Friday, August 28, 2015

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers at the Bowery Ballroom

Nicki Bluhm
Tim Bluhm, guitarist/vocalist of the Mother Hips, based out of San Francisco, California, was at a New Year’s Eve party when he heard a woman from nearby Lafayette sing. The woman was not a professional singer; she had teaching credentials and lived on a ranch in San Diego, caring for horses. He persuaded her to pursue a singing career -- with him as her mentor. In short time, he also persuaded her to become Mrs. Nicki Bluhm. He co-wrote his bride's first two solo albums, recorded a duet album with her, and now plays in her band, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, along with guitarists Deren Ney and Dave Mulligan, bassist Steve Adams and drummer Mike Curry. Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers' second album, Loved Wild Lost, was released on April 21, 2015.

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers performed at the Bowery Ballroom tonight without guitarist Tim, who was touring with his primary band, the Mother Hips. Nevertheless, the Gramblers successfully presented a country-kissed rock set highlighting the soulful singing of Mrs. Bluhm. Bluhm stood before the microphone stand in a white low-cut jumpsuit, her hair dancing continuously due to a nearby floor fan; it seemed like the fan might blow away her tall and rail-thin frame as well. The band claimed its calling immediately with the countrified leanings of "Heart Gets Tough" from the current album. The 18-song set largely showcased the band's two albums, with just three songs from Bluhm's solo albums. Recognizing that the Gramblers first became known through internet-posted zero-budget videos of cover songs sung in a van while touring, the set tonight included impressive takes on surprising covers. Singing from the gut, Bluhm sang a credible version of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" early in the set. Later, the musicians gathered around a single microphone for a remarkably clever country-meets-funk acoustic take on Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That." Then as the musicians started to move back to rock positions, Bluhm called them back for a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Deal" (which had been crossed off the evening's set list). Opening act Andrew Combs and his band then joined the Gramblers to jam on Gram Parsons' rousing "Ooh Las Vegas." Still later, guitarist Andy Falco of the Infamous Stringdusters joined the Gramblers for an extended, guitar-driven "Jetplane." Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers' concert gravitated increasingly from record promotion to stage party, and that made the band's performance all the more engaging.

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