The Dawson Street Pub is a tiny neighborhood bar in the hilly Manayunk section of Philadelphia, where parking is damn near impossible and — if you do manage to find a space — you’re sure to be graced (like I was) with a ticket by the ever-zealous Philadelphia Parking Authority. The Pub itself is dark and cluttered, with just a few tables and a tiny little “stage” at the far end of the room, right by the exit to the side patio / smoking area, the door to which sometimes pops open and shut all night long.
On a cold night this can be a serious distraction for the band, since the door is immediately stage-left, with the incoming wind blocked only by a tiny stand for the sound board. A retreat to the green room isn’t really possible either, since said “room” is really just an ancient couch shoe-horned in between an ATM machine and the restrooms, on the path to the bar’s tiny kitchen.
Yet despite these limitations, the former biker-bar-turned-craft-beer-haven is a wonderfully intimate place to see a show, and production manager / booking agent / sound guy Russ Eisenlohr has managed to lure in some top Americana talent. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Cowboys in the Campfire (aka, Tommy Stinson and friends), Hank’s Cadillac, the Luck Brothers and Tool Shed, as well as such local favorites as Pawnshop Roses, Dope Pinheads and Wheelhouse (who shared the bill with Borges and the band), have all played the pub over the past year or so.
Add Sarah Borges and her latest, road-ready version of the Broken Singles, featuring longtime bassist Binky, newish guitarist Alex Necochea and recent addition Jeb Williams on drums, to that list — as well as quite possibly to the pub’s list of “most rockin’ shows ever.”
The evening started off a bit oddly though, to be honest. One song in, after commanding the crowd’s attention with the rockabilly-inflected “Streetwise Man,” Borges couldn’t resist asking: “What the fuck is that THING going round & around back there?!” She gestured toward an object orbiting a small fake Christmas tree mounted to a wall near the middle of the bar. “That’s Santa!” the audience enthusiastically responded. “Oh,” she replied, sounding not quite as enthused.
Williams then launched into the floor tom-heavy beat for “Same Old 45,” but Borges’ had let the proverbial genie out of the bottle by asking the crowd to identify the spinning ornament. From that point on, several show-goers — including a tipsy 6’5” linebacker type named Jordan for whom Borges claimed (jokingly?) to have bought tequila shots before the show — seemed intent on getting into the act.
Borges seemed fine with that though, for the most part. A master of comically edgy between-song banter, she used her wickedly whipsmart Boston sense of humor to keep the crowd alternately energized and at bay as required. When she wasn’t rocking out like nobody’s business, she jokingly commented on a variety of subjects, including the neighborhood’s tight streets (“It’s like Armageddon, parking out there!”), her outfit (“I let the boys pick it out tonight; does it match?” — um, not really), the craziness of Philly and New Jersey drivers, and bassist Binky’s love life (by way of introducing her humorous take on it in “Band Girlfriend”).
She and Binky even “went there” — where few performers dare to go when playing in Philly — by alluding to the fact that their Patriots, and not “da Iggles,” were headed to the Super Bowl this year. Eagles hat-equipped Jordan (of the tequila shots) was NOT amused.
Luckily, the band’s crowd-pleasing set kept things loose, preventing a barroom brawl from breaking out between the football hooligans. Highlights included a spirited rendition of “Caught by the Rain” that brought out the Sheryl Crow in Borges’ powerful voice; Necochea’s Allman Brothers style guitar solo on the catchy, trainbeat-powered “Daniel Lee”; Borges’ passionate performance of “House on the Hill,” the lead single from her new album Love’s Middle Name; and the band’s cover of Greg Cartwright’s “Stop and Think It Over,” a song Borges said she “loves” (and her performance certainly proved it).
Borges’ voice was at its soulful best on the mournful “I Can’t Change It” (by Francis Miller) from the new album, which also featured a fluid, tasteful solo by Necochea. At the heart of the set were a razor-sharp, rockin’ version of “Lucky Rocks,” followed by Borges and Binky’s duet on the chugging “Get As Gone Can Get” from Love’s Middle Name (sans producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s distinctive vocals and biting guitar, unfortunately).
Things got a bit more wild and woolly during the latter part of the set. Having learned from Jordan the linebacker that the greenroom couch where she had eaten her dinner was his former “makeout couch” from 1998, Borges peered out from her long bangs to ask, ”Still crazy after all these years, eh?” Later, introducing her version of the NRBQ song “It Comes to Me Naturally,” Borges did a hilarious, scarily accurate impersonation of a sleepy-sounding Al Anderson talking to her over the phone about the song. The crowd loved it.
With the rhythm section fully locked-in a few songs down the road, Necochea laid into a blues-rock solo that caused the aforementioned Jordan to start dancing in the aisles. Necochea segued mid-song into the main lick from the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” followed by the same from Led Zepplin’s “Dazed & Confused.” Borges suddenly interrupted his guitar pyrotechnics, however, saying “I just want to show you a couple of things” — whereupon she proceeded to play a bluesy solo on his guitar while standing BEHIND him, her arms flung out on either side. “I’m not even sure if that’s legal in Pennsylvania,” Binky commented, before the song morphed into another classic blues number, Necochea now churning out Chuck Berry-crazy lead licks.
photo by Sarah Herbert
The show’s highlights were yet to come, though, in the form of a couple of unexpectedly quiet moments. First, Borges shunted the band off-stage to perform solo, by request, a stunningly beautiful version of “Grow Wings,” a ballad she wrote in response to her experience at the 2017 Women’s March. A couple of tunes later Borges unleashed the full power of her vocal chords on the classic “Cry One More Time for You,” while Necochea supplied a thrilling solo that started off legato on the two top strings and wound up wailing off into the stratosphere by song’s end.
That performance was followed by one last, humorous interruption, this time from the bartender. Vigorously mixing a chilled vodka while the band tuned in- between songs, he startled everyone with the sound of ice cubes rattling against stainless steel. As the din banged loudly across the room, Borges couldn’t help but make one last quip. “All that for some cold potatoes?!” she asked.
It was an oddly perfect way to end an unforgettable show.