Shovels & Rope / The Royale Boston / Boston, MA / September 27, 2014

Shovels and Rope The Royale Boston
Photo by Drew Kelly

Among the first to take note of Shovels & Rope, Elmore enjoyed watching their later milestones: two years later, a spot on Letterman, then an Americana Music Association award for Best Emerging Artist. This past weekend, they played not one but two rockin’ shows in Boston, to what looked like a full house both nights.

The Boston crowd packing what used to be the old Royale Theatre spanned generations, but all ages reacted the same way: they danced and they roared. Fifty-somethings and twenty-somethings alike seemed to know the words to most of the songs (despite certain inadequacies in the sound system, which was fuzzier than I would have liked). We asked one fan the title of a song he was singing along with, and he blanked out for a second, but said, “It’s the sixth track on their new album” (“Coping Mechanism”). That new effort, Swimmin’ Time, has been out a month, but it’s made progress already, which means the duo’s approach to success is working: Tour, make fans and keep ’em coming back. This band and its management know what they’re doing.

Both wife Cary Ann Hearst and husband Michael Trent play guitar and drums, swapping off songs, and their over-the-top energy lights up a crowd in seconds. Trent’s the better lead guitarist but Hearst takes honors on the skins; musically, however, their vocal harmonies—strong, tight and often dissonant—ice the cake here, sending chills down the spine. Country, rock, bluegrass and power chords seem to nest comfortably in S&R’s songbook, and the crowd headed for the bar only once, during a particularly slow number. We probably needed the break.

The duo played through most of their new album, plus favorites from earlier releases. The last three tunes represented the show as a whole: Hearst said they’d try out a new song, and proceeded to rock out a unique version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” They followed with a bluegrassy tune, “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan,” from the new album, and finally, just as the Royale curfew fell, a request from the audience, “Bad Luck,” a hyper-fast country rocker from the Deluxe Edition of their first album, O’ Be Joyful, (Sample lyrics: “You can talk dirty ‘til your tongue turns black.”). Good luck or bad luck, I believe you make your own luck, and this group consistently rolls sevens.

– Suzanne Cadgène

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