Listening to the latest album from Banditos is almost like listening to two separate bands. First you get the band led by Mary Beth Richardson which is a more bluesy, soulful band. The second is led by Stephen Pierce, and is a more fun loving, almost outlaw country band. Seeing them live last week, the divide was even more apparent, which was part of the whole charm of the live experience.
This might seem like an odd comparison, but I'm going to compare the Banditos live to Squirrel Nut Zippers live. Katherine Whelan is a far superior singer to Jimbo Mathus, and live her voice was even more incredible and mesmerizing. However, his songs were livelier and more fun, so they became the hits the crowd reacted to. The same can be said for Richardson and Pierce. Her voice is great, particularly live, but she sings mostly ballads. Pierce's voice is a fairly standard country rock twang, but his songs are just more energetic and fun. Wednesday night his collection of songs reminded me a lot of early Hank Williams III, back when he was still more country than metal. The crowd responded far more energetically to songs sung by Pierce, mainly because they're more fun and easier to move to. It took a while, but the crowd fully woke up during "Still Sober (After All These Beers)" with the majority doing some kind of dancing for that particular song. Even the current single "Fine Fine Day" elicited less of a response from the crowd, but how can you beat that title? Richardson's songs had far less energy, but she completely drew the crowd in with her vocals, especially "Healin' Slow."
As much as I meant to catch opener Caroline Rose's full set, poor planning led me to only catching her last three songs. On her album, I Will Not Be Afraid, she's a groovy Americana singer, with at least as much of a country sound as you'd expect with song titles like "Blood on Your Bootheels." Some of her songs do stray a bit more on the pop side of things, but it's still fairly roots and country based. Live she was a whole different artist. I haven't been more blindsided by an artist's live show versus their album since The Fiery Furnaces. Wednesday night she was more akin to DEVO trying to play with the slightest hint of twang. It was wildly unexpected, and made me wish I had caught her full set.