The theme of the night at The Media Club was new experiences for the bands playing, and for myself. Both acts based out of San Francisco, The Brothers Comatose and Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, were making their first appearances north of the border. For me, it was my first ever country-rock concert. Not knowing what to expect, I went with an open mind. And, when the show came to a close around midnight, I left the cozy venue with an ear-to-ear grin stamped on my face.
The mustachioed men of The Brothers Comatose opened the night with a fast-paced set. These five dudes from San Fran are high-energy and laid-back, with fingers faster than most teenage texters today. This brand of bluegrass-rock encourages large amounts of hootin’ and hollerin’, best experienced at an outdoor hootenanny accompanied by fried foods and large glasses of beer. Although the crowd took some time to shake off the rust from their knees, The Brothers Comatose’s pitch-perfect harmonies and face-melting fiddle served as a good degreaser. Relatable song topics (brotherhood, binge drinking, bad hangovers, beat-up vans, etc.) allowed everyone in attendance to dance along like they knew what lyric was coming next. Even though many had never heard of this quintet until Saturday night. Overall, The Brothers Comatose’s debut in Canada was a success. They were happy to be here, and we were more than happy to have them, and would be glad to do so again.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers deliver a sound tinged by the golden colour of whiskey, and flavoured with a ’70s throwback vibe. Bluhm is backed by a talented supporting cast (The Gramblers), but it’s her smoky/smooth voice that stands out. Picture a cigarette being dipped into a jar of honey. Like The Brothers Comatose, it was NBTG’s first time performing out of their home country. Nicki kept the crowd mesmerized with her sultry sways and piercing gaze. During her performance, she reminded me of a younger, taller Sheryl Crow.
It was a treat to see The Brothers Comatose come on stage for a few songs near the midway mark of the set. Moments like those are why I prefer smaller venues. Smaller venues are an easy-going setting that provide more frequent unscripted musical treasures. After witnessing their on-stage chemistry, it was evident that these two bands genuinely enjoy touring together, and will continue to do so for a long time.
Once the encore was finished, and the two bands took their final bows, NBTG surprised the audience with an unplugged version of George Michael’s “Faith” in the middle of the crowd. No microphones or amplifiers. An intimate musical moment shared by the few dozen people in attendance. Shrinking the already cramped lounge by moving their performance to the floor, and encouraging everyone to sing along. Similar to the feeling felt when a party is winding down, and somebody picks up a dusty guitar to sing a tune or two – except these guys are professionals.
This type of country/blues/rock fusion, to me, is always better seen at an outdoor venue. However, the small venue only seemed to amplify the appeal of both bands. The compact room forced everyone to cozy up to each other and shake around. This was a successful Canadian debut, and both of these bands are welcome back anytime. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.