The last few years have been a whirlwind for Margo Price. After trying to make a go at a country music career for years, Price was losing before she was signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records, where her 2016 album Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter was hailed as a standout of the authentic modern outlaw country music scene. With 2017’s All American Made, Price’s star continued to rise. To put it all in perspective you need only look at the venues Price and her band have played. Just around a year ago they hit Portland’s Mississippi Studios (capacity around 300), selling it out quickly. On Monday, February 26, they returned to the Rose City for a show at Revolution Hall (capacity around 850), which had sold out almost immediately months in advance of the show.
Price’s Nashville compadres Blank Range kicked things off with a set of groovy country rock. The band tackled a handful of songs, including several off their latest album Marooned With The Treasure. With his electric guitar and occasional flourishes of steel guitar, Grant Gustafson’s solos elevated the band’s sound above standard country rock fare. It also helped that all members sing, giving them a kind of Band dynamic that seemed to take on a more modern sound with the gritty vocal prowess of Jonathon Childers. Blank Range made a strong impression on the crowd, and luckily this wasn’t the last we would see of them.
When the sage was burning strong and her mega-talented band had kicked off a chunky groove, Margo Price took the stage and jumped into the slow rambler “Nowhere Fast”. Throughout the performance Price would show the audience many different sides, from straight up country singer to soulful crooner, to rocker and funk band leader. Indeed, the show was filled with unique moments. She fearlessly tackled good times honky tonk on songs like the boogieing “Weakness”, the pedal-steel driven “This Town Gets Around”, and “Wild Women”, a slow twangy tune with a fast, irresistible beat. Then there were the hard country moments like the sprawling version of “Tennessee Song” complete blistering guitar and bluesy harmonica, and the anthemic fan favorite “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)”, which led to a big sing-a-long and shined with a medley of classic country drinking songs. At other points in the show Price would shed her guitar and strut back and forth belting out soulful vocals like she was channeling the spirits of James Brown and Etta James. She juxtaposed these moments with more tender fare, like the poignant, politically charged title track of her latest album All American Made played on the organ with acoustic guitar to accompany. Hell, she even took on left-field classics, charging through a gloriously rowdy rendition of Guy Clark’s “New Cut Road”, Bob Dylan’s epic “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”, and a harmonious take on Levon Helm’s “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” with her pals Blank Range joining in on vocals.
The most far out moment of the night came when Price and her band did something completely different. “Cocaine Cowboys” started like an outlaw country tune that carried a thick funk vibe but took a different turn when Price threw off her cowboy hat and sat behind the drum kit. She channeled her inner Phil Collins and battled drummer Dillon Napier while the band conjured a totally un-country jam that felt like Pink Floyd scoring a Miami Vice soundtrack. Here it was clear that Price and her band have become a monstrous, powerful unit, reveling in long, spacey, tripped out jams that felt closer to Phish or the Allman Brothers than Waylon Jennings, and also led to some wild dancing from the crown.
Margo Price certainly deserves every amount of praise heaped upon her, and her performance in Portland was evidence of that. But it also showed that Price isn’t looking to just be seen as just another country artist in the outlaw vein. Between the music and her stage presence, Monday’s performance gave every indication that Margo Price refuses to pigeonhole herself as only a country act.
All photos by Greg Homolka.