Bethany St. Smith Pulls the Crowd In Close at Lakeside
“I want all of you to get up and come closer. I feel a lot more comfortable with people all around me, all y’all. It’s been a year and a half since I played here and I want to make this real,” Bethany St. Smith told the crowd at Lakeside last night. She and her band The Gun Show were a regular weekend presence here for what seemed like a couple of years, and it was good to see her on that stage again. As usual, she made a charismatic presence, shimmying in front of the band. She’s got a low, contralto voice and a unique style, floating slowly up or down to a note suspensefully, like a stormcloud, full of potential for both excitement and destruction. This show was about bringing back a vibe and turning up the heat: Lakeside is usually well air-conditioned, but last night it was hot in there in more ways than one.
Behind their singer, the Gun Show switched effortlessly from from oldschool soul, to bluegrass, to jangly rock, sometimes adding a funky edge. Guitarist Michael Washburn was nothing short of amazing, and he made it look easy. He uses an old Jimi Hendrix device, throwing an edgy, bluesy riff into the mix while letting a chord ring out at the same time, except that Washburn makes it smooth and effortless rather than noisy and sloppy (and that’s not meant to dis Hendrix, it’s simply what makes Washburn’s style unique). They opened with a darkly seductive minor-key tune with a bluesy undercurrent, followed by the best song of the night, classic 60s soul with a slow, sultry vocal intro followed by a brisk shuffle driven by biting jazz chords. They did Dock of the Bay as low-key janglerock – it was interesting to hear St. Smith sing it in a lower register than Otis Redding, as well as to finally understand all the lyrics! When the time came, she left the whistling to the audience.
The rest of the show mixed originals and covers; a swaying, two-chord vamp that St. Smith growled and purred over; a slowly unwinding southern groove that sounded like what Bad Company or the Black Crowes could have been if they knew anything about soul; a dark, lickety-split electric bluegrass cover (Deer Tick, maybe?); a warmly pensive 6/8 ballad; a cover of Folsom Prison Blues; another bluegrass tune that sped up to hardcore speed; and a brief Hendrix-flavored funk/blues tune that segued into a slow ballad drenched in anticipation and longing. At the end, they did Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke and at that point it would have been nice if the bass had been louder. But this was Lakeside, and loud bass isn’t part of the deal there – the bar wants to be a good neighbor. St. Smith and the band are playing Fontana’s in November where that won’t be an issue.