Chuck Ragan recently wrapped up a brief northeastern US tour a few days early due to an unfortunate family emergency. The jaunt, which was initially planned as nine shows in nine days, found Ragan supporting his latest release, the stellar-yet-mostly-under-the-radar soundtrack for the video game The Flame In The Flood. If you’ve known the privilege (and I use that word very deliberately) of catching the Hot Water Music co-frontman live over the last handful of years, you’ve no doubt been left in at least some modicum of awe at just how he’s able to relay such honest, hard-working intensity night in and night out. Because of the short distance between a couple of weekend shows on this run, Dying Scene was lucky enough to catch consecutive shows in Providence and Cambridge, each one unique in myriad ways.
As is par for the course in recent years, Ragan was accompanied by his backing band, The Camaraderie. However, even casual Ragan fans are aware that the parts that constitute The Camaraderie are somewhat fluid, this time featuring longtime collaborators Jon Gaunt (fiddle) and Joe Ginsburg (double bass) and more recent collaborator Todd Beene (pedal steel). In spite of the lack of traditional percussion this time out, the four-piece kept the hammer down, plowing through a pair of shows that saw pre-determined individual setlists serve merely as loose guidelines for the bulk of the respective sets.
Both nights found Ragan and pals drawing primarily from The Flame In The Flood soundtrack, as well as his two previous full-lengths, 2014′s Till Midnight and 2011′s Covering Ground (both released on SideOneDummy Records). Each night started and ended in four-piece fashion, with a brief solo, mostly spontaneous solo interlude. Night one (at the sold-out front room at Providence’s Fete nightclub, a venue that featured a soul band and an after-hours dance club also taking place down the hall, providing for an interesting mix of people watching) was slated to include the recent Hot Water Music staple “Drag My Body,” but found Ragan opting for audience requests like “Old Diesel” instead. Night two, at the larger Sinclair nightclub in Cambridge (editor’s note: best venue in the greater Boston area, and it’s not really even that close) was slated to feature the likes of HWM throwback track “God Deciding” but featured “Drag My Body” instead. Both nights saw Ragan firing on all proverbial cylinders, his powerful, vocal-chord-shredding voice serving as the most dynamic instrument to occupy either respective stage.
Serving as direct support on this particular run was the inimitable Cory Branan. Though Branan most notably performs as a solo acoustic act, to refer to him as merely a solo acoustic troubadour does a great disservice to the man’s unique talents. As Lucero’s Ben Nichols pointed out on that band’s track “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” Branan’s “got a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees,” and that’s regardless of the subject matter: love, death, drinking, escape, intimacy, drinking, career failures, meaningless sex, whatever (drinking)…you get the idea. When firing on all cylinders, Branan is witty and funny and edgy, and performs in such a way that gives the impression that the whole damn thing could go wildly, gloriously off the rails at any given second. Both of these nights had their share of such moments (with the Providence performance of set-closer “Girl Named Go” as the most telling example), but largely found Branan in a playful mode, telling stories and interacting with the crowd in a way he couldn’t quite do at the somewhat larger venues he played at when on tour with Brian Fallon a month prior.
Local support on the first night came from Cowboy and Lady, a country and western duo (Jess Powers and Tyler-James Kelly) who sound as though they could be based in Memphis, Tennessee, rather than West Providence, Rhode Island. Highly entertaining pair with deceptively tight melodies woven around Kelly’s at times near-virtuoso guitar playing. Sadly, there are no pictures of said duo in the gallery below. The Cambridge show, meanwhile, featured local support from longtime local scene veteran Mark Lind, most notably of Ducky Boys and Sinners & Saints and The Warning Shots fame. The Red bull aficionado and purveyor of only the sexiest of faces played a set mostly stripped down versions of his bands’ tracks, with a second-tier Rolling Stones’ cover thrown in for good measure because, really, why the hell not.
Thankfully, for your sake, there are pictures of Lind (and Branan and Ragan and Gaunt and Ginsberg and Beene, of course) in the gallery below; check it out here.