Revolution Hall welcomed a real live rock n roll show Wednesday night as the Hard Working Americans (HWA) came to town on their Cavalcade Of Chaos Tour, with the Mother Hips in tow. There were a few feelings of trepidation among Portland fans after the HWA had to cancel a live radio performance earlier in the day due to illness. The word on the street was that a food borne illness had sunk its claws into three of the band members the day before in Seattle. The collectively held breath was released as show time drew near and no other cancellation announcements were made.
Before HWA took the stage, the crowd got another lesson in perseverance from Mother Hips front man Tim Bluhm. It’s been nearly a year since Bluhm was involved in a speed wing accident that left him with a broken pelvis and shattered lower leg. It’s been a long recovery, and while still performing while seated, fans were pleased to see him crutch onto the stage under his own volition wearing a cast, rather than the stabilizing hardware that’s been attached to his leg for months.
The Mother Hips have been around since the early 1990’s, and have built a beloved fan base with songwriting and musicianship that is layered and multi-dimensional while still delivering infectious hooks. Their opening 10-song set featured music spanning their career, starting with “Gold Plated” from 1998’s Later Days and including longtime fan favorites like “Magazine” and “Whiskey On A Southbound.” The Hips wrapped things up with “Stoned Up The Road” from 1995 release Part-Timer Goes Full.
Although the members of Hard Working Americans each hold down multiple jobs, it would be a disservice to call this conglomeration of musicians a mere side project. With Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Circles Around The Sun) on lead guitar, Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic) on drums, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) on keys, Jesse Aycock (Paul Benjaman Band) on guitar and the inimitable Todd Snider on lead vocals, one might imagine Hardworking Americans as a backroom jam session gone searching for tour dates.
But the band, now two albums in, has put in the blood and sweat to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Whereas 2014’s self-titled release consisted of songs written by friends and colleagues of Snider’s, the new album, Rest In Chaos, is all original material written by Snider and the band, with the exception of “The High Price Of Inspiration”which was co-written by Guy Clark, who passed away earlier this year. The music is expansive and engaging, often exploring dark themes and sentiments, driving restlessly toward the light through murky moods and emotions.
HWA opened the show with “Mission Accomplished” and worked through a long set that featured songs from both releases. New songs like “Dope Is Dope,” Half Ass Moses,” “Roman Candles” and the moody “Ascending Into Madness” were well received, as were covers such as Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler.” Snider seems to be enjoying his role as rock n roll front man. His quirky demeanor draws attention and his vocals were strong on this night. Casal’s guitar work soars and sears, and he let loose on a couple of extended solos that are worth searching the archives for. You can be sure of a solid foundation when you have Widespread Panic’s rhythm section on your team. Dave Schools, playing a new four-string electric bass, seemed to be having an exceptionally good time. Staehly and Aycock each had their moments in the spotlight, and are very effective at delivering nuance and texture to the compositions, Aycock often adding mood with his lap steel.
The end of the set featured the sullen “High Price Of Inspiration” and then went into “Burn Out Shoes” before transitioning into an “Another Train > Is This Thing Working > Another Train” jam. After a short break, Snider walked onto stage with an acoustic guitar and said that there were a couple of surprises. The first was a tribute to Widespread Panic’s late Michael Houser on the 14th anniversary of his death. Snider played Houser’s “The Waker,” much to the appreciation of the crowd. Schools came out after the song and gave Snider a big hug as thanks for honoring his lost friend. The band came back out with R.E.M. co-founder and lead guitarist Peter Buck for “Straight To Hell” and “School Days” to close the show. Although it was great to see him on stage, his appearance was rather anti-climactic, as the band, likely short on time, worked through these final numbers rather quickly. The aptly named Hard Working Americans have earned their time in the spotlight and while concert attendees might first be drawn to the reputations of the band members, they will keep coming back not because of the other work they do, but because of what they have created together.
8/10/16, Hard Working Americans, Revolution Hall, Portland, Oregon
Setlist: Mission Accomplished, Dope Is Dope, Stomp and Holler, Something Else, Roman Candles, Run A Mile, Half Ass Moses, Ascending Into Madness, Throwing The Goats, Blackland Farmer, High Price Of Inspiration > Burn Out Shoes > AnotherTrain > Is This Thing Working > Another Train
Encore: The Waker (Todd Snider solo), Straight To Hell*, School Days*
* with Peter Buck