Dead Winter Carpenters and Cosmic Twang Keep The Jams Going and Spirits High in Portland (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Portland’s intimate Doug Fir Lounge was the site of a good-natured showdown between two hugely talented acts on Saturday night. Beloved local picker Scott Law brought his Cosmic Twang project to the stage and split the bill with California Americana group the Dead Winter Carpenters. Both acts played full sets, keeping the sold out audience dancing for three solid hours.

Scott Law stays involved in a seemingly constant stream of projects and sit-ins with other bands. At the core of all this is his considerable skill as a guitarist, and the guitar is definitely the center of his Cosmic Twang project with fellow axman Ross James. Onstage it was clear these two share a sort of guitar bro-mance, and a deep love of the Grateful Dead, whose songs made up much of their set. The quartet kicked off their set with a haze of tuning before jumping into a choogling take on “Sittin’ On Top of the World”. There was plenty of jamming to be savored, but as the name suggests, there is a distinctive country element to Cosmic Twang. “New Minglewood Blues” found the band giving the song an outlaw country sound while James sang in a gravelly and remarkably on-point Bob Weir voice.


The group kept the groove chugging along for the entire ninety-minute set, and even when Law and James drifted into space, the train never derailed. Their colorful take on Merle Haggard’s “Living With the Shades Pulled Down” included a “Rocky Top” tease and at other points Law transformed the band into his own psychedelic gang of Buckaroos. Two of the highlights came towards the end of the set, the first being when drummer Alex Koford led the band through a monstrous take on Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, which saw Law and James topping one another with epic solos. By the time the group sliced into the always appropriate “The Music Never Stopped”, the venue erupted into an all-out dance party.

The party would continue the rambunctious hoedown of the Dead Winter Carpenters’ set. Their heady brew of Americana, bluegrass, country, and California roots rock give the Carpenters a sound that is completely their own. The fact that four out of the five members are talented singers and all of them damn fine players meant that there was never a dull moment. Fiddle player Jenni Charles held a warm presence and played strong despite having sliced her finger earlier in the day. The upright bass playing of Dave Lockhart kept things upbeat and bouncy, while guitarist Nick Swimley injected the perfect amount of twang into each tune. At times the group’s sound brought to mind the fiery progressive bluegrass of Cornmeal while at others they leaned more towards the alt-country stylings of the Jayhawks. Much of the set focused on the group’s new album Washoe, and those songs went over well. Of course, the biggest response came from covers, like playing the “Shakedown Street” intro and segueing into a rambling country tune, and a rocking take on the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.


The show reached a climactic end when the members of Cosmic Twang joined the Carpenters for an impromptu group hoot that saw everyone on stage taking impressive solos during their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad”. Seeing the kinship and chemistry between all of these talented musicians only spurred the crowd to dance and smile more, bringing the night to a blissful conclusion.


Photos by Greg Homolka.

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