The Infamous Stringdusters 4.6 & 4.7.17

Wonder Ballroom
Portland, OR

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

The Infamous Stringdusters made their way back to Portland’s Wonder Ballroom once again, this time for a two-night run of ol’ fashioned ‘Dusters that many Portlanders had been longing for after the previous two years had shifted attention elsewhere with the Ladies and Gentlemen tour that featured Nicki Bluhm and their co-headlining tour with Keller Williams the year prior. Four sets of the Stringdusters turned out to be even better than expected, taking on a life of their own in comparison to the previous tours.

April 6, 2017:

Leftover Salmon guitarist Vince Herman was advertised as the band’s night one guest and utilized quite efficiently. Because of the way it was billed, I was curious if he would be playing with them all night, but he instead only joined them for a couple of long and exciting segments.

The show began with a jammy start, eventually segueing into the Danny Barnes tune “Get It While You Can" that has become a ‘Dusters regular. New song “Hard Life” off of their recently released album, Laws of Gravity, led into “In God’s Country” before Vince Herman made his way to the stage.

Fittingly, the first song with Herman was Leftover Salmon’s latin meets zydeco dance number, “Mama Boulet,” which kick started the fun, as Herman usually does. The Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” followed and was the highlight of the set as Herman and Stringdusters guitarist Andy Falco traded licks in an exploratory jam that led into “Big Sandy River.”

The second set started out with a fairly psychedelic “Stay Here And Drink” that segued into another new tune, “Gravity.” The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” followed and was the most unexpected cover of the weekend. It was my first time seeing a string band cover that song and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it translated.

Herman joined the band again for a huge mid-section of the set that ushered us into the best segment of the weekend. “Summer Camp” > “Walking On The Moon” > “Black Rock” closed the show and brought everyone in the Wonder Ballroom along for the ride. The happy and fluffy “Summer Camp” segued into the spacey “Walking On The Moon” which after some mind-blowing interplay between violinist Jeremy Garrett and Chris Pandolfi’s banjo led into the dark and powerful instrumental, “Black Rock.”

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April 7, 2017:

Night two picked up right where the previous night had left off with more long jams and segues. Covers of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” were each a part of a monstrous “Hitchhiker” that wrapped itself up after Shakedown. Both shows started out hot, but it was clear halfway into the first set that there was a decided effort being put forth to surpass the madness of night one.

That inference was cemented by the end of the first set which got rolling with a personal favorite, “High Country Funk,” leading into a short cover of “2001 (Also Sprach Zarathustra)” that eventually segued into the set-closing “Blockygrass.”

Night two just so happened to be banjo player Chris Pandolfi’s (Panda) birthday and he was greeted with around fifty panda masks in the crowd, one of which was worn by Fruition’s Mimi Naja who joined the band a couple times during the second set, mask included.

Cake’s “Stickshifts & Safety Belts” opened up the second set and was a fun bluegrass take on the 90's alt-rock song. Naja joined the band to add vocals, not surprising considering how well I’ve seen Fruition play that song.

The set held steady until busting open in the middle for a huge “Fork In The Road” that began with “Maxwell” before segueing into “Fork,” then “Ain’t No Way Of Knowing,” and back into “Fork” with a happy birthday tease for Pandolfi thrown in for good measure.

Naja was brought back out for a cover of New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “Midnight Moonlight,” this time adding her mandolin to the mandolin-less string band. Expectedly, “Moonlight” brought upon a huge jam that eventually led into one of the band’s home run hitting set closers, “Sirens.” The segue between the two songs brought upon some interesting teases such as Phish’s “Bathtub Gin” and Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.” Most of us were worn out from two high-energy nights of dancing so the unplugged, single microphone encore that closed the weekend was happily accepted and made for a beautiful end to a truly impressive run.

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