The original lineup of Strangefolk — Reid Genauer, Erik Glockler, Luke Smith and Jon Trafton — reunited after nearly twelve years for a four show tour this week. I was lucky enough to catch two of them, both at Higher Ground in South Burlington, Vermont. Strangefolk began forming in 1991, when Genauer and Trafton met each other at UVM. So I completely missed their heyday, not being the musically-oriented sort of person then. It was only in the early aughts that I started listening to both the original material and that which came after the lineup started changing. Even so, thanks to Archive.org and dedicated tapers, Strangefolk in all its incarnations has been a musical companion to me for over a decade now.
When two blue moons come along at once, you seize the opportunity to see both. And I was happy to do so in retrospect, because it turns out the band deliberately spread the favorites across all four shows, rather than repeating a more formulaic set list.
Thursday night, I didn’t know what to expect at all. I hadn’t seen this group perform before and hadn’t seen anyone at all perform in years. So it took me a while to get into it at the level that some people who seemed to be fans from back in the day did.
And honestly, a recording of the show doesn’t do it justice. If you’re able to let yourself be swept along in the crowd, it’s electrifying. The light show underscored the music in a way that’s completely lost with the audio by itself. And then there are the wordless actions: a band member smiling across the stage at his friends, for instance.
Or why the crowd roars intermittently at the start of “Far From Yourself.” As Glockler and Smith leave the stage, Luke alternately holds his hand over Trafton and Genauer’s heads as the crowd roars for one, then another. I thought he was comparing the differences in their heights, but Brent Hallenbeck thought it was a popularity contest. If that’s the case, it was a clear draw.
And the end of Thursday’s show, Reid bid goodnight with a wistful “We’ll see some of you tomorrow. The rest of you have a good life.” That gave me pause.
Friday night was different. The crowd was bigger and stuck around longer — the end of Thursday’s show, the floor was significantly less packed than when the show began. There were fewer of my favorites in the songs Strangefolk played, though I did get my wish for “Songbeard” — or “Great Long While,” depending on who you ask.
Despite the lack of personal favorites, I was way more into Friday night’s show for reason. And no, it wasn’t substance-related. Whatever it is — I was into the groove, I felt more comfortable with faces who had clearly been there the night before, not knowing the songs as well meant I felt them more — but I got into it good and hard.
Recordings don’t do drums justice. Until these past two nights, I never realized what Luke Smith brings to the music. He was there in every song. You can hear Reid and Erik sing and Jon play all the time. But the way Luke worked the drums, so frenetic and yet perfectly timed, I’ve never been fascinated by a drummer that way before.
At some point in the evening, before the show or during the set break, I overheard a story told by an audience member about the old days. When Strangefolk played a bar in Winooski, Jon Fishman asked to sit in on drums. Luke reportedly acted the total fanboy, blurting, “Th-th-that’s Jon Fishman!” Both nights had that air of nostalgia and reminiscence for people who were there in the day — and you can see it captured in the Facebook page, from all the people who wished they could be there, or were reminded of shows past.
Friday night climaxed with a blazing “Reuben’s Place,” which goes way back to Strangefolk’s demo CD, and then encored with “Roads.” Both the songs were amazing, particularly for how the whole room roared along. People sang along all night long both nights, but something about those last two songs was so compelling, I could have sworn everyone declaring “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’ll get there” had just as big a stupid grin on their face as me.
I loved every minute of those two nights. I’ve been listening to bits and pieces of the audience recordings all weekend since. I’ll give them a thorough listening from start to finish this week — and hoping that more shows follow.
- 3/28/2012 show at Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, hosted by Archive.org
- 3/29/2012 show at Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT, hosted by Archive.org
- 3/30/2012 show at Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT, hosted by Archive.org
- Glide magazine’s recap of the Brooklyn show