Billy Strings review – bleak melodies and fast shredding from bluegrass’ young buck | Music

Tthere’s a certain amount of tie-dye in the crowd at the Forum, and – very unusual for a show not populated entirely by teenagers – a strong smell of weed in the air, which seems strange for a show from the latest hero of bluegrass. But then Billy Strings—William Apostol until his aunt nicknamed him—makes bluegrass of a different kind: this is jam band bluegrass. Hence the covers of Black Clouds by String Cheese Incident and Fearless by Pink Floyd, alongside more conventional bluegrass classics by the likes of Bill Monroe.

All of that, however, is done without compromising on a rock band lineup: Strings, on guitar, is backed by an expert band of mandolin, double bass, banjo and fiddle. There are no drums – the percussion thump comes from the bass, and from the furious downstrokes of Strings. There are times when the band makes you think how much bluegrass has in common with technical metal: the formal structure of some songs and the reverence for fast shredding. And during two sets totaling two and a half hours, you get plenty of opportunity to listen to some high-speed shredding.

However, it is the willingness to detour that makes Strings so interesting. The second set begins with guitar playing offstage and then wandering around the backline – this time the pace is somber, the playing less focused on pure melody. Here he seems to be channeling the great John Fahey rather than Floyd or Monroe.

But it’s when he and his band — all from Kalamazoo, Michigan — are at full throttle that audiences respond best. There are ragged attempts to pogo up front, huge roars to favorite tunes. The opioid epidemic rave-up Dust in a Baggie turns bluegrass into a chronicle of rural American life rather than a museum piece.

For all his postmodern style-hopping, what’s appealing about Strings is his mastery of the vernacular of classic American country music. That combination of rousing Appalachian harmonies and the interplay of stringed instruments is a timeless sound – and one so central to so much of the rock that followed (these are the same harmonies as First Aid Kit, for example), that it’s hard to put your finger on it. not to feel. to some prelapsarian place of pure music.

At the O2 Ritz, Manchester, tonight. Then tour.

Leave a Comment