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The Bowery Ballroom Gets Hit by a Force of Nature

August 31st, 2015

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – The Bowery Ballroom – August 28, 2015

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The giant image of a clearing in the woods—echoing the album cover of Nicki Bluhm’s new LP, Loved Wild Lost—that hung at the back of the stage on Friday night added a touch of mystery to The Bowery Ballroom. But there was nothing mysterious about Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers’ appeal as they easily won over the crowd with a high-energy performance of originals and covers. Before they took the stage, Andrew Combs offered an excellent opening set of country music unleashed. Playing songs like “Slow Road to Jesus” and “Suwannee County” off his new album, All These Dreams, Combs and his band mixed harmonies and groovy playing to get the audience warmed up and then some.

Afterward, Bluhm followed her bandmates onstage, immediately a towering presence standing there in a low-cut white jumpsuit, her hair blown constantly by a fan. The ’70s-sex-appeal look matched her voice and the band’s sound, which straddled country, rock and soul with natural ease. They opened with “Heart Gets Tough,” off the new album, Bluhm belting out the lyrics while the Gramblers settled in. Throughout the set, she was a powerful mix of Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, shining on the high-energy, high-volume material like “Mr. Saturday Night,” and just as powerful on the quiet, tender side, on songs like “Only Always.” The Gramblers were a seasoned complement, a rocking force that allowed Bluhm to strut and dance around the stage, picking up strategically placed tambourines and other percussion instruments along the way.

Bluhm and the Gramblers are well-known for their Van Sessions—online videos of covers performed while on the road—so it’s no surprise that the show featured several great picks, including a this-song-is-a-perfect-fit rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” was done acoustically in front of a single microphone, country meeting funk and getting along swimmingly. Afterward, when everyone moved to go back to their original spots onstage, Bluhm was having none of it: She called them back for a fun sing-along take on the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Later, they invited Combs and his entire band out for a hootenanny of a jam session on Gram Parsons’ “Ooh Las Vegas.” Still, Bluhm and Co. weren’t yet finished, saving their best all-out rocking and jamming for the show’s final stretch, which included a romp on “Little Too Late” and Andy Falco sitting in on a double-guitar, Allman Brothers–esque take on “Jetplane,” before finally ending the set with “Kill You to Call,” Bluhm at full strength, a force of nature that the Gramblers were only barely able to corral. —A. Stein | @Neddyo