Friday, March 27, 2009

Show Review: Gambling the Muse

Christy dancing

The Pinhook, Durham
March 21st, 2009

share this on facebook

The night started off right when I ordered my first beer and was asked, "Do you want a tall boy?" The dazzle in my eye was responsible for the hesitation in my response, like a cpu trying to calculate too many inputs, yes, I would like a tall boy thank you. The Pinhook's Saturday night show billed "Jonny Cash's Birthday Celebration" featured Bull City, The Pneurotics, Gambling the Muse, and The Tender Fruit and getting there a tad bit early I think I finally put my finger on why this bar is so amusing to me. The interesting art and soft lined decor of this space does not create the atmosphere, it's a frame for it. The warm deep red interior of this couch populated half-lounge, half-stage room bar on Main St in the Durham downtown loop is decorated with old vinyl, vintage images and a 20 ft floor to ceiling pop art collage mural, but as I chatted with strangers and made jokes with the bar tenders, I realized that the focal point of this picture is the folks inside of it. This place is the newest adopted home for Durham's music community. The girls behind the bar, the guy sitting next to me, the dude working the door, and the faces in the crowd, looking around it was hard to find a person who didn't either play guitar or spend the better part of their time supporting those who do and their chill laid-back demeanors encased in artful surroundings make this an entirely enjoyable haunt.

Two acoustic guitars, two microphones, and two super talented voices opened the night. One voice, that of The Tender Fruit's mountain girl down home alt country Christy Smith, was an anticipated rush of authenticity and sublime blue notes but knocking me off my feet in surprise was the crisp elevated register of Staci Sawyer whose eloquent harmonies delivered chills on their Journey cover and the reimaged originals which usually find her stamping out the beat behind a kit instead of icing a microphone. The Tender Fruit continue to win audiences in surprise-attack new and interesting ways. Troika, get these girls on the bill!

Speaking of covers, this was after all a Johnny Cash birthday celebration, and no cover I saw was as remarkable as The Pneurotics singing Cash's "Ring of Fire." Lead singer/guitarist Rich McLaughlin drew in the essence of the man in black, channeled it through steel strings and vacuum tubes, and illuminated the room with its eerie specter. If I haven't said this out loud yet, let me clear my through, ahem, Rich is a guitar player and a half. This man has some chops and the dance party they incited right next to the stage shows which half the Durham kids like to get down to.

Judging by the vast download of my digital pic's, Gambling the Muse caught the majority of my camera flashes and with as interesting and amusing ensemble as they bring to the stage, I'm not surprised. One doesn't have to read their self-classified genre listings on their myspace to understand that this is an Americana roots band. Their instruments vary as widely as the nature of the musicians who play them. Strapped over the neck of the southern gentlemen known as Doc was a southern gentlemen's instrument, lap slide guitar which is the least common of slide guitars and one of the most enjoyable and unique to see played. Jason Butler and the eye catching Katy Harris combine for Gambling the Muse's acoustic lead and rhythm guitars. How often do you see an acoustic lead guitar around Durham? About as often as you see women playing rhythm guitar without being the lead vocal. The unique supporting cast back drops for a one-of-a-kind vocal from lead singer Daniel Snyder who’s crooning halloo calls out with Southern authenticity, drawing the eyes and the minds to the stage.

Saturday night was a meaningful show for me. Aside from making some new friends and finding an affinity for The Pinhook, I heard new music from a couple of bands that I was already down with and I discovered some timeless old-fashioned music in Gambling the Muse. Sleep deprivation took it's toll on me a little after midnight so I missed the last few songs of The Pneurotics and all of the headlining Bull City, but I left remarking to friends that Durham's music culture continues to put excellent talent on the stages of packed houses. These are exciting times and good solid performances like those we saw Saturday night continue to build the anticipation for them.

View Gambling the Muse's profiles: Gambling the Muse Gambling the Muse

More Images from the show:

Gambling the Muse
Gambling the Muse

Katy Harris
Katy Harris, Gambling the Muse

Joe Caparo (left) and Daniel Snyder
Lance Westerlund, Gambling the Muse

Doc playing lap steel
Doc playing lap steel

Christy Smith (left) and Staci Sawyer - The Tender Fruit
The Tender Fruit

The Mural at The Pinhook
The Mural at The Pinhook


  1. Great pictures. I like those killer backgrounds. This band really rocks. How do you derive from this Band Name? The Gambling Muse. Are you all playing free online casino games?