Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Live Last Night
By Juli Thanki
When a band has been together for 43 years, staying creative and relevant -- and continuing to get along with one another -- might be a struggle. Not so for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose easy camaraderie, dry humor and considerable musicianship made it all look easy.
(Crowd favorites, singalongs and some serious bluegrass chops, after the jump.)
The quartet's polished 90-minute set Friday night at the State Theatre included songs from throughout its career while showcasing the sweet harmonies that have influenced dozens of country-rock bands along the way.
NGDB's best-known singles, "Mr. Bojangles" and "Fishin' in the Dark," got the biggest crowd reaction, but a raucous singalong to the "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme was a big hit too, causing fiddler/mandolinist/banjo picker John McEuen to observe, "Sounds like a '60s therapy session in here."
This old-school vibe permeated the evening, with loud laughter following frontman Jeff Hanna's profession of his love for vinyl: "Downloading sounds like a bodily function to me." Only a few songs from the excellent new release "Speed of Life" were played, but the "Going Up the Country" cover was received enthusiastically while an acoustic take on the album's carpe-diem-themed title track was a highlight of the set.
In addition to its country-rock leanings, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band also has serious bluegrass chops, most evident on the breakneck kiss-off "My Walkin' Shoes," which prominently featured McEuen's banjo prowess. The show ended too soon with a rousing rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," the Carter Family tune NGDB introduced to a whole new audience in the '70s. Performed with the fervor of a tent revival, the song seamlessly transitioned into another classic, "The Weight," before returning to the final lines of "Circle:" "There's a better home awaiting / In the sky, Lord, in the sky."
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