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'Inside Llewyn Davis' Benefit Concert At The Town Hall, Sunday, September 29th, 2013, Reviewed

The Coward Brothers Go Folk

Doubling as a soundtrack to the Coen Brothers movie about the early 1960s New York folk scene “Inside Lewyn Davis” , a benefit for the preservation of musical recordings, “Another Time, Another Place” reached its apotheosis as an a well heeled, star littered audience ‘s  introduction to a new generation of American (and an English) folkies.

The Punch Brothers, the Avett Brothers, Colin Meloy, Marcus Mumford and Conor Oberst are all front line modern folk monsters, but even more interesting were truly fresh faces the Milk Carton Kids, the Secret Sisters, Lake Street Dive and Rhiannon  Giddens of the excellent Carolina Chocolate Drops. The latter received a standing ovation for a superb vocal  and the name on everyone’s lips during intermission was Lake Street Dive though they were more beatnik swing than straight folk.

Master Of Ceremonies,  actor John Goodman claimed the newer acts were reinventing folk, true words, but also a problem, they were doing what was done, with original material and high spirits, and a joy for the job at hand notwithstanding,  American folk revolves around and around but stays in place.

So along with current folkies and new folkies was an overlay of old folkies, Joan Baez at the top of the list but joined by Patti Smith (I know, don’t blame me), Elvis Costello (And T Bone Burnett) and especially welcome Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and Willie Watson. Over and above, actors from the movie Carey Mulligan (Mrs. Mumford to you), Oscar Isaac and Stark Sands who pulled off one of the highlights with a terrific cover of Tom Paxton’s The Last Thing On My Mind”!

But it wasn’t a great concert despite moments of greatness because it went on and on and on. With house band The Punch Brothers on and off stage like yo yos and the mic techs all over the damn place, and a fifteen minute intermission, it sure outstayed its welcome. I left during a cover of “500 Miles” around 1045p, at which time sleep seemed more important. I’m guessing I missed a Joan Baez mini-set, though she had already performed with Colin on “Joe Hill” and Patti on an acoustic “People Have The Power”.

The set started slow  with a coupla Punch Brothers coversm and  Gillian and Dave  failing to add much to “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, but it settled down soon after Gillian, Dave and willie Watson acummlated goodwill leading to a show stopping “This Land Is your Land”.

The song set the tone for the next hour, Stark Sands performed a great “Last Thing On My Mind”, all three new bands were good but especially Lake Street Dive’s “You Go Down Smooth”. After that it was clear sailing, Colin Meloy and Joan Baez, Elvis Costello and T- Bone Burnett (the Coward Brothers!), Conor Oberst dusting “Man Called Truth” from his Monsters Of Folk era, and the highlight of the evening, Keb Mo’s wonderful take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”.

But things go wrong with the Avett brothers. I have nothing much against the band except a little of Seth’s voice goes a long, long way. And while “That’s How I Got To Memphis” is perfectly well felt, two songs later I’d had enough and two songs after that it was intermission.

By now they’ve lost me. I hate intermissions with a passion. Get on and off stage already, you crawlers. A 120 set doesn’t need an intermission and a 180 is way way way too long. T-Bone Burnett should have streamlined the evening and how. Jack White opened the second half and he was terrible despite “We’re  Going To Be Friends”  making an appearance. Actor Oscar Isaac isn’t as good as he thinks he is and Patti Smith made me feel entirely uncomfortable. Only Rhiannon is making herself any friends.  Marcus Mumford sings with various Punch Brothers on “The Auld Triangle”. I assume he sang at least “Fare Thee Well” later on (the first release off the soundtrack album) but by the time Costello and Carey Mulligan had set into “500 Miles” I figured there was nothing left though if it had been a Saturday I’d have waited it out.

T-Bone took the opportunity of the show to put on a state of the art folk music program. And it is fine as far as it goes, but folk seems incapable of moving anywhere, it is so static that despite the gorgeousness and the real people making real music vibe, it suffers from inertia. There is still American folk, and it is still kicking the shit off its shoes and though the political aspect is moot for the most part, it still has a voice and the voice is unique. But it no longer grows and it doesn’t evolve.

For all my pleasure and respect for  all the musicians especially Gillian Welch, folk isn’t the most exciting of visual life forms and though Willie Watson was a revelation, I still didn’t learn much from the proceedings. Except that the Folk music revival has stalled and that Tom Paxton wasn’t there, is awesome, and I plan to catch him next time he plays.

Grade: B-

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