, and while the set almost ended on a bit of a sadder song, they spontaneously decided to add one more, their own high energy version of the traditional “Pay Me My Money Down”. Probably the best set I've seen from the band, and a great kickoff to their tour.
It was almost 1am by the time they hit the stage, but there was still a decent size crowd for Portage & Main, capping off the night. They had just returned home from a short western tour, and within the first two songs, I could tell how much they improved over that time. Tight and energetic, with more confidence than the last couple times I'd seen them live; more comfortable on stage and with each other. And with the crowd, too, as they seemed to have a bit more banter and joking around. Even when the “Curse of the Capo”, as they called it, hit during “Rocky Mountain Wanderer” -- the capo popped off John's guitar -- they didn't let it slow them down.
They hit most of the songs off their self-titled debut, from barnburners like “What Have I Done” and Tonight pt 2” to the more slower, softer “Song For My Mom”, and even a cover of Rolling Stones' “Dead Flowers”. They capped off the night with one of my favourites from the album, the building energy of “ I'd Never Climbed a Mountain” and then “Carolina”, which is destined to be a great bar room sing-a-long song.
It was a really good show, overall, with all the bands complimenting each other quite well. Especially Portage & Main and The Sumner Brothers (who I had seen play together once before).
Nothing (Take What You Need), What Have I Done, Rocky Mountain Wanderer, Song For My Mom, Dead Flowers [Rolling Stones cover], Tonight pt. 2, Follow Me My Love, I'd Never Climbed a Mountain, Carolina.