Playing their second show in New York City in as many days, Shovels & Rope brought the Music Hall of Williamsburg to it’s boot-stomping, beer-spilling knees on Tuesday, September 23rd. Americana’s new favorite couple, they’ve often been likened to a ‘modern day Johnny and June’, is special for many reasons. These include the ability to bring any house down with little more than a few bars of a new song, relatively unknown to the people in front of them. In this instance, it was The Devil is all Around, the opening track on their latest album, Swimmin’ Time.
In the middle of the crowd, people were smiling at each other and making friends over the sheer wonder of it all. We were, every last one of us, enchanted. Part soulmate-level romance, part riot, part ‘I’m staring at you so we remember what we’re doing’, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent pulled off a performance that was not only worthy of their exceptional songwriting, but gave thier fans something to really watch. Having made a point of remaining a two-person act, the instrument juggling epitomizes the kind of well-honed display of guts, determination and bare-bones talent these two are all about.
“People think we’re gazing romantically in each other’s eyes, but I’m really just waiting for the change. Michael likes to catch me sleeping on the job” Hearst told Rolling Stone Magazine recently, underlining the teamwork and good humor it takes to pull it all off in front of an audience. I think it’s probably both, though, and it’s impossible not to fall completely in love with them, their music, and the fact that no words can do justice to just how phenomenally talented they are.
Hearst and Trent do not strictly adhere to any notion of a set list, nor do they really know exactly who will be playing which instruments. As it happens, this is a recipe for the kind of live magic that has fans and critics alike wondering, “Why the fuck aren’t these guys bigger?” Anyone lucky enough to see them go lip to lip over the same mic for Save the World can attest to the palpable electricity pouring off the stage. It’s infectious. The devil may well be all around, but so are these guys and it’s an entirely heartening experience. Their 2012 album was called O Be Joyful for a reason, after all.
Ultimately, it was a show in the truest sense of the word, and one I need to get another ticket to before I go stark raving bananas.
FYI – American Songwriter has a great feature on Shovels & Rope that you should definitely read, too, if you’re even halfway as much in love with them as I am.