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06 Mar 2018

Live: Shovels and Rope, Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, Feb. 23

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Shovels and Rope. Shovels and Rope. Guillermo Prieto/Irockphotos.net

Shovels and Rope brought haunting lyrics and unpretentious harmonies to Pappy and Harriet’s for a sold-out show on Friday, Feb. 23.

Husband-and-wife duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent redecorated the stage with wooden pallets lighted by inexpensive Christmas-type lights. Lamps were also added, creating a comforting ambiance.

“It’s going to be a fun night … peace, love and music,” Michael Trent said as he greeted the audience.

“There is so much desert,” Cary Ann Hearst added. “We were having an argument if we played here before. We are grateful to be here.”

Trent then made a quip about the sight lines at Pappy’s: “We are Shovels and Rope, for those not in the front row. We are two people, and we are short.”

Shovels and Rope fuses electric guitar and a roaring kick drum with thoughtful choruses—and the result was the best performance I have seen so far this year. The Charleston, S.C., couple is very comfortable onstage—as if they are allowing you to visit their living room.

My favorite song of the night was “Carnival,” with sad words of a love lost: “Across the world I wonder, my moments made from years. On a still and silent midway, I wait for you to reappear.”

Trent dedicated the song “Save the World” to the kids in Parkland, Fla., recently been victimized by yet another school shooting. The lyrics include: “When you’re caught in the wave of a terrible tide, suddenly you’re struggling to stay astride, so you calm your hands, and you cool your mind, and you wake up happy on the other side.” As they sang, cheers erupted in the audience.

Michael announced: “We are going to play some deep cuts … a song about the West Coast,” by way of introducing “San Andreas Fault Line Blues.”

From the audience someone yelled out, “It’s her birthday,” while pointing to a woman in the crowd. Hearst responded: “Happy birthday! You’re beautiful. Throw her a $10 bill—not in a slutty way, but in a good way.”

In between songs, crowd members would shout out, “Lay Low!”—a song being requested as if Shovels and Rope were a jukebox.

The song “Birmingham” told the fantastic story of their relationship, describing a “Rockmount cowboy” and a “Cumberland daughter” from a “Delta mama” and a “Nickajack Man” who travel across the U.S. performing. The two then pivoted to a broader history with “Missionary Ridge,” a down-home tale about a Civil War battle. Things got rocking when they laid into “Hail, Hail,” one of the most upbeat songs of the night.

Once again, a woman screamed, “Lay Low!” Finally, the duo relented: “Here is an honored request, sweet little tumbleweeds,” Hearst said. Shovels and Rope was quickly rewarded with applause as the first note was played.

Shovels and Rope concluded the night with Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent combined perfectly sung lyrics and blues progressions, converting me into a fan of what I would call alt-country music sung by Southerners who may yearn to be rock stars.

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