LIVE: The Holmes Brothers @ The Egg, 3/5/10

Popsy Dixon, Sherman Holmes and Wendell Holmes
Popsy Dixon, Sherman Holmes and Wendell Holmes

The members of opening act Scrapomatic settled into their chairs onstage at The Egg. Vocalist Mike Mattison thanked the headliners not only for the opportunity to share a stage with them, but also for their dedication to keeping the American music tradition alive.

“Here’s a song that we wrote,” Mattison added. “It’s called ‘Louisiana Anna.’ 1,2…”

Suddenly, his introduction was interrupted by the intrusive ring tone of a cell phone. While members of the crowd began casting accusatory glances at their fellow audience members, Mattison sheepishly reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out his cell phone, turned it off and put it away.

Not exactly an auspicious beginning…

But wait, there’s more…

When the Holmes Brothers walked onstage for their headline show, Wendell Holmes sat down at the grand piano, brother Sherman Holmes strapped on his bass and Popsy Dixon stepped behind the drums – and began searching for a pair of drumsticks, which were nowhere to be found.

After dispatching a crew member to track down the missing sticks, Popsy walked up to the front ‘n’ center mic and sang a heavenly rendition of the gospel classic, “Precious Lord.” Whether that was the song they intended to start the show with, or whether it simply out of necessity, it was glorious.

Gospel has long been an integral element in any Holmes Brothers show, and on Friday night, once Dixon’s wayward drumsticks were finally in hand, the trio balanced their sacred music with roadhouse blues, much of it culled from their brand new album, “Feed My Soul.”

Then they spiced it all up with a pinch of country (a marvelous version of Jim Reeves’ oldie, “He’ll Have to Go”), Jimmy Reed’s rockin’ “Big Boss Man,” a bit of jazz guitar from Wendell and a pair of Beatles’ songs, too.

While the gruff baritones of Wendell and Sherman anchored such gems as “Dark Cloud,” “The Edge of the Ledge” and “Jesus on the Mainline,” it was Dixon’s keening falsetto that brought a real edge to the deeply heartfelt music.

Scrapomatic, too, recovered nicely from their opening embarrassment. When Mattison was at The Egg in December, he was singing in front of a sold-out crowd in the big theater, fronting the Derek Trucks Band. On Friday, in front of a small crowd that barely filled one third of the small theater, Mattison sang just as marvelously.

Scrapomatic’s brand of the blues is considerably more intimate than Trucks’, but the relaxed, sit-down performance by Mattison and guitarists Paul Olsen and David Yoke was no less moving or intense.

With songs like “The Long Way Home,” the soul-strolling “Hook, Line & Sinker” and the Rev. Gary Davis’ classic “I Belong to the Band,” the trio hit the bullseye, and Mattison’s mesmerizing vocal stylings offered plenty of variety from the jazz scatting of “Lotus” to the whistling solo on “Killing Yourself on Purpose” to his soaring falsetto on “Crime Fighter.”

If only Mattison and Popsy Dixon had teamed up for a falsetto duet…

Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Read my review in The Times Union

In The Daily Gazette, Michael Hochanadel wrote, “Scrapomatic sang new songs that sounded salvaged from some ancient jukebox, but the Holmes Brothers — soulful graybeards a generation older — played ancient songs in often startling ways. We knew they’d sing blues and gospel, but they still surprised.”

Poppy Dixon
Poppy Dixon of the Holmes Brothers

Wendell Holmes and Sherman Holmes
Wendell Holmes and Sherman Holmes

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