Hard Working Americans – The Bowery Ballroom – January23, 2014
Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was, as frontman Todd Snide mentioned several times, only the second gig the Hard Working Americans had ever played. Second gig together, that is: As individuals, the members—Snider, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Neal Casal (the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on guitar, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi’) on keyboards and Duane Trucks on drums—have logged probably closer to a zillion shows, and this kind of pedigree and professionalism made all the difference during show No. 2.
The supergroup primarily played songs off their self-titled debut, released earlier this week, comprised mostly of well-curated covers of the bluesy rock and roll variety. They opened, as the album does, with “Blackland Farmer,” a slow-build take that featured the thick-paste bottom layer of Schools, playing a four-string Fender, and the tasteful electric guitar chops of Casal. With Snider holding court up front, the music felt like what it was: old vets playing dress-up as up-and-comer kids. Each song seemed to unfold into multiple sections, like a sandwich cookie with a tasty substantial cover hiding a creamy, change-of-direction center. “Run a Mile” had the band clicking against a heavy duty bass beat with some counterpoint slide guitar, the whole band building into a slamming coda, each musician comfortably in his element.
Hard Working Americans had a lot of emotions in their arsenal, but they excelled with the dark and moody—as in the highlight, “I Don’t Have a Gun,” with low and slow smoking rock—and the high-energy ecstatic, as in “The Mountain Song” with its gliding cheerful Casal guitar solo and one to match from Staehly on organ, leading into a jam reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider.” Snider was on point all night, seemingly happy to shed his singer-songwriter cloak and just “watch people dance.” Still, the encore brought out the best in him as he sang a great heartfelt version of Drivin’ N Cryin’s “Going Straight to Hell” and matched that with a terrific take on the Bottle Rockets’ “Welfare Music.” As the crowd thinned out, the band returned for a surprising second encore, Snider owning a take on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Wrecking Ball,” which also closes the album, the remaining audience swaying and singing along. It was pretty clear that the Hard Working Americans wasn’t just a clever name. —A. Stein