The Devil Makes Three

The Devil Makes Three at Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA, January 28, 2017,

Feb 16, 2017 Web Exclusive Photography by Giles Clement Bookmark and Share

Strange bedfellows bookended the set by Santa Cruz's The Devil Makes Three on a chilly late January Saturday night in Philadelphia. After a stellar performance by the Tennessee fiddle/guitar duo Lost Dog Street Band, which set the scene for the evening's main act, the lights came up and through the sound system of the Theatre of Living Arts pumped none other than Snoop Dog. Something about 187 and an oral fixation. Not exactly a harbinger of things to come, but perhaps revealing of a greater truth.

Over the 90 minutes that followed, the Americana trio, fleshed out with additional drummer and violinist, ripped through its back catalog and selections from its current album, Redemption & Ruin, with a boundary-pushing intensity seldom matched by bands of its ilk.

The Devil Makes Three has made a name for itself with six albums of honky tonk-inspired music anchored by core members Pete Bernhard on guitar and vocals, Cooper McBean on banjo, and Lucia Turino on upright bass. The band's latest release, Redemption & Ruin, features covers of songs by their heroes, from Robert Johnson and Hank Williams to Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits.

On record, The Devil Makes Three is polished and pristine, but live, at least on this night, they were all fire and frenzy. With a set list that spanned all six of its albums, the band thrilled the capacity crowd. For "Gracefully Facedown," from the band's 2009 album, Do Wrong Right, the crowd seemed to know every word. The line, "he drink like a fish" from "Beneath the Piano," off the band's self-titled 2003 debut, was met with a sea of raised glasses.

"Johnson Family," from Do Wrong Right, was played with masterful fiddle addition.  "Uncle Harvey's Plane," from 2006's A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse, featured fantastic banjo call and response. "River Deep" was rendered utterly sublime. And "Aces and Twos" was nothing less than straight-ahead rock and roll. When Bernhard introduced the band's cover of Hudson Whitaker's "I'm Gonna Get High," by saying, "It's my contention that all drugs should be legalized. We can start with marijuana," the crowd responded in uproarious agreement. 

Of the cover versions played from Redemption & Ruin, Johnson's "Drunken Hearted Man" and Ralph Stanley's "I Am the Man Thomas" were furious blues and bluegrass reimagined, and Tom Waits' "Come On Up To the House," dedicated to the late Dave Lamb of the band Brown Bird, was an upbeat celebration, far removed from Waits' original version.

By the encore of band staples "Bangor Mash" and "St. James," The Devil Makes Three had the crowd in the palm of its hand. Glasses were raised. Flasks were passed around. And dancing was plentiful. Strangers were newly found friends, all for the glory of a jubilant hillbilly romp. By the time the final note of "St. James" was played and the house lights came back on, a beautiful exhaustion set in. At which point the sound system began playing Motörhead's "Ace of Spades," followed by Misfits' "Skulls." It was as if to say that what was just witnessed was not your traditional American/bluegrass/folk rave up. It was much more than that. And at its core: rock and roll.




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