Concert Review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Della Mae with special guests Dr. John & Noe Socha (7/26/2013)

The WGBH-sponsored Boston Summer Arts Weekend put together a nice three-day festival of free music along with a few paid ticketed concerts for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend the outdoor events. I was excited about the Friday lineup, but I wasn’t able to get there early enough for the outdoor show; instead, I picked up a ticket for the late-night “After Dark” event held in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont Copley Plaza. I’d never been to the Fairmont before, and I was a bit startled by the decor – I think the interior designer must have had a brother who owned a chandelier factory and a sister specializing in gilt application. I felt a bit out of place, especially arriving at the end of a very long day which included getting stuck outside in the rain for 40 minutes. The fancy venue made for a fairly staid concert setting, which is a shame, because the music was very lively and fun – in most music venues people would have been dancing the night away instead of sitting at tables with white tablecloths drinking $12 glasses of wine and feeling awkward. (Er, maybe that was just me.)

The first band on stage was Della Mae, an all-female Boston-based bluegrass band. They’re a relatively young band (their first album was released in 2011) but they are very talented and the performance was really tight and a lot of fun. They invited another local musician, Italian-born Berklee student Noe Socha, on stage for a song or two, including “Trouble in Mind” which I caught on my camera:

I had never heard of Mr. Socha before, and I was very impressed with his performance as well. He plays blues harmonica and guitar (as you can see in the above video). The whole first set was excellent from top to bottom, and my only criticism is that they should have been allowed to play longer instead of giving us such an unnecessarily long intermission. Della Mae will be touring quite a bit of the U.S. in the next few months; you can check out their tour dates by clicking here.

The headliner of the show was the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I’ve seen twice before. (The last time I saw them was an absolutely epic show in a bowling alley attached to a brewery, so seeing them in this glitzy ballroom with all the crystal chandeliers seemed a bit weird in comparison. I’m sure by now they’re comfortable playing just about anywhere.)

PHJB has been around (with various members dropping in and out along the way) since the 1960s and has been touring continuously for 50 years. A pretty impressive feat, and it shows in their concerts – they are a fantastic live band. On Friday, as a special bonus, we even got to see Dr. John make a guest appearance on a few songs, including “Winin’ Boy.” I was a little disappointed that we only got a brief visit from Dr. John as I’ve never seen him before, but it was fun to get a little taste of his music.

Although I think it would have been even more fun in a less stodgy venue, everything the PHJB played was great – I’m not sure they could play a bad song if they tried. They play the sort of jazz that even people who think they don’t like jazz would probably enjoy. Fun danceable, and classic New Orleans. They have lots of energy and could get nearly any room of people up and dancing, I think.

You can check out an appearance they made on Letterman with the Del McCoury Band here – a little New Orleans jazz and a little bluegrass, all tied up in one classic gospel song:

I really can’t recommend the Preservation Hall Jazz Band enough, and they tour a lot, so make sure you see them next time they are in the neighborhood – you can see their tour schedule here.

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