Face To Face brought the US tour for their recent Hold Fast (Acoustic Sessions) EP to its Boston stop at City Winery last Sunday night. If you missed the abridged backstory behind this latest release, it goes a little something like this: inspired by the positive vibes that came out of the acoustic VIP pre-show sets that they performed on last year’s EconoLive ’17 tour, the pioneering SoCal quartet hit the studio, emerging with new versions of some previously-recorded tracks like “All For Nothing” and “Shame On Me” and “Keep Your Chin Up,” tracks that didn’t normally see the light of day during the band’s normal punk rock set. (And “Disconnected,” a song that the band has seemingly recorded at least once per year since its appearance as their debut single 27 years ago.)
Instead of merely playing the original tracks close to their respective vests and simply re-recording them as straight-forward acoustic tracks, the band opted to strip each song down and re-imagine it in new and sometimes surprising ways: boot-stompers, Lucero-style alt-country jams, sort of Jason Mraz-style adult contemporary-ish ballads, and so on and so forth. The results may be – in this writer’s opinion – mixed, but they may also represent the band’s most “punk rock” effort since their 1999 album Ignorance Is Bliss. And they also make for a pretty fun, occasionally raucous, and enjoyably different type of Face To Face show. With a stripped down set, there’s very little room for error, and that’s magnified in a venue like City Winery with its crystal-clear sound and clear sight lines in spite of its long rows of family-style tables that run the length of the venue perpendicular to the stage. This puts extreme focus on the band’s musicianship; Scott Shiflett has long been known as one of the premier bass players in the scene, and he played with a much smoother groove than the normally in-your-face “lead bass” style we’re accustomed to from him. The setting and the country-ish rock and roll style fit pretty perfectly in Dennis Hill’s lead guitar playing wheelhouse. Danny Thompson, rock-solid behind the drum kit during the band’s normal set was perhaps the hardest-working member of the foursome on this occasion, employing castinets and an electric cajon and a washboard and a variety of other percussion instruments that lent unique flavor to the different tracks that composed the hour-long set. And while frontman Trever Keith has always played guitar in the band, it’s his voice that’s been a large portion of the band’s trademark over the last quarter century, and it had plenty of room to soar and to whip up the occasional singalong (some of them admittedly half-hearted, though that was our fault, not theirs) in the process.
Support on this leg of the Hold Fast (Acoustic Sessions) tour run comes from Austin Lucas. The Indiana-based troubadour grew up a punk rock fan in small town America, and has become one of the more hard-working, road-tested members of the country-punk set in the last decade. The City Winery style lends itself well to the solo singer-songwriter, and Lucas, ever the story-teller (and wildly underrated as a guitar player) took full advantage of that. While I’ve never set foot in Indiana, Lucas’ songs paint a picture that’s not unlike the main streets and backroads of New Hampshire where I grew up before moving south, so there is an instant, funny familiarity that makes his work so engaging.
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