Concert Review: Tim Barry and Chuck Ragan, February 6, Toronto
This review is several weeks late because I have computer problems, and am addicted to Olympic curling, and have a severe case of the Februaries, and am just damn lazy. If you don’t feel like reading the entire review, here’s the four word summary: superb musicians, terrible venue.
Some background: Both Tim Barry and Chuck Ragan come from 90s hardcore/punk rock backgrounds, Barry with the punk band Avail, and Ragan from Hot Water Music. Both bands are on indefinite hiatus (I think), and both artists have gone on to release several solo albums in the singer/songwriter, folk, and alt country styles. I discovered them via their solo work. Barry released his first full length solo album Rivanna Junction in 2006, while Ragan did the same in 2007 with Feast or Famine. They have since put out a handful of wonderful americana albums, all of which I recommend.
Tim Barry is an angry dude. But he’s also sincere, forthright, impassioned, and one hell of a storyteller. Wearing a “Conway Twitty Raised Hell” T-shirt, Barry played solo with an acoustic guitar to an incredibly knowledgeable crowd. In fact, I had no idea that Barry and Chuck Ragan were so popular in Southern Ontario. The Wrongbar was beyond sold out, but more on that later. The characters in Barry’s songs are presumably semi-autobiographical: they are fucks-up who are trying to do the right thing, but keep stumbling into people who are constantly letting them down. Barry has an acute sense of history, and before launching into “Prosser’s Gabriel” he gave a shout out to the late Howard Zinn for teaching him about working man’s history. In fact, he gave a quick lecture on the Virginia slave trade, specifically in his home town of Richmond, including the slave revolt lead by Gabriel. Barry also showed his strong sense of family by talking about how he missed touring with his baby sister who recently brought his first niece into the world. He dedicated “Wait at Milano” to his new niece, and told everyone to focus on the positive and hopeful things for future.
The MAN (Canadian Customs) wouldn’t let Barry sell his records on this mini tour of Canada. He said, “I have a new album out [28th & Stonewall], but I don’t care if you buy it or steal it. Music is meant to be shared. But if you steal if, buy me a beer. Or a shot of JD.” I highly recommend you buy 28th & Stonewall and buy Barry a beer. Or a shot of JD. Actually, buy all of his records. They are all tremendous.
1. Dog Bumped
2. Idle Idylist
3. Church of Level Track
4. This November
5. Downtown VCU
6. Prosser’s Gabriel
7. Wait at Milano
8. Avoiding Catatonic Surrender
Edit: Barry was recently featured in the Richmond, VA, weekly magazine Style. Check out: “Ride Fast, Live Slow.”
Headliner Chuck Ragan tore up the place, and again, I was thrilled by how audience knew every word to every song. His style is different from Barry’s direct storytelling, but no less powerful. Ragan played acoustic guitar and harmonica, and was backed by bad-ass fiddler Jon Gaunt. Their songs ranged from Celtic folk (“Its What You Will”), to bluegrass (“Coal Tattoo”), to country rock (“Glory”). He even pulled out an old Hot Water Music song (“Jack of All Trades”) and a bluegrass tune from Bristle Ridge, a 2008 collaboration with Austin Lucas (track name escapes me). Opener Dave Hause (who I missed, it was an early show) joined Ragan and Gaunt on stage for a rousing version of “For Broken Ears.” Local band Cavaliers, the second act, (who I also missed because I’m a dumbass and got off at the wrong streetcar stop and had to walk several blocks) filled in to make a full band for the last five songs of Ragan’s set, and Barry joined Ragan singing an amazing version of “California Burritos.” Cavaliers sounded fantastic and I definitely want to see them again.
After you pick up Barry’s albums, pick up all of Ragan’s albums too. I just got into his 2009 release Gold Country, and it is wonderful All of Barry’s and Ragan’s albums are on eMusic.
1. The Boat
2. It’s What You Will
4. Coal Tattoo (Hazel Dickens cover)
5. Cut Em Down
6. Between the Lines
8. Jack of All Trades (Hot Water Music)
9. God Deciding
10. Something of off Bristle Ridge
11. For Broken Ears
– fiddle interlude –
12. Don’t Cry (If You’ve Never Seen The Rain)
13. Do You Pray
16. Do What You Do
17. California Burritos
18. ??? (maybe “Let It Rain,” I can’t remember)
Despite the fantastic musicians, I came away from the show with a sour taste in my mouth. And no, I wasn’t drinking skunky Blue. In fact, getting a cocktail was a huge problem in general. This was my first trip to Wrongbar, and they had obviously oversold the show. The place was crowded to the point of being dangerous. My friends, who are huge Chuck Ragan fans, left half way through his set because they were feeling claustrophobic. I was actually trying to hatch an escape plan in case of disaster. I’ve been to sold out shows at the Horseshoe, Phoenix, Lee’s Palace, Opera House, etc., but I have never felt unsafe at these venues. Many people were moshing and crowd surfing. Here’s a hint, people: when there is a fiddler on stage playing bluegrass, its not really appropriate to slam dance, take off you shirt, and throw beer. When the fiddler stops to tell you to chill, maybe you should chill. I’m not a big girl, and even though I was standing to the side, I got my ass kicked. I’ve never come away from a show with bruises on my legs from getting pinned to the railing or randomly kicked. I’m pretty sure that I will never go to Wrongbar again.