It was a packed and stoked house at MontBleu Resort Casino Wednesday night, as Santa Cruz string band the Devil Makes Three played a raucous and thrilling set before a massive crowd.
In testament both to DM3’s strong presence among string band and Americana fans and to Tahoe’s love of live acoustic music, the show sold out Wednesday afternoon. The entry line began snaking around the MontBleu floor almost two hours before the show started.
The Devil Makes Three put on a high-caliber performance, with the trio’s grassy, folksy, bluesy, shuffling swing beat rounded out with the addition of a drum kit and a fiddle. The band’s widely varied style was on impressive display, with all of the familiar tunes and elements drawing cheer after cheer from the crowd.
Cooper McBean’s banjo cranked out the claw hammer, providing a thrumming and galloping rhythmic accent and dropping plucky staccato solos on tunes like “40 Days, 40 Nights.”
Fan favorite Lucia Turino looked like she was having a blast thumping the upright bass. She laid down some spirited lead vocals on an uptempo rendition of Steve Earle’s “Hometown Blues,” one of my all-time favorites.
Guitarist Pete Bernhard followed that up with a moving and driven cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting around to Die.” DM3 strikes a precise sonic balance between aggressively uptempo and soulful, haunting sounds (with quite a bit of room in between); the band covered every country mile of that musical range Wednesday night, with roaring applause rising to crescendo even after the slowest songs.
As any DM3 fan knows, imbibing is a major musical theme of the group’s songwriting. The crowd did the band justice, with thronging lines at either bar in the MontBleu Showroom, and a constant stream of concertgoers taking a break for some fresh air and a brief stroll to the HQ Bar, very apropos with songs like “Graveyard” and “Gracefully Facedown” ringing in the background.
Despite the massive crowd, the show had a delightfully laid back, easygoing vibe; one overly indulgent concertgoer got involved in a mid-show altercation at the box office and managed to get himself a VIP, front-row seat to MontBleu’s security detail (behave folks, these guys are very much on top of their game), but other than that, everyone I saw was positively and peacefully enjoying the music and the atmosphere.
I sidled out for a whiskey at HQ Bar, returning to the showroom just in time to hear the upbeat, unmistakable opening chords of “Old No. 7” dance out over the crowd. Smooth and mellow, just like the original product; I felt a wave of warmth rush over me, and succumbed to that unstoppable urge to start tapping feet.
DM3 clearly appreciated the South Shore hospitality, not for the first time incidentally. At one point, Bernhard stepped up to the mic between songs to relate an enjoyable anecdote.
“Last time we had the pleasure of playing up here in Tahoe, we got stuck in a snowstorm on the other side of the mountains,” the guitarist said. “But luckily, two nice young men drove up over the hill in a four wheel drive; they’d never even met us before. But they picked us up and got us to the show just in time for the opening notes.
“I figure any place where people will come out in a snowstorm and pick you up and take you to your gig is a pretty fucking great place!”
Agreed Pete, thanks for swinging by.