This is the first UK wide tour ever for California-based trio The Devil Makes Three. I am therefore eager to see a band I have held dear for a number of years now, but six thousand miles is a long way to travel and I am apprehensive regarding the turnout. The band have a reputation for the spectacular on the stage and their thrilling live albums have defined the growth of the band stateside, but I have been unable to gauge their level of popularity over here in the UK. I recently seem to be making a habit of attending low level shows with only a handful of hardcore punters present. It would be devastating for a band to travel such a vast distance if nobody showed! Thankfully, my concerns do not come to pass and by the time the band saunter on to the stage, the Ruby Lounge is an enthusiastic mass of diverse fans, eager to see the outfit from the famous surfing community of Santa Cruz, California. TDM3 combine a motley manner of musical styles and influences, creating a kinetic, musical cocktail and this is served up tonight with skillful yet modest artistry by Pete Bernhard, Lucia Turino and Cooper McBean. Their longevity on the scene has obviously resulted in quite a loyal following tonight in Manchester, which is fantastic to see.
The evening begins with the brisk Beneath the Piano, which perfectly introduces the uninitiated to the band and their predilection for eccentric characters and booze-related tales. Laced with a fun ragtime attitude, it does it’s job of warming us all up on this first day of spring and the vocal crowd respond positively. They have obviously been looking forward to this rare opportunity to experience The Devil Makes Three in their most satisfying environment as much as I have. This is followed by Stranger. It’s the mid-tempo opener from latest long player, I’m a Stranger Here. Although nine years separate these two songs, their isn’t much of a difference between the compositions in terms of style other than the subtle nods to other genres in the more recent material. Is that a hint of gospel I’m hearing along with the more obvious folky, bluegrass and jazz?
After a return to their eponymous album from 2002 with Bullet, we are treated to an insight into their influences and inspirations with the next two songs, which confirm my suspicions. Walk on Boy was originally written and performed by Doc Watson, the revered multi-Grammy winning American songwriter with a penchant for gospel tunes and the track is a vivid slice of acoustic Americana that seems perfectly at home in Pete Bernhard and co’s hands. Indeed, Bernhard proves to be an exceptional guitarist as the night progresses and further evidence of this is provided by their version of Statesboro Blues. The song was originally performed by Blues legend Blind Willie McTell but TDM3 interpretation tonight adds those gospel harmonies with some more home-grown banjo, which create a gloriously textured sound. Cooper’s musicianship is superb and his seemingly nonchalant but wonderfully evocative style on the banjo is an absolute joy. The phrase ‘this machine annoys facists’ that adorns one of his instruments again hints at the band’s love of their country’s traditional musical heritage and this permeates through their own material.
Despite performing as a trio (obviously) for most of the night, certain songs such as Johnson Family benefit from the inclusion of a violin and cello, increasing the theatricality of the evening brilliantly. The anchor throughout all of these songs and indeed the whole evening though is Pete Bernhard’s vocals and the incredible sound he generates from the beat-up guitar he wields. Possessing a voice that subtly shifts to match the song’s demands, he is Dylan one second, Woody Guthrie the next and incredibly rich, expressive and satisfying throughout.
The energy of the band appears to steadily increase as the show heads towards it’s conclusion and the crowd become more and more animated, joining in joyously with the final track before the encore. Do Wrong Right is the title track off their most satisfying album and tonight it has the room shaking as the partisan crowd bellow back the chorus to the band, who seem genuinely delighted to have generated such a good atmosphere so far from home. Indeed, the band’s more punkish musical elements are present and correct in this song and the crowd appreciate the attitude. St. James rounds things off during the encore in a merrily energetic manner and we are left hoping it does not take the band another thirteen years to return to this part of the world.
For our interview with The Devil Makes Three, click here.
Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto