So I got myself down to Bassy club on the border of Prenzlauer Berg to follow up a gig invitation from Laura Bean, performing with her new country/bluegrass project The Vagabonds. I’m a huge fan of that sort of music, spending far too many hours watching it on youtube, so the prospect of seeing it live in the flesh had me very excited indeed.
Laura Bean kicked the night off by playing a few songs alone before being joined by her backing band. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire hour-long set, which is hard for me to do nowadays. There was light and shade; Laura would swing from a slow crooning solo performance into a full-band knee-stomping hoedown, sometimes within the same song. Laura applies the storytelling tradition so prominent within country music to anecdotal songs about her life here in Berlin, including one about her tenure as a waitress in White Trash where drunken men would approach her wanting ‘something not on the menu’. In any country set there should be a healthy amount of covers paying homage to the tradition, and the crowd was entertained by Laura’s adaptation of familiar tunes like Blue Moon of Kentucky and Rocky Top. It is one thing being a musician who can play within a genre, any skilled person regardless of background can perform within a style not necessarily ‘native’ to themselves. I say this being an Indian guitarist from a middle-class rearing who has a penchant for playing the blues. Laura Bean however, is from Kentucky, USA and as such has a discernible stamp of legitimacy, being herself part of the spiritual lineage of the music she plays. This is part of what makes her so compelling as an artist – this is country music as it should be played.
Credit must be given to Laura’s demonically talented backing band consisting of a banjo player, a fiddle player and a double-bassist. The huge amounts of technical prowess needed to play bluegrass is one of its characterising features, and this band could sure as hell play. They really were the musical muscle behind Laura’s songwriting, and throughout the set each of them gave solos to demonstrate their ability, much to the rapture of myself and the crowd. They didn’t, mind, reach the stratospheric jaw-hits-floor level of some players in the higher echelons of the genre, but were undeniably very impressive indeed in both technical and musical terms. There is a palpable beauty, indescribable by words when good music of any genre ‘drops’ and all sounds and instruments mesh together to form an interlocking ensemble far greater than the sum of its parts. When this happens in country music there is something on a deep neurological level that clicks inside me and makes me smile out of sheer muscular reflex at how f**king cool the music sounds. I was grinning like a moron the entire gig, even whilst using the toilet (much to the concern of men around me). I wholeheartedly recommend Laura Bean and the Vagabonds. She’s based in Berlin so do make sure you check her out for a night of authentic, charming and thoroughly entertaining music.