Shovels & Rope don't suck. In fact, they do the opposite of suck. They prove as much with each song on their first two albums. And, they prove it even more in a live setting.
Why would I start it this way? Well, to be honest, there have been a glut of guy/girl duos recently (She & Him, Honeyhoney, The Civil Wars, and even The White Stripes). Don't get me wrong, I really like The Civil Wars. But, there is something refreshing about what Shovels & Rope is doing.
Blending countless genres, Shovels & Rope deliver a talented, raucous live show. Michael Trent (formerly of The Films) and Cary Ann Hearst switch up duties on guitar, drums, vocals, harmonica, and keyboard.
I showed up to The Hamilton in D.C. right around the time the opener was about to end. I had a prior engagement, so I can't really vouch one way or the other for this guy- much less remember his name! Around the time of the show, Shovels & Rope tweeted that around 100 tickets were left for the 450 capacity venue. I'd say it was even fewer than that by the time they went on stage. It was pretty impressive considering they had opened up for Jonny Fritz at the same venue a few months ago and there were maybe 75 people total.
Not sure where the recent fans have come from, but it was a welcome sight for such a hardworking band.
They opened up with the song that I generally use to convince people to listen to Shovels & Rope-"Gasoline." What always impresses me about bands like theirs is the amount of sound being cohesively created by two people. It seems there must be one more hand on stage creating one of the many sounds being heard. However, you look on stage and see that it is only Trent and Hearst switching up/blending instruments and vocals.
By the time the first 5 songs are done, both are dripping in sweat from the amount of work they are putting into a Wednesday night show. It was also around this time that those sitting down migrated to the front of the stage. Every driving, rock and roll song was met with dancing and swaying. Each slow song was met with relative silence and attention. Fortunately for those mover-and-shaker types, Shovels & Rope have more quick-paced songs up their sleeves. Throughout the night they played most of the songs in their 2 album catalog, including what is quickly becoming my new favorite Shovels & Rope song- "Birmingham."
So the show went, with Trent and Hearst playing every instrument. The chemistry between the two was insurmountable and each word not sung out to the crowd was sung directly into each other's eyes. While this could be a distraction at times, Shovels & Rope pull it off. It is a "show" after all. You are there not only for the music. You are there for the stage act.
I'm not implying they are acting out their affection for each other. I merely mean to say- remember that while the music is the most important thing, pay attention to all facets at a show. It's easy to see those loving what they do and those trying to love what they do. Shovels & Rope clearly love what they do and they love who they are doing it with: themselves.