Band of Heathens

Show Review: Band of Heathens at Union Stage in DC

Show Reviews

Band of Heathens at Union Stage in DC with Reed Foehl opening

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With album sales down and streaming paying next to nothing, most bands rely on touring and merchandise sales to make ends meet. The pandemic forced many musicians to turn to streaming shows, collecting funds via Venmo and PayPal. Some bands dredged through their archives to release live shows on their websites and platforms such as Bandcamp.

The Band of Heathens (BOH), an Austin-based band with its own label and DIY attitude toward business, was better prepared than most. The band has sold mp3s of its shows on its website for several years and interacts with fans via a Patreon page. When the pandemic hit, it didn’t take long for the group — with members spread across the country from Los Angeles to Asheville, N.C. — to fire up weekly Zoom broadcast for its fans.

A virtual variety program, the 90-minute “Good Time Supper Club” features the band and various guests. Those guest segments, which are mostly cover songs, have resulted in what promises to be a recurring series of Remote Transmissions releases, volume one of which came out earlier this year.

But the road is still calling — and BOH was anxious to play live again. So after a short tour earlier this year, the group was out again in May for a 17-day jaunt that ended Sunday in Charlotte. This road trip, however, presented a series of challenges that could topple less resourceful bands.

Two of the BOH’s five members — bass player Nick Jay and drummer Clint Simmons — joined the group just last month after the departures of Richard Millsap and Jessie Wilson, who had been with the band since 2012 and 2017, respectively. For several days toward the end of the tour, co-lead singer Ed Jurdi was dealing with a severe sore throat that left him struggling to hit notes at times.

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But that didn’t stop the group — now dubbing themselves BOH 3.0 — from putting on one hell of a show Friday before a smaller than deserved crowd at Union Square in Washington, D.C. Following a 30-minute opening solo set by Reed Foehl, who recorded his thoughtful, intriguing new album Wild Wild Love with the group, the band played a 16-song mix of originals and covers that dated back to their 2006 debut, Live from Momo’s.

What I’ve appreciate most about BOH, regardless of who is playing with them or the size of the crowd, is that they have fun when they’re on stage. And that fun is contagious.

Opening with “Medicine Man” from 2011’s Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son, the final album of BOH 1.0, they segued naturally into “Green Grass of California,” a highlight in many 2.0 sets over the past several years. “Bumblebee,” a staple of the group’s shows since that first live album 16 years ago, was followed by “Shake the Foundation” from 2013’s Sunday Morning Record, still my favorite of the BOH’s seven studio albums.

The first part of the set ended with an epic cover of Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio,” which some fans have dubbed the group’s “Freebird.” Then Jurdi and co-lead singer Gordy Quist returned to play two acoustic songs— “Deep is Love” from Duende and “Call Me Gilded” from 2020’s Stranger — before the entire band came back for a new song, “Not Mine to Begin With.”

“Not Mine to Begin With” is the first release of what Quist has dubbed five “orphan songs” that are coming out one by one digitally. The laidback, loping track has a simple feel and arrangement and is a good easy-listening showcase for the band.

The evening’s true surprise came when Jay — who also had to miss a couple of dates on the tour because of illness — took the lead on a remarkably faithful cover of Bob Dylan and The Band’s “Ain’t No Cane on the Brazos.” Jay harmonized with Quist and the rest of the band with a voice that briefly brought back the ghost of Levon Helm. A highlight from BOH’s 2006 debut, it was just excellent and felt like a full circle moment for this new 3.0 incarnation.

The set ended with a series of BOH originals — “Sugar Queen,” “Jackson Station,” “All I’m Asking,” “LA County Blues,” and “Hurricane” — before closing with an encore of “(Take Me Home) Country Roads.” It was a fun evening all around, and I’m already ready to see the band again.

Check out “Good Time Supper Club” if you can’t see them in person. If they’re playing in your town or somewhere within a 100-mile radius, don’t miss the chance to see a live show. You won’t regret it.

To see more photos, go to my Flickr album here.

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