To paraphrase one of the many cover songs played, the little things he said and did let me know how much I loved Thursday’s freewheeling concert by indie maestro M. Ward and his band. The Oregonian singer/guitarist -- of Monsters of Folk and She & Him almost-fame -- takes after Bob Dylan in the way he puts subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) spins on his tunes to freshen them up and keep everyone on their toes in his live shows. He maintained a loose, playful spirit throughout the nearly sold-out, 90-minute performance at First Avenue, which was the last stop on his current tour behind the "A Wasteland Companion" album – as he humorously noted with his parting comments to his bandmates on stage.
“You know that black sock that has been laying around on the bus unclaimed for a few weeks now?" said. "I threw it out.”
Ward and his crew played around from the get-go. There was more of a loungey vibe in show opener, “Post-War.” Multi-instrumentalist Nate Wolcott -- whom Ward picked up from Bright Eyes -- then helped inflate “For Beginners” with some added trumpet. Then the other multi-instrumentalist in Ward’s band, Chris Scruggs (also the opening act and grandson of Earl), added pedal-steel and/or fiddle to bring in a swinging Bob Wills cowboy-jazz vibe to “Me and My Shadow” and “Rollercoaster.” And on and on it went.
The boogie-woogie reworking of “Magic Trick” was a highlight, as was a freakier-sounding “Chinese Translation,” which Ward spiked with his underrated guitar wizardry (spotlighted in the second encore with “Duet for Guitars #3”). Ironically, one of the songs that sounded closest to the original recording was the rollicking version of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” – close to the way Holly did it, mind you, not to the moody spin that Ward put on it for his “Hold Time” album. It would’ve been too predictable to do it the other way, apparently. Here’s Ward’s whole set list:
Post-War / For Beginners / Poison Cup / Me and My Shadow / Watch the Show / Requiem / Rollercoaster / Helicopter / Whole Lotta Losin’ / Clean Slate / Chinese Translation / Four Hours in Washington / Magic Trick / I Get Ideas / Rave On (Buddy Holly) / Bean Vine Blues # 2 (John Fahey instrumental) / Fisher of Men / Never Had Nobody Like You / Primitive Girl / To Go Home (Daniel Johnston) ENCORE 1: Such a Night (Elvis) / Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry) ENCORE 2: Duet for Guitars #3** / Big Boat
(**Credit must go to scenester statistician Kyle Matteson for knowing it was "#3")
Click here for Leslie Plesser’s photo gallery from the concert for Vita.mn.