There have been countless instances in music history where a key band member has been felled by an injury and a replacement must be found for the show to go on. Often it’s a friend, someone on loan from another band, or a studio musician who gets the call to fill in. When The Be Good Tanyas’ Sam Parton was injured in a car accident last month, band mate Frazey Ford made a radical choice in selecting her temporary replacement, a choice that could very well drive a lesser musician to tears, if not outright madness: her own mother.
So it was that the two remaining Tanyas, Ford and Trish Klein, along with drummer John Raham and bassist Mark Beaty, were joined by Ford’s mother, Diane, for a fantastic show at the Hamilton Tuesday night. While the loss of Parton’s mandolin was noticeable, the elder Ford did a superb job filling out the harmonies on some of BGT’s best known songs, and also helped provide some humor as Ford adjusted to having her mom on stage with her.
They opened with “In Spite of All the Damage” from 2003’s Chinatown, a quiet lead-in before picking up the tempo with a jumpy version of “Ootischenia” and the ominous (but seasonally appropriate) “Scattered Leaves.” Other highlights included Klein playing a mean harmonica on “Human Thing,” the perfect harmonies of “Midnight Moonlight,” and the show stopping closer “Light Enough to Travel.”
The band played several wonderful covers, including a rousing version of “In My Time of Dying,” a song Dylan was known for playing in his early days, which made BGT’s great version of Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” all the more appropriate. (The version also appears on Ford’s solo album, Obadiah.) A rocking version of Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” and a perfectly harmonized version of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” closed out the regular set.
BGT’s performance was punctuated by some delightful mother-daughter banter, as Frazey detailed the myriad ways her mother is finding out the rock and roll lifestyle is not what she might have imagined. “Oh the glamor,” is the refrain the band uses when they find themselves staying in seedy hotels or washing up in truck stop bathrooms. Diane Ford even had her foot run over by a taxi in New York – twice, in fact, by the same taxi. Frazey joked that the original plan was to have Sam Parton perform via Skype from Vancouver, but mom filled in just fine, Freudian nightmares notwithstanding.
Dan Bern provided a terrific opening set of nine songs culled from across his extensive career. In his opening song, “Black Tornado” from 2001’s New American Language, he implored the crowd “if you judge me tonight / judge me by the songs I write;” a sentiment he revisited with “Jerusalem” from his eponymous debut album: “don’t ask what kind of music I’m gonna play tonight, just stay a while.” Bern played newer material as well, including a song from Doubleheader, an album of baseball songs. After expressing sympathy for the Nationals’ playoff loss, he played “Joyce and Gallarraga,” the true, sad tale of a blown call that cost Armando Gallarraga a perfect game, with some added crowd participation that helped exorcise some baseball demons.
Bern wrote the music for 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and he played “Beautiful Ride” from that film before ending his set with another audience participation number, the Wayne Kemp song “One Piece At A Time,” made famous by Johnny Cash.
Bern and the Be Good Tanyas gave the crowd a great evening of acoustic music in one of the loveliest venues in the city. The Hamilton’s stellar sound and ambience have made it one of the most enjoyable places to see live music in DC. (Frazey Ford commented that she was wearing a sequined gown because the outfit she’d showed up in wasn’t “refined enough” for the venue.) Hopefully the full Be Good Tanyas will be through again but until then, mother is always all right.