In case you needed another sign of just how bad this past winter was, I do believe hell must have frozen over – on Friday night the McKrells reunion rolled into The Egg in Albany.
There was no sign of any of the rumored animosity from the last few years, either before the show backstage or during. In fact, it was difficult to tell that so many years had passed since they last played together, as they almost had that sixth sense about where each fit into the song that only comes from years of playing together. They each took their turns at the solos with pin-point precision and looked genuinely pleased by each others’ performances.
The evening’s entertainment followed an interesting format, with special guests Black Mountain Symphony – featuring McKrells bassist John Kribs’ son Orion – not in the traditional warm-up role, but instead playing during what would normally be the intermission. So leading off the night, the McKrells showed they are a musical force as each member stepped up throughout the night with one impressive solo after another. Singer Kevin McKrell’s voice was in fine form as he ran through their catalog, pausing, on occasion, to tell a story about the upcoming song, such as how cold it was on a tour of the Great White North and how it led to the penning of “Toronto 106” or poking fun at their supposed rust while telling the audience not to worry if he had the wrong words because he was the writer and could change them anyway he wished.
Songs such as “The Routine” and “Better Days”, to name a couple, really allowed Chris Leske (banjo/mandolin) and Craig Vance (guitar), as well as fiddler Doug Moody, to show their virtuoso chops as their fingers flew over the fretboards. While McKrell was clearly the ringmaster, he stepped aside to allow his band mates their turns in the spotlight – including leaving the stage while they played an instrumental rendition of “Over The Rainbow”, a song that helped Leske win Banjo Player of the Year back in 1984.
While each of the others was taking their turns in the spotlight, the bottom end rhythm fell to the capable hands of the elder Kribs. He had a couple of turns in the spotlight himself, though, first as singer on “Song And Prayer” (a song he dedicated to his father), when members of Black Mountain Symphony took the stage to help out, and again, when Black Mountain Symphony finished their turn, as Orion sat in on bass, while dad fired off some rocking leads on electric guitar to open the second set.
The only one not to take a break during the evening was Moody who joined Anne and Bear Compos, Bill Palinski and C. Rollz Peppe, as well as Orion, for their set.
Throughout the night, song suggestions were shouted from the audience, but the band saved the most enthusiastic of them for the final blast of their two-song encore – “All Of The Hard Days Are Gone.”
While the crowd was quite appreciative and seemed to give rapt attention, only two-thirds of the beautiful Hart Theater was full. Years ago, the McKrells helped develop one of my philosophies of music – if you have a chance to see a band, go, because you may not get the chance again. I was always meaning to go see them back then, but didn’t get around to it. Thanks to Friday’s show, I got a reprieve, but one doesn’t always get that chance. It surprised me, however, that there weren’t more people at the show. I would gladly sit through another winter like this one, if it meant another reunion performance from the McKrells.
Review and photographs by Ed Conway
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
THE McKRELLS SET LIST
The Rat Upon the Harp (instr)
Hit the Ground Running
I Don’t Remember
Brown Eyed September
Geraldine’s Thinking of Galway
Song and a Prayer (with Black Mountain Symphony)
BLACK MOUNTAIN SYMPHONY SET LIST (with Doug Moody)
BACK TO McKRELLS SET LIST
Matty Groves (with Orion Kribs)
Old Black Coat
Ghost in This House (Alison Krauss)
Over the Rainbow (instr)
It’s Not Me
I’m Still Missing You
Take Care of Those Wings, My Friend
All of the Hard Days Are Gone (with Black Mountain Symphony)