The Devil Makes Three performs at 9:30 Club on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
The story of the Devil Makes Three’s concert at the 9:30 Club recently is the story of how that band has evolved.
And the story of how that band has evolved is a microcosm of the development of bluegrass music. The late-night show began with just the core band members on stage for three songs: guitarist/lead singer Pete Bernhard, bassist Lucia Turino, and tenor banjo player/guitarist Cooper McBean. Beginning at the beginning on May 11, they opened with a song from their self-titled debut album, “The Bullet,” about an unrepentant robber who will “never live down upon my bended knees.”
The first of several songs built around drugs and alcohol, “All Hail” contained apocalyptic images of the bomb and the Four Horsemen. On “Gracefully Facedown,” Cooper took lead vocals, singing about the comforts to be found in the drink from the stresses of life. In “Graveyard,” the band sang of the dark dangers that “whiskey and wine” could lead to. “Old Number Seven” refers to a kind of Jack Daniels.
The trio again mined their debut for “Beneath the Piano,” the story of a boy who breaks a girl’s heart and leaves her crawling into the bottle for the comfort. Next, for a cover of the old gospel song “Jubilee,” two additional players joined the core trio, a drummer and a fiddler. They also switched to electric guitars on this biblical celebration of peace; it’s worth emphasizing that this is a somewhat radical interpretation of a 1919 country gospel song.
The band went all acoustic for their cover of Robert Johnson’s “Drunken Hearted Man,” opening with an extended close harmony note held on “Welllllll.” Halfway through the set, they played another pair of covers, Christine Kitrell’s “I’m a Woman” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Introducing the latter, Pete said, “We’d like to play you a traditional English folk song.”
Stream Chains Are Broken by The Devil Makes Three on Spotify:
The songs on the latest album dealt with weightier themes. In the title cut, “Chains Are Broken,” Pete writes about finding freedom from addiction to drugs and alcohol. The band sang about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the subsequent riots in “Pray for Rain.” “Paint My Face” grappled with themes of mortality, and “Deep Down” dealt with sinfulness and self-loathing. “Hallelu,” from an earlier album, suggested that’s people’s bad acts, individually and collectively, may make them unworthy of salvation.
The autobiographical “For Good Again,” set in Crestline, California, led to “Stranger,” the track that lent its title to the 2013 album I’m A Stranger Here. The band closed its set with two songs from their 2009 album Do Wrong Right, “Aces and Twos” and the title cut. Raucous applause brought The Devil Makes Three back to the stage for an encore, and they played “St. James,” a song about going out in style.
As the concert progressed, The Devil Makes Three added players and broke from the strictly acoustic, drumless tradition of bluegrass music. While they played their share of alcohol-fueled romps, the songs became increasingly heavy as the progressed and they covered more of their new material. So has Three Makes Three evolved as a band, and so has bluegrass developed, with bands experimenting with instrumentation and tackling new thematic territory.
Here are some pictures of The Devil Makes Three performing at 9:30 Club on May 11, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Rashad Polk.