Fans who found their way to Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater for Acoustic Syndicate’s unofficially annual Thanksgiving show may have been surprised at what they heard – that depends on their recent history seeing the band. Acoustic Syndicate continues to move forward with alarming insistence, not exactly shunning their previous existence but at least regarding it from afar. They drew a nice crowd of holiday weekenders and longtime fans together for a traditional gathering on one of the coldest nights of the season, but the show was far from nostalgic.
An acoustic trio called Major Sevens opened the show and tested the crowd’s patience, awkwardly moving through an hour of standards, Dylan tunes, and a smattering of originals. It’s wasn’t entirely the band’s fault, though; Syndicate has moved so far beyond their bluegrass-bred, back-porch beginnings that the Major Sevens’ music is only marginally appropriate for pre-show. In fact, Syndicate’s ever-evolving bassist Jay Sanders – a man with, presumably, a large hand in the band’s current direction – began their set with a mesmerizing burble of electronics, no “major sevens” to be found. Bryon McMurry’s ever-sharp banjo playing wound gently into the rhythm of the synthetic sounds, and the hard-charging "Heroes" emerged from the aural murk to start the show.
The band kept the explorations to a minimum and the setlist quite different from their January Cat’s Cradle show. With Billy Cardine adding helpful dobro flourishes and Steve McMurry’s high-country holler intact, a new incarnation of their signature folk-fusion emerged. Sanders pushed the low end to melodic extremes, drummer Fitz McMurry followed him there in his own stoic way, and Bryon McMurry seemed more adventurous and confident than ever. The band’s touchstone folktale "Pumpkin and Daisy" was clamored for by the audience, and received. The multicultural swirl of older songs like "November", "Hypocrite Smile", and
"Marie St. Lauriette" contrasted nicely with the driving rock of "Rooftop Garden" and "Bicycle Song" early on.
"Song For Me" highlighted the heavenly harmonies that the McMurrys have honed over their decades together, and "Mystery Train" threatened to jump the rails into a jam before giving way to more focused song selection – the new "Hourglass", a quick and typically raging cover of Neil Young’s "Powderfinger", and a rousing "North Country Girl" set closer. The band offered a pair of aces for an encore, with the much underappreciated circa-2005 burner "They Come This Way" and perennial crowd-pleaser ‘Rainbow Rollercoaster". Acoustic Syndicate’s ship has landed firmly in a new space, and their fervent fans are slowly coming around to gaze at the new and interesting surroundings.
King For a Day
Pumpkin and Daisy
Water of Love
Marie St. Lauriette
Song For Me
Coming In From The Cold
North Country Girl
They Come This Way